Sunday, January 4, 2015


The past three days we stayed with my parents in Plumstead, to allow us to drive early in the morning down to Kommetjie, where we were pulling down our two timber cottages and an outhouse. It was a shame to pull down two standing, potentially useful structures, and we even wished we could live in them temporarily, but it would be worse to not to use an existing foundation. Demolition was pretty intense physical labour, and we so grateful on the third day when my dad, sister and some friends came to help us in the final push. 

We had big plans to rebuild the cottages as different outhouses for the farm, but almost immediately a neighbour came by to ask for them. We felt good about giving them to the neighbour, who promptly offered to build a henhouse for us. So we felt even better. He then offered us his male muscovy duck (yes, please!) and a few potbellied pigs (no, thank you!).

We got to meet a few more neighbours from further afield, as we'd offered the contents of the houses in exchange for help hauling trash, which turned out well. It felt a little like when we were getting rid of stuff in Boston- I wondered "do we need this?!" and was sometimes a little nervous to relinquish stuff, even "junk" ("Junk"=building materials for future projects!). The cottages were similarly hard for me. But it's likely they'd have rotted, rusted or been stolen before many of our plans came to fruition. Going through the stuff in the cottages was evidence of this: there were plenty of good clothes that had been left for so long that they'd gone moldy, been overgrown with grass (kikuyu grass is powerful stuff-- literally growing through clothing) and been rendered useless.

So we're now several steps closer to building. The engineer comes next week to assess the foundation, and make recommendations on how to make it good enough for the house we're building.

Demolition: Not as easy as it looks: this photo is taken from the southeast, where our house will be, and faces the Northwest area of the farm. Our house will face North, and the front of the foundation will be a porch/sun room. For some reason this corner of the foundation wasn't completed, and is just wood.
Opening up the view.

The kids did not miss us while they were their grandparents. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015, A Guest Post by Eug!

Below is a guest post by Eug.  So I=Eug.  Not Jo.  Very important.  Eug kept begging me so I finally relented (despite Concrete Gardener's strict editorial guidelines/policy).  But Eug was lazy so he just copied and pasted from his January newsletter. So you might be wondering, why is he talking about books? Why is he making random lists?  It's just what he does for his newsletters... I told him, "Dude, I got standards." But he said, "No, this way your readers would get a taste of my awesome newsletter and will want to subscribe." I said, "Do people even read newsletters? Blogs are cooler."  He said, "It's more personal... Please!!!!" 


Happy 2015 to you!

For this year, I’m trying to draw and write a little bit each day. Get into a good habit and flow. Hopefully that’ll mean more books for you all!

Should we be teaching stuff?

Our kids are getting older. This year they’ll turn 5 and 3. Jo and I are scratching our heads, “Is Noah supposed to be grade R (kindergarden) this year?” hmm… “Should we be teaching him stuff?”

Teaching Noah to clean...

Despite all the books we read, we felt like newbie parents (still do) and now, despite all the books we read, we feel like newbie homeschoolers. We’ve talked and dreamed about a pedagogy that could be a blend of unschooling with bits of homeschooling structure. But on days when everything goes crazy at home and we end up vegging out on youtube… I start to panic.

So for this year, Jo and I came up with some goals for our children. But first, we’ll need to go into an area I love to explore… Productivity!

Parent Hacking for Productivity Nerds

So I used to be a GTD guy. Yes, I have Omnifocus on my Mac. If you’re a productivity nerd like me, then you know what I’m talking about, otherwise, sorry for the nerd talk. If you can make it through this section, it will all make sense. I promise.

Recently, I gave up on GTD (sorry David) for a lot of reasons. My current flavor is Agile Results which I picked up from Asian Efficiency.

Here’s the rough idea of Agile Results as I interpreted it: just think in threes (two is ok too.):
  • Write 3 big yearly goals.
  • Write 3 monthly goals.
  • Write 3 weekly goals.
  • Write 3 daily goals.

As you can guess, each daily goal is a small step hopefully in the direction of the bigger goals. They’re also the focus and priority for my day.

For me, I write the 3 yearly goals. The monthly, weekly and daily ones I write at the beginning of the month, week, or start of day. Keeps me agile you see.

I don’t think the daily, weekly or monthly goal has to really line with the yearly goal or with each other. They should to make progress, but life happens and because things come up all the time, I might have a weekly goal that has nothing to do with the monthly or yearly, I just need to get it done. Like fix that leaking sink!

Looking back on December, my 3 Monthly goals were:
  • Clean up the house to put on sale. Done
  • Make a video out of one of my books. Done: see it on Youtube
  • Write a crappy first draft of a new chapter book series. Done: Think— Magic Treehouse meets Doctor Who. 

It’s an easy system to grasp and tweak for yourself. One you can implement with just pen and paper or a fancy spreadsheet.

Whether you’re homeschooling or not, you can easily use the same framework for your children. For older kids, I think it’s a great way to talk about goals and helping them achieve things with small steps. Ken Watanabe’s book Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People would compliment this idea perfectly. By the way, Ken’s book is awesome. (Before you scream at me, “!t’s $13 for a tiny 100 page book with kiddie pictures!” Do what I did, use the library.)

