Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going Off CFS...

In the spirit of my past entries, I am going to start with a rabbit trail.

It's finally moving towards the -10c to 0c range, which is nice.  We can go out with toques instead of fur lined ushankas, and the car doesn't need to be parked in the back and plugged in every night.  It even smells like spring is around the corner.  There are more birds at the feeder, and the red squirrel which we have been plying with nuts all fall and winter has stopped storing them and just eats them as soon as we put them out.  He's a zippy little guy, on his first winter by himself.  Fun fact about red squirrels, the females bequeath their foraging territory to their daughters, and the males are out on their own, and have to compete for new territory.  This little guy started hanging around mid summer.  There are a lot of grey squirrels and larger reds around, so he had a hard time, getting kicked out of trees and chased around.  In the course of putting nuts out, we also found that the local crow population loves peanuts as well, and they figured out how to carry three in their beak at a time.  We see him once or twice during the week, and whereas he was a scrawny little wisp in fall, he's chubby and thick now, with the characteristic red tufts on his ears.  We spent about $10 in peanuts subsidizing his supplies this winter, and it seems to have paid off.

Now to the matter at hand.

Yuliya and I have soured on CFS somewhat since we started this whole thing.  For those who have worked with them, we now understand why so many do not choose to go the CFS route, and we will be following suit.

To be brief, getting information has been frustrating.  Our primary contact until being assigned a social worker never gave Yuliya or myself the same piece of information twice, despite being asked the same question at different times by each of us.  I was on the verge of attempting some amateur divination to scry the location of our social worker when we received the letter some two weeks after the date on which it was supposed to be sent.  From it we got the contact number for our social worker, who admitted to having done very few international adoptions.  His response when asked about the timeline for a homestudy for an adoption with the DRC was "Yeah, there's been more people lately asking about adoptions from the Congo.  What's up with that? Why are people interested in the Congo?"  Think Mitch Hedberg at half speed, and you've got this guy nailed.  We then almost fell over, when we were told that after our education seminar in May, it would take 3-6 months for our criminal and child abuse registry checks to be completed.  In reality, we knew it would be a maximum of seven weeks for both.  Then we did fall over, when he said that it would take 8-12 months to start, not complete a home study.  Taking that with the fact that six weeks after applying no one knew a thing about our file, and that was basically it for us.

We called Adoption Options and have an appointment to get our file started there  next week.  While this only represents a $200 setback at this point, it's also a month and a half lost in preparation time, and after all the calls about the timeline, it's amazing to me that no one thought to actually ask one of the social workers who has done international adoptions about how long things take.  As an aside, we were told that adopting with the DRC was no problem.  Our actual social worker said that they don't work with non-Hague countries.

Then again, for those familiar with the stereotype of Manitoba CFS, this sadly fits the pattern.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Preparations & Smoothies

It's snowing again.  Once it stops, I am going to be shovelling.  There is close to four feet of snow in the back yard from clearing our parking pad so far this winter.  I don't know where we're going to start putting it next.  At least the property slants away from the house, and we built up the soil around the foundation to keep spring runoff out of the basement (file under "Things you should do when your house is 100 years old").  Until then, we shall blog!

If this blog is not up to my usual standards, forgive me, but I'm blogging at lunch and we had champagne in the office to celebrate a new account.  The bubbles, the bubbles.

Apologies all around, an adoption blog about smoothies is not really the correct context for putting a humorous twist on quotations from Heart of Darkness.

As you can see we already have expectations, but expectations without preparation is just entitlement, so we are preparing for our adoption as well.  What does this mean?  This means we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Seeing as how there is a limited amount of preparation that we can do while waiting for paperwork to be completed and inspected, I have taken it upon myself to ration that preparation out to keep Yuliya from losing her mind and furnishing kids rooms, buying toys, books, and rubberized cutlery all in a one week span.  I think it was the day after we applied that she went out, and bought outlet covers and and door-knob covers for the entire house.  You see now what I am up against.

