Thursday, April 17, 2014

My New Little Project: Berbere Makes It Better

When we adopted Zinashi, she was three years old, and she had been eating injera her whole life. We spent a month with her in Addis Ababa and ate injera and shiro or firfir every single day. It is her home food. In the beginning, we fed her every bite. It was nourishing in more ways than one, and it is also Ethiopian tradition to feed one another. After she got more comfortable with us, she started to feed us, too. It is part of Zinashi's home culture, and now part of our family culture.

shiro face
Eating with Zinashi in Addis Ababa.

When we brought Zinashi back to the States with us, we committed to eating Ethiopian food at least once a week. While we sometimes went longer than that, we did pretty well. It helped that there were Ethiopians and Eritreans at church, and they often brought injera and wot to the meal we shared each Sunday after liturgy. We also became regulars at an Ethiopian restaurant. It was good. And then we moved.

When we came to San Francisco, we found a church with Ethiopians and Eritreans in the congregation, so the flow of church lunch injera continued, and we found a restaurant to go to as well. For a long time, we went to the restaurant every week. While I could cook wots at home, I did not know how to make injera, so I just worked the weekly restaurant meal into our budget.

food is home
Injera and wot at our usual spot in San Francisco.

But then Elvie arrived, and time and budget became an issue, and we didn't go as often. It didn't take long for it to become apparent to me that this was unacceptable. Ethiopian food is home food for Zinashi, and when she eats it, she feels better. We need to have it regularly.

So I learned to make injera, and now we order teff flour in 25-pound quantities. We make injera every Sunday, and sometimes a second time during the week. With the leftover injera, we make firfir. Ethiopian food is a regular part of our lives. It is delicious and it is healing.

injera 5
Injera and wot at home.

In addition to the teff for injera, the other thing you must always have in order to make Ethiopian food is berbere. It is the Ethiopian spice. It is a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and much more. Many Ethiopian cooks have their own special blend. We purchase ours through Brundo, and we don't just use it in Ethiopian food. I add it to roasted potatoes, to chili, to sauteed vegetables, to nearly every savory dish I make. It lends a familiarity to our food, and it is delicious. Berbere makes so many things better.

I've had the idea for quite some time to make shirts that say, "Berbere makes it better," with the dual meaning that it makes the flavor of our food better, but it also makes homesick hearts better. Originally, I thought I'd do a limited run of shirts and tote bags, which I would order through a local screen printer and ship out myself.

But then I had to be honest with myself: we do not have a ton of extra room in our budget for ordering shirts, and I am not good at getting things packaged and to the post office. I still wanted to do it, though, so I started paying attention to artists I follow on Instagram and who was printing their work if they didn't have their own online shop. I checked into a few options and decided to use Society6. This morning, I set up our little shop. You can now order shirts, mugs, art prints, and more with my message:

berbere makes it better, in ethiopian colors
In Ethiopian colors - the mug is my favorite option.


berbere makes it better

In black and white, in case you are into something a little more basic.

We will be giving half of the proceeds each month to charities that support family preservation in Ethiopia, and the other half will be used for our trip to Ethiopia to visit the girls' families in the fall. Frankly, our profit on each item isn't huge (that's the drawback of using a service like this instead of doing it ourselves), but it's something, and I hope that what I've designed will be something that some of you will like as well. Food isn't love, but food can show love, and, in our house at least, I truly believe that berbere makes it better.


Sidebar link to come. For now, click here to browse and order.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Writing Tools for Zinashi from ARK Therapeutic

Way back last week when I announced the Monday giveaway and reviewed the ARK Therapeutic products that Elvie has been using, I told you that I would review what Zinashi has been using later in the week. I'm not sure how the rest of you define a week, but apparently my week has more days in it than usual. I apologize for the delay.

