End of this season of my life, and this blog

The Rowan Family high up in a ancient castle in Sintra, Portugal

Some 11 years ago I started this blog. I was flush in the nesting phase of life: building a marriage with my new husband, preparing for adding two children, and focussing on the family we were building. I spent my evenings perusing adoption blogs, envisioning the life I was trying to sculpt. Jason and I were alone in rural Alberta, and writing about my own learning and aspirations as a parent made us both feel that we were part of a greater international adoption community. We felt less like the oddballs who had chosen to walk a different path, and more like members of a very purposeful movement.

When the girls first came home, I was so proud ( and still am,) of the beautiful little beings and trusted in my care. Through our family blog, we expressed our joy, hoped that we would inspire others to adopt, and shared many precious moments with our family and friends.

When the girls were little, I appreciated the blog as a place to archive pictures, curate memories and discuss the challenges related to international, transracial, adoption of older children. But as time passed, I found that the issues we were dealing with were much too private to be shared in a public forum. Instead, we collaborated with fellow parents in our local BC community.

When the girls grew older, Africa Sleeps was a growing business and my blog had become a part of my personal brand. I also used this blog to put a human face to the humanitarian work I did with Vulnerable Children Society, and thought it was too valuable tool to let go.

Noe seven years since the girls have come home, I’ve sold my Africa Sleeps business and no longer rely on my personal connections to spread the word of the good work done by our charity. Although the Vulnerable Children Society continues to thrive, it has its own deserved reputation that is independent from mine. And as much as our family and friends still check the blog for pictures of the children, it’s unfortunately a one-way communication that doesn’t fill up my cup for connection.

This last few months have been really hard for me: financial stress related to our juvenile business, long hours and lack of time off, and undermet needs of social connection and intellectual stimulation. In short, I’m in one of those awkward transitional phase is between the seasons of my life, figuring out what it looks like. I find myself evaluating everything I’m doing and it’s relevance for my life at this stage. In fact, I made myself a list the other day of the things that are good for me and my family, and what’s important to me. Have a look:

What is good for me?
Walking, especially with friends
Meal planning
New projects and challenges

What is good for my family?
Slower pace
Home cooked meals
Less technology
Steady dose of adventure and exploration

What is important to me?
Visiting with my children after school
Spending time with my friends
Talking with my husband
Learning and filling my intellectual cup
Keeping in touch with family
Making a difference and helping others
Travel and adventure
Tending our home
Creativity and projects

At this point, my blog, as attached as I am to it, doesn’t fill up any of those cups. So it’s taken me six months, but I’ve decided to fold this site up in 10 days time. With one more little dose of pictures, I’m signing off.

If you are friends with me in the real world, I’ll see you in person. And if we’ve been friends online, I hope to meet you one day and have a cup of tea.

Much love and blessings, and many thanks for your kind words over the years,
Arnica

Simplifying Life Step 1b: Rent a Tiny House

Tiny house plan

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Jason and I were looking at buying a tiny house. Well that didn’t turn out as we expected! Our financial advisor knew in advance, though. “You will never get a mortgage,” Frugal Tim prudently advised us when we told him our downsizing plans.

“What are you talking about?” I scoffed at him. “We’ve had five mortgages, owned rental properties… All much higher amounts than this.”

“Yes,” he replied. “but that was before you were totally self-employed.”

He was right. Humbly, I admit we were politely told to pound sand by the mortgage brokers. Once you talked out my prof income and Jason’s income at the clinic, both which don’t count, and the rest from our businesses is almost all written off (legitimately,) we barely made above the poverty line over the last two years. On paper, of course.

So we thought hard about this whole downsizing thing, and if we wanted to still do it. The answer was yes. So we decidedly to brave the incredibly cutthroat family with pets rental market in Kelowna. I know people that have been looking for months. And due to fate, luck or my mother-in-law’s prayer chain, we landed a house to rent, one block from where we live now, in two days. Sweet. The owner is an old aquaintence… He’s a prof at the university and we had lectured at a conference together way back when. He agreed that I could decorate at my expense, and I agreed to be the best tenants ever. We signed the deal, and took possession two days later.

So now Jason and I are the proud tenants of a extra tiny house. It’s… Hold onto your chairs… 700 sq feet for our family of four, plus three dogs. The cats are going to the clinic. Obviously a downsizing to a third of our current house size requires some serious planning. So this week and next, I am painting it, have ordered a whack of new teeny furniture, and am cleaning up the yard. Then I take off to Ethiopia with Vulnerable Children Society for two and a half weeks, during which, nothing will happen. When I get back, the real work will begin.

In October, we will move our most valued and useful possessions over to the (did I mention 700 sq ft) house. I plan to have a huge estate sale,  and then this house will be ready for painting and refinishing the floors. After we spif it up, we will put our house on the market at the end of October. Both Jason and I are pretty confident it will sell quickly, without the distraction of our kids, pets and mess in it. And then we will be footloose and asset free (except a car and a clinic.)

Here are some pictures of the new house… The folks we are renting off of are Central American, and have a love of tropical colours! I’m painting it in a more subdued pallets. Stay tuned for the rental renos before and afters!

Tiny house before renos Tiny house before renos Tiny house before renos

 

 

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.