There are other preparations which are more serious, or that we are attempting to take more seriously.  These started about a year ago - we decided that it was time to change our diets.  Starchy foods are cost effective, and if there was one concern in our lives for the past few years, it was being cost effective.  We were getting Yuliya established in her career, paying down student debt, paying ongoing tuition costs, and juggling a high-maintenance car with the normal costs of living.  So last Xmas we decided to cut a huge portion of starch and sugar out of our diets, and replace it with fresh salads and veggie stir-fries.  Building on that, we eliminated the entire concept of supper from our lives this year - we are juicing.

We have also started more regular excercise.  We struggled with getting on the elliptical, biking, lifting weights consistently over the last year.    Since December, we've been hitting the pool for an hour at a time, at least twice a week to swim laps.  We aren't losing much weight yet, but we are toning, building stamina, and getting into good enough shape that the first week in the gym isn't totally demoralizing.  Yuliya didn't grow up swimming, so she struggles a bit with distance and duration.  Towards the end of the hour her laps usually end with near drownings.  It also hasn't helped that she looks like a turtle in a swimming cap and goggles.  I will do my best to extort a picture from her to post on the blog.

Here are our do's and don'ts of juicing.

Basic recipe for all our smoothies is:
Put in two cups of spinach and one and a half cups of water.  Blend for a minute.
Add a cup of any fruit you want.  If you're a wild and crazy guy/girl, add another cup of any fruit you want.  Add two bananas, two tbsp ground flax, one cup of fortified almond or soy milk.  Blend for a minute.  Serves two.


  • Buy all the fresh and frozen fruit that goes on sale.  We have a deep freeze full of frozen peaches, pomegranites, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, passionfruit, etc.  When it goes on sale or starts to brown and soften up, buy it.  Take it home.  Freeze it.  
  • Expect colourful poops.  No dodging the issue.  The effect on our digestive systems wasn't cataclysmic, but it was eye-catching.  Also, there will be seeds.
  • Try crazy combinations of fruit.  Mango/blackberry?  Blend it.  Peach/raspberry?  Blend it.  Anything/Durian?  Do NOT blend it.  Durian is not a smoothie flavour fruit.
  • Get organic, washed spinach.  No matter how much you wash the regular stuff, it will always have a bitter aftertaste that slips through.  Get the biggest containers you can find.
  • Expect to be hungry afterwards for the first couple days.  This is not a steak dinner.  If a little rumble is a huge issue, make 30% more smoothie, or have some cut veggies with greek yogurt dip.
  • Depending on the nutrition you get for breakfast and lunch, consider adding protein powder to the smoothie - but get a decent brand.  The cheap protein supplements all have crazy amounts of cholesterol.  May as well throw a couple of deep fried hot dogs in the smoothie if you get a cheap protein supplement.
  • Cut loose, and toss a little vodka or orange brandy in the smoothie from time to time.  If you were having an occasional glass of wine with supper, this is the substitute.


  • Get a crazy blender.  Crazy fruit good, crazy blender bad.  We have seen people that have $700 blenders for the sole purpose of making smoothies.  If you were seriously considering mounting a light aircraft engine on your countertop for the purpose of chopping fruit, take the following steps: 
  1. Stop.  When you went vehicle shopping for something that was safe and had space, you did not buy an armoured personnel carrier.  You bought a Sienna.  Apply the same logic to your blender.
  2. Go to Canadian Tire or Walmart or Costco or w/e
  3. Buy the $30 on sale, Black n Decker special that has four buttons, no throttle controls, and no option to feather the blades.
  4. Wait until I post a paypal link, and give us the difference that we just saved you.  Now you too can enjoy brilliant smoothies and know that your money is being well used.  No nagging fears in the night about whether that decommissioned B-29 engine was a good investment.  You invested in us, and we are investing in children.  No fears!
  • Get a blender from TV.  Closely related to the above rule.  The blending at a higher speed or chopping it into finer particles will not make in more nutritious, or easier for you body to absorb.  What it will do, is potentially upset your digestive processes because your body expects to do a certain amount of work. Let it.  
  • Have dessert.  This is all the sugar your body desires, for the entire day.
  • Forget to floss.  I made the mistake of going to the dentists immediately following 'supper'.  I opened up, and the dental hygienist simply said "Oh my.  Broccoli?"  In the end it was delightful conversation as she was trying to get her family onto smoothies, and we traded recipes. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The DRC, Past and Present

