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!

Fathers Day Diner

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I was so proud of my little girls on Father’s Day. They are so considerate sometimes! As a special treat for their daddy, the girls dressed up as a 50s style diner waitress and proper French chef.  Then they made a delicious breakfast all from scratch, complete with excellent service.

First, Spice set the table…

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Sugar made cinnamon buns and chopped pineapple, two of daddy’s favorites. image

Daddy was properly appreciative. The girls dined him and made him feel very special.

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The funniest part of the day was when Spice the waitress to exclaimed, as she made daddy a mocha for the table, “these heels are killing me!”  Quite obviously, they were not entirely necessary to the outfit.

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After breakfast, we went for a long walk with the dogs, and then daddy went off to the hardware store to buy lumber for his new poker table project.

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It’s funny, all the moms I know want for Mother’s Day is to have a day where they do absolutely nothing. But Jason is  like most of the dads I know… He wants to spend some time with his kids, eat a nice meal, and spend some time with power tools. Mission accomplished.

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I asked the girls tonight what they live about their daddy, and here are the answers:

Sugar: I like him because he’s funny and he’s nice. If we do something wrong that he will not get mad at us, but he doesn’t yell very loud.  Hes super funny and likes to play with us playmobile.   He’s a really good daddy and he loves us very much.

Spice:  I love my daddy because he appreciates what we do for him like this morning and I love him so much, no matter if he yells.  I like spending time with my daddy and I love working with my daddy picking fruit.

All about the books… Why e readers suck

I love this video from a British Columbia bookstore!

Personally, I hate E readers. I have an iPad but I don’t use it for reading at all. I think we have too much screen time in our culture as is, and a book should be An escape from technology. There’s nothing like the feeling of a real book in your hands as you escape away from electricity and flickering screens.

Often we have different standards for our children then for ourselves. We would never want to child to talk away with an electronic device for hours on end, would you? Of course not! It’s been proven many times over that electronic device time lowers your child’s concentration, affects their academic marks, and even negatively affects their happiness  so why would we  often we have different standards for our children then for ourselves?

Real books help you go to sleep; e-readers keep you up at night. Real books are reusable, recyclable, and can be shared. You can mark them up and curl into bed with them.

I get that you can take multiple books in one e reader when you were traveling. Total advantage. But even better yet, why don’t you take one or two books with you on a long trip, and then trade them for other people’s books along the way?

Yes, real books use trees. But e readers create horrid electronic waste, and source a lot of content from countries that don’t have any environmental regulations. Trust me… The electronic readers have a MUCH larger ecological footprint.

Truth: You can take multiple books in one E reader when you were traveling. Total advantage. But even better yet, why don’t you take one or two books with you on a long trip, and then trade them for other people’s books along the way?

My vote? It’s all about the (real) books!

Carving out time for myself and my kids

Those closest to me have noticed a difference in me lately. I’ve been less frantic, and less panicked about all the things that I haven’t done. I’ve made some changes in my life, and are continuing to do so, that have enabled me to carve some time out for myself and my children.

Like many people, I have a lot on my plate. I didn’t exactly designed it that way… Life just ends up going un-according to schedule. Since our veterinary business took a few years longer to start than planned, I grew my other business, Africa Sleeps, in the meanwhile. Even though I retired from teaching, I still ended up being an entrepreneur with two businesses that need a lot of attention, as well as the founder of a charity, as well as a mother and wife. This isn’t bragging; it’s more of an admission of guilt. In our society, we value busyness too much, and don’t place enough emphasis on enjoyment of the moment.

This last year has been increasingly frantic. I found less time to spend with my children, and no chance to ever get on top of my work for my three major obligations. Of course, the charity is the organization that suffers the most, because it always gets bumped behind my two businesses. As much as I value the creativity of building a new business, and the passion for natural products, my work in Ethiopia is the most important to me. And yet it’s always at the bottom of the heap.

As I was driving down south to Portland to meet my sister for a much-needed getaway, I decided to listen to an audiobook that I had been waiting to have some time to get to. It had been recommended to me by one of my former students, went to Ethiopia for four months to volunteer for my charity. The Four Hour Workweek was is inspiring… Reflecting in all those hours of driving, I took a hard look at how efficient I actually am, how I spend my time, and what is most important to me.

