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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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 🙂

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.

Sisters Trip to Portland

Before Christmas, my brother in law asked me to find a CD of Damien Rice,  in Irish folk/rock singer for my sister Ena’s Christmas present. Despite looking in the few stores, I didn’t have any luck on the CD. No one buys physical music these days! But one evening in May, I came across concert tickets for the same guy, performing in Portland. I thought “what the heck, she’ll love it,” and spontaneously bought the tickets. I mailed one to her when they arrived, and announced that we were going on a road trip, wether she liked it or not. Ena was delighted! And so in April, we headed off on our four day whirlwind trip down to Portland to see an Irish folk singer.

Ena and I live a few mountain ranges away from each other, so we agreed to meet in Spokane and then continue on our way to Portland.

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Apparently my brother-in-law was slightly concerned about our ability to meet up in a foreign city without cell phones (I ditched mine almost a year ago when our clinic opened and my daily work/home life shrunk within three blocks.) Surprise surprise, maps and preplanned meeting times still work.

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Ena and I explore the sites of Spokane, including taking a gondola ride over the river. That was pretty cool.

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We scrounged up some gluten-free grub at Gastro pub in a trendy Spokane residential neighborhood, and headed out for our night in the cabin.

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For our budget trip, I had booked a cabin in Potholes State Park. It was practically deserted this time of the year, and we had a restful sleep, waking to the sound of the marsh humming on our doorstep.

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Then onto Portland!

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We stayed at an HI hostel, right in the middle of a trendy shopping and residential neighbourhood. It was great! I’ve stayed at countless hostels, all over the world, and this was one of the best… Clean, simple rooms, a beautiful shaded garden between the four buildings that constitute the hostel, and spacious kitchen to make our own food.

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We rode the tram to the concert, and found it very easy to get around. 

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Otherwise, our time was spent shopping, eating and walking.

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I wanted to see what the hipsters (and their dogs!) We’re wearing, to incorporate new ideas into my store. I definitely picked up some awesome product ideas, as well as some cute low boots.

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Spending a couple of days there, I really jived with Portland. It is beautifully lush, and the laid back atmosphere and attention to style really suits me. I’ve always said if I ever had to live in the U.S., it would be in San Francisco, but maybe, in the imaginary border crossing, it would be Portland instead.

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After too short of a visit, we headed back home. This time, we drove north, then east, and spent the night in a yurt in a wooded state park.

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The next morning, we took a hike through the woods, following the river, and got our legs ready for the long journey home.

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A trip like this is a special gift. And that’s the way I feel about my sister. As teens, we often didn’t see eye to eye. I thought she was reckless and she thought I was a stick in the mud. But by the time our twenties rolled around, we realized that we have way more in common than we ever thought. We share interests, values, and a lot of great jokes. For the last 18+ years, I’m lucky to have counted her around my best of friends.

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Bonus picture! For fans of my puppy:

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