There is the general idea floating around that the DRC, and most African countries are somewhere between impoverished, stagnant puddles of misery and outright hellholes.  That was the extent of Yuliya and I's understanding of issues facing the DRC, with the vague awareness that it was all somehow related to colonialism. 

As a result of this ignorance, we've been working hard to educate ourselves as to what exactly went on there in the last century.  It turns out that as the First Nations of North America didn't invent scalping, the Congolese were not the innovators of the tortures which they suffered either.  What shocked us was that while social issues involving First Nations are rooted in a 400 year history, the Congo really began it's colonial history in the 1870s.

We started with this video.  It's pretty dark, but will certainly put the brutality of the current conflicts in perspective.  I've visited Belgium, specifically many of the sites shown in the video which were built by Leopold II. It turns my stomach now to think of the human cost that went into the grandeur, and that there are still people defending the excess.  Not exactly in the same class as sweatshop t-shirts.  It was an eye-opener for us, and sobering to say the least.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rage Against the Public Notary

As a caveat to this entire story, I want to say that Yuliya and I are patient, rational people most of the time.

This all started with a simple task.  I needed to go and get copies of my driver's license, birth certificate, and passport, as well as Yuliya's passport, permanent resident certificate, and PR stamp in her passport notarized.  CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) required these documents as part of the application for citizenship for adopted children.  The CIC application for adopted children is a two step process - first step is CIC confirming the potential adoptive parents' citizenship status, second step is processing the documents for the children themselves.  Thanks to this compartmentalization, we can actually apply for the children's citizenship before we even get a referral, and we'll have their passports in hand when we travel to the DRC.  No embassy visit for us.

Anyway, that was a tangent.  In the course of Yuliya's immigration to Canada, we notarized about 50 documents for CIC, so we have some knowledge and understanding of the government requirements for these true copies.  Yuliya phoned a local law firm to make an appointment, and I went on my day off (yesterday) to get it done.

The first sign that this would be trouble was the receptionist.  I don't know what happened, but after she went to let the notary know that I had arrived, she burst into tears and left the building.  It's not related, but I consider it a bad omen when the person working the front desk breaks down and leaves the premises shortly after meeting you.  Yes, I know that this is magical thinking, but it improves the narrative.

The second sign was the lawyer herself.  Maybe it was a Casual Friday, but most lawyers in my experience still take themselves seriously enough to wear something other than black leggings and a tight t-shirt.  You will notice as well that I didn't mention her underwear.  That is because all evidence indicated that she had decided against any on this particular day.  So it was with trepidation that I followed her to her office.

I quickly explained the documents we needed, gave her the CIC guide for how they wanted things to be notarized, and waited while she made the copies.  She returned the documents to me and that is when the third sign of things to come was made apparent.  At some point in the ten minutes it took to photocopy our identification, she had lost Yuliya's passport.  After a short and exhaustive search of the office it was found.

Then everything went sideways.  CIC demands that all notarized copies have a statement on them stating the name, title, and law office of the notary, and verifying that these are true copies of the originals.  They are very specific about that requirement in the guide.  Our notary made the statement on a separate piece of paper, stapling it to the copy as a cover sheet.  I point out the requirement, and she looked the guide over, and dismissed my concern.

"This is how we always do it, and we've never had issues."  This phrase was a touchstone of the law firm, for the number of times we heard it.