First of all, I realized how many times the day that I get distracted by unnecessary activities. The prime example is Facebook. I started to go on A Facebook diet. I realized how many times a day I would have a break in tasks, and then end up on Facebook for 5 to 15 minutes. Well, those 5 to 50 minutes add up. I still need to use Facebook for work… So I can’t go cold turkey. But I installed an app that dealt with my organizations pages, and put the Facebook app several pages back on my iPad desktop. To my surprise, I didn’t miss it at all. I found that even checking Facebook once every couple of days was sufficient to keep up with friends. There simply just too much garbage information coming across the wire. This all takes time… Time I don’t have. So the less Facebook the better.

Secondly, I realized that I was trying to do too much in one day. I was constantly frustrated with all the things that I didn’t get done. Multitasking actually sucks. It’s a horrible efficiency strategy. So I begin giving myself two major tasks for a workday. That’s plenty to do in a day ground between school hours. Because I only set myself to tasks to do, I also had to really think about what was most important with my time, and delegate some of the less important tasks to others, but I couldn’t eliminate all together.

My third important take away was how much I could assign to others. I do use the strategy in the past, employing a housekeeper, and even a marker to get some of the more mundane and tasks of my teaching load done. But since we started the veterinary hospital and have been living on an extremely limited income (just Africa Sleeps,) I have been trying to do more and more myself. So I started thinking about what I could delegate to my staff at the hospital, and decided did to hire a minimum wage personal assistant. I advertised for the personal assistant job, and ironically, have not had time to hire someone! That’s next week.

The other part is “encouraging” my husband to take on some more family tasks. The truth is that he is not run off his feet… It’s a start up veterinary hospital and the veterinarian isn’t busy all the time! So he is learning to use some of his downtime to pay bills and run errands. {insert joke about teaching an old dog new tricks} But seriously, Jason is learning to use some of the non-booked time in his day for household obligations, instead of whiling away those hours and having to tack on household stuff afterwards, at the expense of family time.

On the way back from Portland, I listen to another short audiobook about effective mornings. Basically, the whole point of What the Most Succesful People Do Before Breakfast is to get up early and pay your self in time first, like the Wealthy Barber suggests with money.

I realize that my evenings after the kids went to bed were mostly being used to go back to work. I work too much… Have I mentioned that?

So I decided that I would get up an hour earlier every day, and give myself an hour of time for myself. I didn’t dictate what that time should accomplish. But I found the mornings that I sit with a cup of espresso or chai, and either blog or reads, fill up my cup in the way that a few things do. The one thing I miss, having children, is quiet breakfast. So this is my way of carving out a quiet breakfast for myself, and a little refractive time. Consequently, at the other end of the day, I am either going out in the garden or spending a little time talking with my husband after the kids go to bed. Then, I go to bed myself. With a few exceptions {insert another joke about training an old dog new tricks} I’ve been avoiding working at night, when I am least productive anyway.

The most recent changes we’ve made is after our trip to Las Vegas. Prompted by our children’s less-than-subtle hints, Jason and I had deep discussion about our lack of time with kids. The truth is, until one of those major obligations is gone, we don’t have a lot of spare time. But we had found we had got into the technology trap… Much of the time we did have to spend on the children, we were wasting on technology time instead. Jason will go to his iPad, and I would go back to work. Sloth and Overwork. Neither reflected our true priority, of enjoying our daughters before they grow too old to enjoy us. So Jason has ditched his iPad, or rather tried to and was having a terrible time until I hid it on him. And I am making an equal attempt to not go back to work after 5 PM. Most importantly, we have taken the pledge to say “yes” to our children, and squeeze in activities and time with them during the day.

Our lives are these constant works in progress. The last few years have been building… Building our businesses and setting up our lives for the next stage. Now we are in the editing phase of carving out time for ourselves and our children.

If you find that you are short on time, not spending time with your kids, and too busy with work, I highly recommend those two books. They’ve prompted a lot of discussion in our lives, with more changes and editing to come.