For 2015, Jo and I are coming up with goals for our kids. Not just curriculum goals like reading or math, but skills like learning to bike or swim and social skills or even teaching them to pray.

One goal we have is to teach our kids to swim. So in our daily planning, we might stop by the public pool for an hour in the morning or remember to bring our swimming costumes if we visit the grandparents.
They're like ducks!

Book List: Old is New Books

To start the new year, why not pick up a new old book? I know, we all like new things don’t we? It’s easier to pick a new release film to watch rather than look for films that are decades old we haven’t seen. I think it’s just our natural prejudice for older things. But there’s something special about reading a book I enjoyed as a child and then reading it my own children. So here’s to great old stories:

Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. The book I enjoyed as a child. And now our children enjoy. Before I could read, I remember pouring over the “busy” illustrations. Where’s Goldbug?

Riverboat Adventures by Lucy Kincaid. The book Jo enjoyed as a child. And now our children enjoy. You'll have to really search to find this out-of-print book, but it's worth it.

Stuart Little by E.B. White. This is the first book, I can remember reading in bed by myself. Charlotte’s Web is nice too, but I had a thing for rodents when I was little.

The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton. Jo grew up reading Enid Blyton. Jo was shocked I never heard of her. But I think it's more of a British/South African cultural thing. Some of her works are a bit "colonial"... We got a copy of The Wishing Chair from the library to try it on Noah.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. Here’s a book your grandparents might have read as a child. But stay away from those Disney versions. Seriously, pick up the old 1929 one with the scratchy drawing by Ernest H. Shepard. Pooh bear might not look cartoony and fun like the cartoons, but the writing is so much nicer.

Frog and Toad are Friends. From my in-laws bookshelf. It’s two old amphibians being grumpy. Never gets old.

Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish. There’s newer ones by Herman Parish that are just as good, but we’ve been checking out the olds one from the library. These books make Noah laugh, which makes me laugh.

For more, check out New York Public Library’s curated list. Notice the publishing date on many of these books. “Great stories never grow old.”

What books do you remember reading that you are now reading to your kids?

Sign Up!

Thanks for reading and thanks to Jo for letting me guest post. Finally!

We thought there might be overlap between Jo's Concrete Gardener readers and Eug's monthly author newsletters. So, if you would like a rambling newsletter full of bad parenting advice, random lists of children's books, and paragraphs of ninja email marketing kung-fu to force you to buy my books when they come out... Then you should sign up!  Click here. Free newsletter!!

Yes, all links just go to my website, where you can sign up for that newsletter.  I promise I won't sell your email address.  How do you even do that???  Wait, do you know..? 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. May this be a year of good things for you. I'm posting now because, well, I haven't seen in New Year in an embarrassingly long time. And 3:30pm seems as good a time as any to welcome 2015.

One purpose of the blog has been to keep track of the kids' growth. I took some time this afternoon to show the kids pictures from the past year, and they saw places they wanted to return to (Eli: I want to be back in Korea. RIGHT. NOW) and saw how they'd changed and grown. Actually, I'm not sure if they noticed but I liked the idea of it. 

We've gone almost a year without a car, and it is also heartening to note that we've had a lot of car-free adventures with the kids. Another purpose of this blog, as I see it, has been to think about how living without a car can/does work in Cape Town (for the annoyingly middle-class-- of course it has to work for tons of people, but perhaps the point is to change the middle-class norm), and I haven't done that enough this year. Next year, there'll be new challenges (living in the Deep South) so hopefully there'll be time to reflect on them. 

Anyway. Here are some recent pictures of Christmas. Christmas and New Year risk passing without too much change for us: Eug and I tend to work every day except Sunday. The main change has been that other people are more available to hang out, which has been awesome. 

On Christmas eve we discovered that a park on the way to Plumstead had a new installation! We stopped to let the kids try it out.  
Christmas eve-- playing outside. 

The kids wanted to pose next to a cactus pad I found (stole off a big cactus on the street).. to plant on a dry spot on our plot. I'm trying to diversify our food supply, and cactus seems to be both a security option, as well as a source of food. I wonder, though, if I can persuade myself to prepare and eat unfamiliar foods when we have nearby grocery stores stocked with familiar foods. I hope so! 

I realised I may not have shown you the Wonderbag (or have I?). It's been great-- like having a slowcooker. It basically keeps food warm (and continuing to cook). Great for beans, lentils, brown rice.

After moving all my plants over to my parent's house, or to the plot, I can't seem to stop myself from starting more plants on our dining table, which is outside these days. The sweet potato slips in the background are almost ready for planting, as are some of the pineapple tops, so I could clear some space for the next round of foraging. 
The joy of cold-stratified persimmon seeds coming up after just 3 days in the soil. Cold stratification seems to have made all the difference with persimmon seeds. I've previously struggled to get them to germinate, but I put these seeds in the fridge, then in wet rockwool in the freezer, and up they are popping.