I insisted that she follow the guide, and she was aggressive about this being correct as well.  At this point, I didn't have time to argue, as I had to pick Yuliya up from work.  On the way I called CIC and was informed that yes, the guide needed to be followed to the letter.  So I picked Yuliya up, and we headed back to take care of business.  We explained that per our conversation with CIC the original request was how things should have been done.  She then went and hunted down a senior partner because this was unheard of.  They decided that she should just write the statement of authenticity by hand onto the copies.  She did, and returned them to us.

Now, if you've ever gotten anything notarized, you know that there is always a very prominent stamp or seal displaying the name, title, and office of the notary.  On ours, the stamp was faint to the point of being illegible, barely a circle impressed in the paper.  We asked if there was a way to make it more permanent, and she said that was how it worked and no one had ever had issues with it before.  So we went back to the car and called CIC again, and verified that the stamp needed to be legible or at the end of the 6 week processing time the documents would be rejected and we would have to start over.  Back to the law office we went.

We entered the office in combat mode.  This is a frame of mind Yuliya and I get into when we're dealing with people who have our money and are not being reasonable about holding up their end of the bargain.  We become hyper-sensitive to obfuscation and fallacies in an argument, and are more than willing to call someone a liar if we can prove it.  When we're both like this, we treat the conversation more like a pack of wolves stalking a deer than anything else.  We are the wolves, and we are going to pull off somebody's arm if they don't lay off the BS and get something done.  We maintain a neutral tone but adopt extremely aggressive body language.  It has been highly effective in the past.

The first time that I can recall that we did this was dealing with a rental agency who was not getting our paperwork in order for an apartment, after we were kicked out of a basement suite on short notice.  We pulled our application on the grounds that three weeks was too long to wait for approval, and we had made other living arrangements.  The agency tried to keep our application fee, which they were legally entitled to - something we were not aware of at the time.  We asked them to show us where on the agreement we signed it said that they were entitled to the fee, and no one could, and they didn't think of pointing to the legislation.  We declined to leave the office until they paid us back.  After 30min, a very flustered lady came out and we got a cheque for about a third of the amount, which we were in no way legally entitled to.  But I digress.

Now the notary flatly refused to provide any further assistance, as in her opinion she had done her job, rendered services, etc.  We advised that CIC would not accept documentation with an illegible stamp, and she fell back on the company motto.  Yuliya requested that she come and read the stamp and see if she could read it herself, and asked if she thought that the CIC case officer would accept something that appeared to be less than authentic.  In turn, the notary advised that she would never have agreed to notarize the documents if she knew that those were the standards which the documents are held to.  I then charitably pointed out that I had put the document guide in her hand with the documents, which stated clearly everything that we had already asked for.

Her last defense was that this was how they stamped things, it wasn't going to get any better than this.  She offered the opinion that we should try another notary.  We agreed, but asked for our $63 dollars back.  She declined, and apologized for being unable to meet our standards, but felt that the work had been done.  In turn, we highlighted the fact that this wasn't an issue of our standards, but rather CICs.

By this time her body language had drastically changed, and we felt less like people pushing for their rights as consumers and the reasonable expectation of receiving quality services from a law firm, and more like a mama bear who had just turned around to see a foolish little human between her and her cubs.  I know that this analogy doesn't really stand, but here was an obstinate lawyer who had our money, and was putting herself firmly in the way of us moving on to the next step of getting our children.  She never stood a chance.

At this point she fled the office, literally shaking and stammering incoherently.  She said that the managing partner would be in later, which I didn't believe for a second.  What managing partner at a law office is out on a Friday at 2pm, but comes back in later?  We called her bluff and offered to wait for him.  She then returned with the office manager, who proceeded to correctly stamp and notarize the letters on behalf of the notary, who had retreated to the women's bathroom.  It took all of two minutes.

We left feeling red-jawed and vindicated, if frustrated that we had spent over two hours(!!) trying to get official photocopies of six documents made.  We returned home, documents in hand, and I listened to Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys.