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 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

A country wedding: my brother got married!

Last weekend we traipsed off to Creston for my brother’s wedding at my parent’s house in the countryside. We took the three dogs with us (and picked up a guinea pig on the way back, but that’s another story!) so we were sort of like a pack of clowns packed into our VW station wagon. It was the hottest day of the year – yikes! 40 degrees. But we made it there, and dropped off the old two dogs at the kennel for the weekend.

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For the weekend, we stayed in my parent’s RV on their property. The kids ran around, playing and visiting, and we got a chance to catch up with some dear friends and relations.

On Saturday, we took off to Fort Steele to explore with my BFF, Von, and her brood. Little did I know that Fort Steele is totally pet friendly, but because of the heat, I was glad we put Tully in air-conditioned daycare. The clear skies made for gorgeous pictures.

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For those that haven’t had the pleasure, Fort Steele is a heritage town in the Kootenay region of BC. There are a lot of working people and animals on site. Our family has a little history there. My father, when he was working on a ground squirrel project during his undergrad, spent a summer at Fort Steele. He worked with the Clydesdales. Some forty years later, the Clydesdales are still a huge part of the place… I saw four working teams in a few hours. Amazingly beautiful horses.

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We had lots of fun with Vn and Trev and their family. It’s a weird coincidence that we both have identical twin girls.. makes for some interesting observation.

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Jason and I remarked on how different it is to visit with small kids and medium ones. von constantly had three kids around her legs. Ah, small children. Our almost-nine-year-olds went off on the wagon ride with Vona and Trev, and explored much of the village themselves, leaving Jason and I to peek at things that interested us, like the old pharmacy. He really would have loved to read what was on those bottles… we were betting many of them were herbal tinctures, like we have at our clinic.

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We ate at the bakery, panned for gold, and rode the train…

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As I took this picture, I was thinking about the hair styling to be done the next day for the wedding. Sugar and Spice’s hair had just been taken out from extensions, and was wrapped up in buns full of hair oil.

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Back at the homestead, more and more people arrived. My parents had five or six RVs parked in their yard, plus  tents full of people. The rest stayed in the hotel at the end of the road, so it was really busy around their place. Mom and Dad were wonderful hosts, and ate up all the time they got to visit. Several pancake breakfasts, a BBQ, impromptu sandwich lunches, and of course, a wedding dinner, all was made in their kitchen. Thank goodness it was renovated, just in time!

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My main job at the wedding was to make the flower girls look fabulous… which I did!

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But everyone helped out. You can see my brother and his groomsmen lifting the beer kegs outside…

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Dad drove us slightly nuts by watering the road 20 minutes before the wedding. Notice the same activity as the horses picture above? It’s a dry summer. Anyway, he did manage to get into his suit in time, so no harm done. I think he stayed in the suit for 30 minutes before he changed back into his “hippy homesteader” gear.

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We all got dapper – Jason was tying a bowtie for the first time. Finally he gave up and let me do it. I’m sure he’ll get it himself next time…

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The girls picked flowers to throw in front of the bride. Sugar raided mom’s indoor plants, below.

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And Spice with the bride, just before the ceremony. M looked lovely, in a dress her bridesmaid made for her.

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The ceremony was out in the yard, just out of reach of the shade. Thank goodness the ceremony was short! But I have to say that their vows, M’s especially, were the sweetest I have ever heard. We were all crying… or my side of the family was, anyway. You can who is in my family by how easily we cry.

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The flower girls shared the spotlight with their new cousin, super Z, (M’s nephew,) who wore a cape with a big Z on it. Very Marvel comics.

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And post wedding pictures… not the official ones, the candid ones!

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Mom really looked lovely, and trusted me that her hippy homesteader hair (done by yours truly) was indeed appropriate for the occasion. It looked gorgeous!

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I was very please how our family pictures turned out. We actually snapped them right before the wedding, before the crazy.

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My darling little sister…

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My best friend Von…

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My pseudo-nieces, the “other twins…”

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I would be remiss to describe the wedding without describing the food. M’s brother and sister-in-law are professional chefs. They own the fabulous artisan bakery in Osoyoos (check it out!) Somehow I didn’t manage to get a picture of the pulled pork sandwiches they made (smoked on my parent’ front porch for three days) or the smoked artic char, or the salads… maybe because I was eating it. Let’s just say : yum. And for dessert, pies made by my mom and cousin Dave. AMAZING…

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My sister Ena, M’s dad and brother had been part of the jam circles that happened all weekend. At some point they figured out that they all knew the first dance song, so they ditched the MP3 and did it live, much to B and M’s delight. Note the homemade dance floor made out of pallets…

Dad and another little one breaking it down…

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Jason and I both love dancing, so as long as my knees could handle it, we were up there…

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…and long after the afore-mentioned knees gave out, the girls were out there boogying. They stayed up o close the night.

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We had a lot of fun! My mom’s side of the family loves dancing too, so our cousins, aunt and uncle danced almost the whole evening too. Three of them came all the way from Sierra Leone for the wedding… so nice. It was delightful to spend time with them. My sis and brother-in-law M DJed a heck of a night!

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Since this post will be passed around, I just wanted to send lots of love out to my brother and his new wife. May you have lots of fun in your new marriage, just like the beautiful wedding you planned.

And to my parents, who are breathing deeply (but still taking care of my kids for this week!) thank you. you were the host gracious, kind and generous hosts.