Natural Hair and Skin for Kids of Colour

Check out this interview with your truly, Arnica Rowan of Africa Sleeps, and Tamara of Natural Hair Rules, written by Rachel Garlinghouse on Adoption.net!

It’s great reading about another person’s perspective… :-) thanks Rachel and Tamara!

“Arnica: The biggest challenge is the learning curve about a totally different type of hair: picking knots out from the roots up, scheduling hair time, finding products that work and developing your styling skills.The other, less talked about challenge is scrutiny from other adoptive parents. I think often we are too quick to judge and not quick enough with encouragement. Hair isn’t a competition; it’s about community and care.”

Read more!

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Creativity and hard work: the gratifying life of an entrepreneur

i am an entrepreneur

I think I was born to be an entrepreneur. When I used to get my students to fill out Cosmo-like questionnaires about their innate personality traits for successful business start-up, I would score myself too. Every time, I would score as high as possible. But there I was, teaching the class, not out exercising my passion for building and creating.

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A few years ago, I started Vulnerable Children Society with a few other women, to help kids and families in Ethiopia. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and how many people we help… especially the teen girls in our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program. But the other kick I get from it, is the building. Just to be clear, I don’t earn a cent from running this charity – I get the perks of a yearly trip to Ethiopia to supervise our work, and the gratification of doing something. You really are able to help when you put the effort in, and I love seeing projects come together out of our dreams and hard work.

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Really, running Vulnerable Children gave meaning to my work life, when I often searched for my impact as a professor. I have to thank my friends, supporters and partners over and over, for enabling me to conjure up projects, fund them, execute them, and see our work come to fruition.

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Last year, I significantly expanded our small family business, Africa Sleeps. I added a whole haircare and bodycare line, and have quadrupled my business since last fall.

It’s so terribly satisfying – creating labels and mixing scents, dreaming up products and experimenting with my daughters’ hair, dreaming up marketing approaches and forming satisfying partnerships with others in the natural hair world, and beyond. I’m so glad that I was able to expand our business with products that my values can really stand behind – that means a lot to me, and honestly, helps me sell them.

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It’s certainly not as glamorous as saying “Hi! I’m a professor specializing in sustainable business and non-profit management.” But it is pretty fun doing the work that goes along with “Hi! I have a natural hair and bodycare line for children of African heritage.”

In other words, I’m living a doing what I used to be researching and teaching. How bout them apples?

And now, our big baby. For the last four years, Jason and I have been working on opening our own vet clinic Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital and pet shop, Pounce and Hound Fine Pet Goods. Our dream has evolved over the years, waiting for two developments to be built (long story,) but I love where we have ended up.

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As of next month, we’ll be opening the first integrative veterinary hospital in Kelowna, and an incredibly special store. We work as a team, but in essence, the store is mine. What fun work, even through the frsutrations: designing our clinic (twice!) and overseeing the construction. Figuring out our ethics, manifesto, and all the other choices that follow. Jason’s been studying herbal medicine, and I’ve been using my powers of lotion making and packaging to help him design natural medicines for the shop. I’ve come up with fashion concepts for various seasons, contracted artisans to make products for our shop, selected the most environmentally and socially responsible products I can find, and am now training our staff to take care of it all.

Jason, who scored “medium” on all those entrepreneurship quizzes, enjoys exactly the same thing as me: doing our own thing. We love that we are not following what everyone else is doing (I can’t tell you how many times the architects, conventional vets and others have kindly told us we are crazy for having a 1000 sq ft store in a vet clinic.) But we are united, excited, and so proud of what we have created together. There will be a wedding-like kiss the day we open the doors. (Pucker up, honey. Just two weeks away!)

The downside of having all these enterprises on the go is that I don’t sleep enough, and sometimes have to trade time on one project for another. This past two months, I have lived and breathed the hospital.

But I was born an entrepreneur – passion, creativity and innovation are my fuel. I wouldn’t work any other way.

Lovely summer style… Super easy threaded Bantu knots

We made a little video for Africa Sleeps on how to do this easy summer hairstyle.

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Hope you enjoy it!

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Harambee 2014

Another year, another fabulous week long culture camp. This year had its truly special moments… And some unexpected surprises.

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The two biggest changes from previous years were events that took place right before camp. First, our regular location, the Naramata centre was embroiled in labor dispute, and the entire place was shut down three weeks before our camp. Can you imagine moving 88 families and 500 some odd people to a new location on three weeks notice? Well, that’s exactly what we did. We ended up in Sorrento, at the peaceful and quiet Sorrento center. It was very different than Narmata. Our former location is right in the middle of town, and we’ve had some positive and negative experiences being in a very small town with more than 300 children color. And I am not just talking about the heat graffiti that made provincial news. We also have 300 children on bicycles, and there can be a lot of clashes with the locals when you have 300 children getting about the village.

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In Sorrento, the center was outside of the hustle and bustle, in a secluded place to itself. There were no bikes allowed… Which was a total positive, if you ask me. There were very few locals to deal with, except for the very appreciative merchants who made special note of thanking our camp for the economic impact over the week. We stayed in very humble cabins, forgot to bring our dogs, which was a real treat. Maggie is getting too old to put in a kennel, and both of the dogs just really appreciate being with us. So we stayed in this little cabana with electricity, but no running water, and just have a lovely time.

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The other unexpected event before camp was a connection with a boy in Newfoundland. You may have heard about Torrence Collier, and the extreme bullying and racism he encountered in the small town he was living in in Newfoundland. Well, our Harambee families heard about him as well, and invited him and his mom and dad to come to camp. Together, we raised enough money for the flights and some expenses. I had a few discussions with his mom over the week, and it was so wonderful to see them be embraced by their peers, Torrence come out of his shell, and to hear about their plans for change in the future. It speaks to our community that we were able to fund raise, and welcome him and his family within two weeks of camp. I think it had a positive influence on a bunch of other children there… And you will see a picture below of him dancing up a storm and feeling very much part of our community. We hope they will return next year!

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As for the rest of camp, it was the same dizzying array of drumming, dancing, swimming, soccer, and other family and cultural activities. This year both Jason and I felt like we got a lot more time with the girls, even though we had to jail them in the cabana if we wanted to see them. They have a few super good friends there, and wanted to spend every waking minute. But a tip from the wise, (that’s us!) Little family time goes a long way to helping them cope with an extremely stimulating camp environment. We made them come home for every meal, and spend one hour in the afternoon, on their beds, just doing nothing. I swear that is what helps them keep it together over a week of complete excitement.

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We also trying to take a field trip every year, in an attempt to get a little break from camp. This year, our visit to Sorrento timed perfectly with my aunt, uncle and cousin seeing at the cabin down the lake. My little cousin S had just come back from Sierra Leone, where she lives, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. My uncle drove us around the lake in his boat and they made us supper too. Delightful!

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I brought some of my Africa Sleeps products with me, as a couple of people wanted to see what I had. Little did I know that there would be a vendor fair, on the short two weeks notice of moving camp, and countless others who were interested in my products. Many many thanks to those families that supported our organic haircare and skincare business! How are cabaña was like a revolving door of hair consultations and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

If you are interested in joining us another year, please visit www.Harambee.ca

Groovin the Adoption Process


The last few months, I’ve made a bit of a hobby of adoption. I mean, we’ve been so completely busy with the clinic opening in (gasp!) three weeks, when I am too tired to sleep, and just need a topic switch, I troll the waiting children lists.

Like I said… a hobby. I’ve been cool and collected, and not too terribly crazy. This isn’t like our first adoption, where I didn’t breathe for a year. This time, despite all the bumps, I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing. As far as my personality relaxes, anyway! I’ve been taking the search for our next kid/kids one bite-sized step at a time.

I’ve placed many inquiries, and a couple of social workers have  asked for our homestudy. But nothing has panned out so far.

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But today, as I sat in the salon waiting eternally for the girls’ braids to be finished (their annual visit) I was in the groove, and relaxed, and open… and I think I may have found the match for us.

8 hours later, when we finally came home with extensions swinging, I showed Jason and the girls, and they smiled and chuckled. It was so obvious.

Cross your fingers… it’s not exactly what we had planned. But it might just be the match for us…

Surprising Adoption News: a new file, a new country

Last year we were very excited to open our file to adopt again from Ethiopia, and now we are excited to say that we have opened a file in the USA for fostercare adoption as well.

Ethiopia was, in fact,to the third country we had tried for our second adoption. First, there was the DRC (Congo) that we pulled out of within a matter of months. I could see the writing on the wall, and sure enough, the program is closed now.

So we switched to Lesotho, a small boutique program run by a fantastic agency in BC. Due to the country’s elections, politics and eventual compliance with The Hague Convention, the adoption process slowed to a trickle. We were just poised to receive a referral, when, The agency for Ethiopia started accepting applications again.

So we made the hard choice, and jumped ship to Ethiopia. (A little summary of our adoption timeline.)

At first, it seemed like things were progressing well. But now I’m honestly not sure if anything is going to happen. We took a risk pioneering a special needs program, and it doesn’t look like it will pan out anytime soon. And the general waiting list has a very, very long wait time. Ethiopia is an outside bet, at the moment.

Anyway, the kids are getting older, and I’m feeling the urge more and more strongly to add to our family. Jason would be fine with just the two girls, but my urge to add kids isn’t going away… It’s intensifying.

We’ve had many discussions with the kids about their priorities, and most important to them is that they have a brother, and that he (or they) have brown skin. It’s very important to them that they outnumber us, and we are totally down with that. Since their are precious few kids (read: almost none) of colour in BC, and we aren’t up for a baby (I have changed one diaper in my life, and I’m not about to start now…) so that leaves US fostercare. And through a strange twist of adoption rules, we can have our file open in both the US and Ethiopia at the same time.

I’m actually very excited about adopting through US fostercare. Like most crazy adoptive mothers, I’ve spent late night trolling through the waiting child website, imagining kids faces superimposed in our family picture. There are so many beautiful kids, funny kids, shy kids, outgoing kids, and normal kids… And they all deserve a family. There are an inordinate amount of black children in fostercare, and black boys are most overrepresented.

I’d always been told that you can’t adopt through US fostercare to Canada… But that isn’t actually the case. It’s totally possible… It’s just hard. The individual child’s casework at the county level has to agree to work with one of the extremely few Hague-approved-for-outgoing-adoptions agencies that actually does fostercare adoptions. I can count these agencies on one hand, in the whole USA, by the way. And then our agency in Canada has to be cool with it, and have a good working relationship with a US agency.

Luckily, so far, the starts have aligned as far as agencies go. Now we just have to find the kid… And convince their county social worker that Canada is a good option! Lol

Wish us luck in this next leg of our adoption journey!

One (or two!) sons from America (or Ethiopia,) here we come!

Lemonade Stand: Learning the value of money

Today the girls set up a lemonade stand at the end of the block, to make some extra dough. It’s certainly a great experience to learn about hard work and business.

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For a few years, our girls have had an allowance. They get five dollars, which is a lot of money! But they have some restrictions on it. Sugar and Spice put one dollar in their “learning” jar, which is for their education and travel, one dollar to a “giving” jar, from which they donate money to a cause of their choice, and then three dollars into a “fun” jar, their discretionary income. In the beginning, we had to give them loonies, to teach them relative value. But now they make change!

Anyway, having their own discretionary income means that we say “no” to just about everything they ask for, and they have to save up if they want toys. I don’t remember the last time I’ve bought them a toy. They even treat us occasionally to icecream or frozen yogurt, which is lovely.

Sometimes the girls want to increase their income, however, especially if they have their eyes set on something. Apparently it’s a play mobile veterinary set right now. So they get entrepreneurial; we totally support this. For a little money, they can do extra chores around the house, like wiping baseboards (with so many pets, we always have baseboards to wipe.) But sometimes, if they want to make more money, they set up a little business.

They’re so experienced, they’ve already had a failed business. Sugar came up with an idea of making hair ties. They bought yarn (out of their own money.. I don’t do capital investment…) but after selling a few on credit, realized their friends were never paying them. They lost their investment.

A lesson well learned. “Never sell anything to someone before you get the money first,” Spice will tell anyone who needs business advice. “Especially your friends.”

The tried and true business model is the lemonade stand. First, they save enough for ingredients. Frozen lemonade mix, then sugar, flour, butter and chocolate chips for cookies. They have bought premade cookie dough in the past, but they realized the higher costs were cutting into their profits. So now they make the cookies from scratch. Luckily they’ve found out that Daddy is a cheap employee… For two cookies, he’ll help them bake. Sucker.

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They figure out their advertising and distribution. Today, Spice was thinking about selling the cookies door to door. After carefully consideration, she decided that “we might sell more cookies to one family, but some people will also say no. I hate that. And we’d have to lug a tray from house to house. So I think we should just sit on the corner and they will come to us.”

The advertising is a big poster that they make, with prices clearly marked. Then, they chose their location wisely, which is beside the synagogue parking lot at the end of our street. It has good drive by visibility, and good parking. “People just stop because we are cute and we have cookies,” pronounces Spice, without a lick of sarcasm.

So, today was family day, with the girls choosing the activity. And guess what?

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Jason helped make cookies, I helped with the sign, and we all sat out in the sun. In an hour, they made $42. There were a few tips in there, and some people even just drove up and handed them money. I kid you not.

Playmobile vet set, here they come!

“We didn’t actually make $42 an hour, mommy,” my daughter Spice reminded me after I read her this post. You forgot to count our baking time.”

Such a smart cookie.

Mother Earth News Fair: Herbal Tinctures, Goat Milking and Cider Making

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A couple of weeks ago we drove down to the Washington State Fairgrounds for the Mother Earth News Fair, organized by the famous granola-crunching magazine. I pitched it to my husband as a learning trip: he would get to listen to other herbal medicine professionals and learn to make his own tinctures and extracts. But it turned out to be a blast for the whole family.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, Mother Earth News is a magazine focused on self sustainability and environmental action. It’s chock full of articles on frugality, organic gardening, urban and rural homesteading, renewable energy, sustainable communities, social and environmental issues. Not surprisingly, the readership has blossomed in the last few years, while other magazines are falling behind. We pour over our issue every month, and I got my dad a subscription for his birthday this year.

Back to the fair. It was a combo event… There were the traditional country fair kind of activities, such as checking out livestock. Since many of the attendees run very small farms or have varying degrees of urban homesteads (like us) everything was focused on bantam (small) breeds, from the chickens to the cows.

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We ate fair food…

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…and due to the general animal craziness of our family, spent an inordinate amount of time watching herding dogs. Kinda neat though… I’ve actually never seen an Old English Sheepdog or a Corgie work before!

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The second part of the fair was a trade show, where booths showcased everything from organic seeds to solar panels. The girls has just as much fun as us exploring and asking questions. Here is Spice learning to play old games at the heritage society booth…

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And we also found a few suppliers for our businesses and home. For example, we spent way too much time at the Mountain Rose Herbs booth, picking out herbal tinctures for our veterinary hospital and oil herbal infusions of or the new line of creams I’m developing for Africa Sleeps.

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We also met a lot of awesome people at the booths over the weekend. It’s was an interesting mix of rough and tumble farmers, tie-dyed hippies, yoga moms, uber conservative Christians, tattooed alternative parents and knobbly kneed gardeners. Fun crowd!

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And finally, the reason we went in the first place, were the workshops. Jason went to several herbal and natural medicine workshops. Some of them were amazing, according to him. He also said that one or two were a little flaky. But overall, he definitely felt it was worth his time, and he picked up a lot, especially from one intensely knowledgable lady.

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The girls has two favourite workshops. The being keeping turned out to be way too young for them (Sugar’s pick) but Spice’s goat milking workshop was awesome. I can tell you, we have been asked many times for a goat in the last few weeks. I’ll remind you that we live in an urban neighbourhood, but they don’t seem to get why I keep saying no…

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The other surprisingly amazing workshop was drawing animals. I tell you, you could have heard a pin drop for 1/2 hour while the forty kids learned how to draw animals using geometric shapes. After the lesson, the kids hung around and made a few friends… Fun to connect with people from different walks of life!

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My favourite workshop, by far, was the cider making workshop. I’m determined to plant some cider apple trees this summer, and try my hand at it a couple of years from now! With my wine background, I could understand the process in depth, and feel I’ve got a good handle on cider making now… Theoretically, that is :-)

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And each morning en route, we did a little homeschooling, so the girls wouldn’t fall behind on their reading. The cutest part was their learning journals, though, chronicling what they learned at the museum in Vancouver and at the Washington fair. They are such science buffs!

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Overall, it was a lovely family weekend. I highly recommend it! There are three fairs across the USA. We will certainly go back again, if not next year, then the year after!

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Early summer protective cornrows

Africa Sleeps

I get a lot of questions about what I do for my girls’ hair in the summer.

In the heat of July and August, when they are swimming twice a day, I usually have false hair woven into teeny cornrows… It’s their one trip to the salon a year! It’s just the easiest way to deal with the swimming.

But for the early summer, our lake is still cold. There is just a little swimming and a lot of outside time, so I default to cornrows. First of all, they are my favourite of favourite way of protecting natural hair. We use Honey Almond Hair Balm when braiding each row, and it just nourishes their hair. Then as the weeks progress, we use some Pink Grapefruit Hair Oil in between the braids, just to keep their scalp nourished.

I say “we,” by the way, because I had a neighbour, a young Ethiopian lady, come and help me finish her hair. It’s been one of those weeks, and two sets of hands are better than one!

When the style is in, I tend to keep my girls’ hair in pigtails or buns, since they tend to drag their braids through glue, glitter, and whatever other craft they are up to. Here is a picture of my daughter on the first day of new cornrows… I have to admit that she has red glitter all over her head, at the time of this post. Just imagine the same thing, with lots of red sparkles!
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Monday in our English Garden

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When we bought this Cottswald cottage style house, I had a dream of building an English garden. I wanted it to overflow with flowers, mainly perennials, and have a wild lusciousness about it.

Six years later… It’s exactly that. Jason has become knobbly kneed English gardener, cultivating roses. Here are some shots from the flower beds this week.

Ps: let me know if you like the text in the photos like this, or prefer the old…

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Every Day Ethiopian Culture

One of my besties, M, got back from Ethiopia a few days ago. She has been visiting her family for the last two months, and it was long overdue that we should sit down and have a coffee.

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I was running horribly late on Friday, as I have been all week. But when I walked into my friend’s house, and out onto the back deck, I immediately felt calm and better.

My other bestie, T, and our new friend and neighbor Y, were sitting on the back deck munching away at some Ethiopian breakfast.

As we sat, and chatted, about work, family, and M’s recent trip to Ethiopia, I remarked on how infused Ethiopian culture is in our daily lives. It maybe just the small things… But isn’t culture like that?

We sat on mattresses and on the floor, around shared plates of food. M made us proper coffee, and we sat and chatted. I was the rude one… I only stayed for 45 minutes. Normally you sit and chat for hours. Visiting like this is this intricle part of Ethiopian culture, and it’s not only a part of my children’s lives. It’s a part of mine.

On a deeper level, it’s amazing how much of our lives have been enriched by adopting our daughters and subsequently connecting with Ethiopians. Not only have I gained family, friends, and a vocation… But we have more cultural touchstones, more traditions, and more community in our lives.

For any of those dear readers adopting a child from another culture, I heartily encourage you to reach out to that child’s birth community. You can’t manufacture friendships… Those simply happen. M and I are like sisters because we are, not because she is Ethiopian. But you can increase your chances of finding good friends, if you proactively seek out people of your child’s culture. Your children’s lives will be enriched, and their foundation solidified… But you might find special friends and hidden joys as well.
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Sushi, halal donairs, and Vij’s: we eat our way through Vancouver

Jason, the girls and I enjoyed a lovely three day business trip to Vancouver, including visits to herbal dispensaries, meetings with herbal medicine practitioners, a pet food kitchen visit, a trip to the biodiversity museum, and of course, several great eats in local restaurants.

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If you are interested in some of the pictures from the business side of our trip, please check out my blogpost on Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital’s website. Jason has been studying herbal medicine, and we wanted to visit a few experienced practitioners and build the foundations of his herbal pharmacy for the clinic (which opens mid July!)

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We brought the girls along for the ride, with promises from them to do their assigned homework. I made up these little booklets for them with check boxes for math and writing pages, as well as places for book summaries and scientific journal entries. They’ve been working away like busy beavers!

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The first day our new friend Dr Katie took us out for sushi at a fabulous resturant (Tomoka?) on West Broadway. I warned her that the girls could pack the sushi away… And they did me proud! The highlights for us were the amazing yam rolls with fresh mango on top, and the decadent fresh oysters. I cut Sugar off at three. She could have eaten them all evening!

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The next day we visited a vet clinic and a herbal dispensary, and the girls busied themselves with toys at each stop. Such good little business troupers.

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Mid day, we stopped at the Kids Bookstore and they had a delightful half hour browsing (ok, so Daddy and I had a blast too.)

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Then we went just a couple of doors down for the most deliciously healthy donairs, at Al Basha. The man who owns the place was such a charmer with the girls, and gave them some free sweets. Yummy. I totally recommend it! Spice got her fill of meat, and Sugar even got a Mirinda, an orange soda she hasn’t seen since Ethiopia. Cool.

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After some serious swimming at a waterslide pool, we asked the girls where they wanted to stay. Sugar, the Little Chef, has seen Vikram Vij on a poster on the street earlier that day. “I want to go to Vij’s!” She begged. Well, we took them to the next best thing: his casual restaurant Rangoli next door. Again, the little monsters ate and ate and ate… My goodness, it was good! And reasonably priced too- just like an average Indian restaurant. Except that the food was anything but average. It arrived insanely quickly, too. For me, the portobello mushrooms and beet salad took the cake. Sugar was with me, but Spice died at (what else?) the lamb with dates. That kid is such a carnivore. Jason loved the pakoras, he wants me to add.

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The next day, while the kids and Jason recovered from their gluttony by sleeping in, I met up with a super nice lady who is going to make dog coats for our shop. Then once the gang was up, we took off to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC. I didn’t even know it was there, but thanks to a groupon, we discovered this lovely natural history archive.

It wouldn’t be for every family, since the museum is basically a library of natural history. But for our animal crazy kids, it was delightful. They loved studying the stuffed specimens. We had another great hour in the back of the museum, as the girls wrote their scientific journals: field reports on an animal. We all got a story from the interpreter on site, who was amazed at the girls’ depth of knowledge, and we inspected more specimens with microscopes and magnifying glasses. Super fun. And yes, we are geeks.

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To conclude our wonderful trip in Vancouver, we had lunch at the French Cultural Centre at the Café de Salade des Fruites. So yummy… There is nothing as pleasing as a light white fish in lemon butter sauce. “The food is so good here!” Exclaimed Sugar. “Why is that?”

“Because it’s French,” ubiquitously replied her father.

“Butter,” replied her mother.

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Then we were off down south to Washington for the Mother Earth News Fair… More news from our trip soon!

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