For Zinashi, I ordered ARK's Tran-Quill Pencil Kit and also received ARK's Butter Grip to use with it. I wasn't sure how Zinashi would feel about a vibrating pencil, as she is usually sensory sensitive, but I thought we'd give it a shot, because sometimes she needs extra sensory input (usually accomplished by bouncing or otherwise wiggling, which is not so good for finishing copywork in a timely manner).

copywork drudgery

The results regarding the vibration feature were mixed - sometimes she wanted it on and seemed to do well with it, and others she didn't. However, she loved everything else about the writing kit. It has a nice grip even without the Butter Grip on it, and there is a tip you can screw onto the top that can be chewed on - she has chewed up several pencils, so I figured that she would benefit from this, and she does. The pencil also seems to be a nice weight for her to hold - I'm not sure how else to describe it except that it just seems like the weight balances the pencil in her hand better.

Were I to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have ordered the vibrating model for Zinashi. She simply doesn't that feature enough. However, Elvie is learning to scribble a bit, and I think that she may do really well with the vibration on, so that won't go to waste at all. The kit comes with extra pencils and chewable tips, plus a pencil sharpener and a case so we can keep it all together. The case has actually been one of my favorite parts - things that are small often disappear in our house, and I really like having a case that isn't huge, but still holds everything, that I can tuck away in our homeschool drawer.

As for the Butter Grips, I think these are an item that we will use more with Elvie. Zinashi has pretty good grip already, and she felt like it was too cumbersome for her. I tried it and liked it, but Zinashi is a girl who is not fond of change, so I think the way it changed how she held her hand while writing really bothered her. I did notice, however, that if I had her write with the Butter Grip on for awhile and then had her switch back to the pencil on its own, she would have much better handwriting afterwards. It was like the difference in grip trained her to focus her energies on writing, and she continued with that focus even when she wasn't adjusting for the grip difference anymore. At some point I might try requiring her to use it for part of her copywork each day, but for now that's not a battle I'm willing to attempt to fight. I think she's happy about that, and she doesn't even mind sharing this tool with Elvie.

guess which fairy tale we read today

Overall, we really like all the products we got from ARK Therapeutic. Their customer service has been excellent, and they were truly a joy to work with. I've got a few things on my list that I'd like to have for the girls, and I will be ordering from them again.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Giveaway: The Brush That Changed Our Lives

Styling my curly girls' hair is kind of a big deal. There are expectations to be met - mine, my girls', and anyone on the street who might have an opinion about African hair. I do not think that I need to be living up to everyone's expectations in every way, as that would be impossible, but the way I care for my girls' hair sends a message about my priorities for their care overall and my respect for their heritage and culture. I went out one time with Zinashi's hair looking a bit bedraggled after a bad day, and I did not get off easy. Hair is important.

baby bighair
Elvie does her own bedhead.

Many people take the view that natural hair is much harder to care for than hair that has been relaxed or non-curly hair. I have to say that I disagree. The total time I spend doing each of my girls' hair is no more than I spend on my own hair; it's just concentrated time, particularly in Zinashi's case. When we do hair, we are doing hair. And then, if I put in a style, we're done for the week...or two weeks...or even three weeks. We might add a little moisture at night, but honestly - when it's done, it's done. Sweet freedom.


by the shore
Little twists are versatile, and this round lasted for a total of four weeks. YES.

The biggest challenge, for me, as a woman with mostly straight, oily hair, has been learning how to work with hair that is basically my hair's polar opposite. We've gone through a lot of different products and tools and tried a lot of different techniques. Different things work on each of my girls' hair since they have different curl types, but there are two things that I use for both of them, that work brilliantly for both, that have honest-to-goodness changed our lives when it comes to doing hair.

always more sister love
The same products for these two different heads of curls? Fabulous!

The first thing is this detangler from Shea Moisture. Reviews on this are mixed, but since it works for both my girls, I highly recommend it as something to try. The one caveat is that we use it ONLY as a detangler, not as our leave in conditioner. I think that people who don't like it are trying to use it for both, and it really doesn't do both for us. But it detangles beautifully. As long as I can get this product, I will not use anything else. People suggest other things, and I go, "Oh, thanks for the recommendation!" while inside I am thinking, "No way." Because do you know how many detanglers I've tried? I don't even want to say. I've probably spent at least $100 trying to find one that would work for us. To find one that works for both of my girls is sort of like finding the Holy Grail.

And now, for the thing that has changed our lives even more than the detangler: our trusty brush. I also spent quite a lot of money trying to find a good detangling tool. I got wide tooth combs, combs with specially shaped teeth, brushes that had a frillion good reviews on natural hair sites, and...no luck. Detangling time was torturous. It took forever. I hated it, and my girls hated it, and I needed something else. So I got back to basics and just ordered this beautiful, classic brush, which turned out to be just the thing we needed, and is what I'm giving away this week.


This, my friends, is the nine-row Denman Classic Styling Brush. It's an icon, a legend, a...brush that has cut our detangling time by at least 50% and made it a lot more comfortable. I really don't know what it is about this brush that makes it work better than the rest. Is it the nylon bristles? The fact that I can get through more hair at once than other brushes we've used? The sturdy handle? I have no idea. But it works brilliantly for us, and I'd like to give one to one of you.

To win, leave a comment telling me your favorite hair product, for yourself or for someone else's hair that you care for, and tell why it's your fave. As usual, you have until Friday at 8pm PDT to enter.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Parenting to Heal: Get More Sleep

she has her own pillow
Getting Elvie her own pillow didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped.

A lot of the sessions I attended during the child welfare symposium went into a fair amount of detail on the topic presented, but some of the things that really made an impression on me were little bits from the round of five minute lightning talks at the end of the second day. Here is one little bit that I have seen the truth of in my own life, and so I'm passing it on to you.

You are sixty percent more reactive when you are not well rested. 

Wait, what? Yes, sixty percent more reactive. As in, you have a great deal more trouble controlling your emotions. Instead of being intentional, you'll be more reactive. By sixty percent. That seems like a pretty high number to me. I would have expected it to be more like twenty-five percent. But no. SIXTY.

I don't know about you, but I often write off sleep as the thing that keeps me from getting things done.  I need to stay up to work/get ready for the next day/clean/whatever. There are only so many hours in a day, you know, and often my children keep me busy for most of them. If I don't cut out some sleep, I won't get some things done! I also say things to myself like, "I need to have time to myself, and staying up late is the only way I can get it." This is true, but guess what?

It turns out that when I am well rested, I don't need that time to myself so desperately. I still need it, but not in the same way. I can wait for it. I don't feel like I am drowning in the feeling of being overwhelmed by people, particularly my small people with their myriad needs and crises. I see the difference in how I react to my children, or rather, don't react, but am intentional*.

In January, when I did my Whole30, I also committed to getting as close to eight hours of sleep each night as possible, and I've continued with that habit because I saw so much good come of it. I am going to tell you the truth: I get less done. I cannot keep up with some things as well as I'd like. But I also am better at handling the emotions of the day. I can think more clearly, I can respond more appropriately, and I feel overall less frustrated (possibly even sixty percent less frustrated) than when I am not sleeping as much. Even though my house is dirtier, I would say that it is worth it. I would even go so far as to say that I am a better mother because of it. I am parenting a kid who really needs me to be at the top of my game when it comes to my reactions. If getting extra sleep is what takes to get there, I'll do it.

I know that I often forget about self care, or at least demote it to the least important category, when it comes to figuring out what might help me parent more effectively to help my children heal. But it truly is important. A well rested parent is a calmer parent. A well rested parent can think more clearly. I want both of those things. So I'm going to keep at it with the sleep.


*Of course I still flub things up royally on the regular, but it's not as bad, honest.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Giveaway WINNER! ARK Therapeutic Bear Bottle Kit

Going into this week, I thought that I would surely be able to catch up on everything I missed out on at home Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday by kicking it into high gear and staying up a bit later than usual on Thursday and Friday. While I did get an astonishing amount of stuff done on Thursday, the truth is that otherwise, I was simply delusional. Thus I am writing this giveaway post at 10pm Saturday night, and I haven't had a chance to write my review of the other ARK Therapeutic products we tried. My apologies. I bit off more than I could chew this week, and it's not pretty. (Really. You should see my house. Or try to see my house. It seems to be buried beneath laundry, dishes, and toddler mess. Not to mention LEGO mess, because the child who has not been pulling things off shelves for the sheer joy of pulling things off shelves has been hitting the LEGOs pretty hard.)

Anyway, what was I saying? And why is my child wearing a helmet?

drawing 1

Ah, yes, we need to draw a giveaway winner, and a helmet counts as a hat. Brilliant. Here comes my other assistant now to do the drawing.

drawing 2

Once she got it narrowed down to just one paper, we unfolded it, but not before she drooled on it a little bit. Due to a heated argument regarding who would hold the paper for the photo, I had to call in another assistant, because no one wins when they yell, am I right? Except that we had a winner, so someone did win, and I just needed to take a photo of their name, for crying out loud. (Bickering makes me want to cry out loud.)

drawing 3

Brandee H, you are the winner of the ARK Therapeutic Bear Bottle Kit! Please use the email link in the right sidebar to email me your address, and the fantastic folks at ARK Therapeutic will send you your prize.

Thanks to everyone who entered! There will be another chance to win next week, and as usual, the giveaway will be announced on Monday. This next one is a product that has changed the way we do hair in this house, so please make note to stop back by for that.

Happy weekend!

Right Where I Want to Be

mami:elvie selfie

On Thursday, I was back to my usual day job, by which I mean taking care of the kids and trying to dig us out of the mess that we call our house. I feel like my temperament and skills are well suited to what I'm doing now, which is mostly being a mom and housewife, with some other projects* on the side. Other stay at home moms may wax poetic about the early years and their biggest priorities and other things to make their choice seem noble, but I'm going to tell you straight up that I just really like my life and my work as it is. I don't think it really has anything to do with making a noble choice. The life we have, with me being at home and doing the homeschooling and the cooking and the whole deal, is just the life that fits for us.

We started out homeschooling because it was the best fit for Zinashi, and while I still believe that is true (or we wouldn't be doing it), I also just really like it (or we wouldn't be doing it). I like being the one to take the kids places, and I like being the one in charge of the laundry, and I really, really like being the one in charge of buying the things we need, especially kid things and food things. (Nothing is so thrilling as getting the best deal possible on Enjoy Life Chocolate Chunks, for real. I mean, have you tasted those? They have no dairy or soy, and they are delicious.) I like being able to have a slow start to most of our mornings, and I like ridiculous things like putting my coffee in the blender with a little coconut oil, which, let's face it, would not be happening were I to work in an office.

And I like being with my little people every day, all day. Sometimes I need a break, it's true, but I just really like hanging out with them. Three days away was enough, and no solo Starbucks trips can hold a candle to sitting in my pajamas, sipping my blender coffee and doing Zinashi's daily readings with her, or passing the time during Zinashi's guitar lesson by taking selfies with Elvie. I like my job. I daresay I'm pretty good at it. For now, I will keep it just as it is.


*Like blogging, mostly. That's pretty much it. My usual job keeps me busy enough that I still don't have time to take up any hobbies.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Three Days Gone

I've been attending a child welfare symposium here in San Francisco for the past two days, and I'll be there again tomorrow. Every day I've been leaving my house before 7am, and I know that's shocking to a lot of you, who may have been anticipating crowning me queen of Pajamas-Until-Noon-Land. I'm sorry to disappoint you with my sudden ability to rise before dawn. But I've been learning a lot, and I've been connecting with people in ways I had hoped to connect, and I've been getting information that I want and need. It has been really good in a lot of ways. It has been worth rolling myself out of my warm bed at 6am and figuring out what to put on that is mostly clean and free of cat hair before my eyes are fully open for the day.

It's also been nice, I'll admit, to have a quiet ride to the other side of the city, to eat without anyone asking me to share, to go to Starbucks twice in one day without anyone questioning my caffeine consumption or trying to convince me that a little bit of gluten will be just fine. (Please do not question my caffeine consumption; I am still not a morning person, despite my newfound ability to rise early.)

But I miss my main job, with these rascals.

my baby love

quiet beauty

And I'm pretty sure they miss me, too. At least, Zinashi says this is true.

I've got so much to share that I've learned these past two days, and I'm sure there will be even more after tomorrow. Being able to attend this symposium has been a gift, and I am so grateful for it. I'll spend a few days getting my cows back over their buckets here at home (there is still party mess to clean up, not to mention laundry that hasn't been doing itself in my absence), and then I'll sit down and write a few posts for you about what I've learned, what questions arose for me, and how my perceptions about some things have changed. I'm truly looking forward to sharing.
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