Thursday, September 11, 2014

Spring on a bike

I know this is about the mountain, but for me it was about the fact that I showed the world my legs for the first time since puberty. Not only did the world not implode, it didn't even notice.
For so many reasons, I am excited for summer. Or that winter is over. For one, my dissertation is no longer hanging over me (it's too early to celebrate, but it is out of my hands at least!). For another, we are getting out more, and there is nowhere I am happier than the beach.

It also means that we made it through our first winter without a car. Looking back on the past year or so of biking, I am surprised by how much I have changed.When I am on the bike I feel how riding fundamentally shifts my perception of myself. It has affirmed my hope for myself: If there is one thing I seem to want, it is to be considered strong, by myself and others. Not just physically strong, but resilient, you know? And part of that is totally oriented around God, around the sense that I don't have to fight for myself. And another part is totally oriented around myself, where I'm totally fighting for myself and winning (see dissertation). Which is to say, a bike is probably a good vehicle for self-reflection (and narcissism).

Inconvenience aside (or glossed over for the purposes of this post!), it is amazing to have gone through winter, with small kids and a vaguely middle-class suburban Cape Town lifestyle, without a car. I know not many people will think it practical just yet, but every day we bike, I get more excited at the potential it presents. We've renovated our house to put it on the market, and surprisingly, it was actually easier without a car. Rather than go to the massive Builder's Warehouse, Eug found all the small shops in nearby Woodstock and Salt River, where the shop workers are super competent and give great advice, lines are non-existent, and he buys exactly what we need for the next week. When we buy gas canisters for our stove from the petrol/gas station, they get the canister the moment they see us pulling up.

From our recent ride to Milnerton: Biking from Obs-Milnerton beach is great on a Sunday, but  tough on other days, because it involves Albert Road. Albert Road is set to get a painted bike lane, so this may help. Right now, cyclists have to go in traffic along Albert, which on weekdays has tons of traffic and double-parked cars, and a killer traffic circle (which you can always walk your bike across, if you don't feel comfortable). Once on the bike path at Woodstock, the ride is lovely, sharing the MyCiti route.

As Spring arrives, we are mark almost 3 years since we left Boston and a little less since we arrived in Cape Town (we arrived Dec 6, 2011). And so it is a time of change. We've put an offer on an acre of vacant land in Noordhoek/Capri, and 6 years after praying with our small group during lent for a tiny house, it looks as though we will have our own tiny, off-grid house (although it won't be quite as tiny as many are- probably around 36m2). Amazingly, it is financially neutral, as we're moving to a much cheaper area and building a very small house. More on that soon. It feels like a very hopeful faith-building time.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about the ice-bucket challenge, where I shared, not very deeply, that such challenges scare me, though I couldn't really articulate why. She suggested that people sharing about what they give, and who they give to, could be a powerful vehicle for social change. 

In that spirit, I felt like talking about what we did with the money we got from selling our car. When people see the Bullitt they always ask how much it cost, and I always say vaguely how much and they sigh and say that it would be impossible for them. This sometimes leads me to say that we sold our car and actually it cost the same as a cheap car, and costs almost nothing to run as compared to a car, which requires petrol, which is edging up to R14.00/L. I say this because I want to seem the same as them, and I want them to feel like this is a change they could maybe try out. Usually, the people asking have professional full-time jobs, which immediately means they have an income that is many orders of magnitude more than our family's income. But I also do feel pretty rich, and I'm on a bike, I probably smell bad, the kids are somewhere nearby, and I don't want to seem too weird or start up on a financial conversation about why the Bullitt might make financial sense. 

Anyway, on to selling our car. We have this thing that cars have mainly felt like gifts to us, and we've also found it useful to consider cars sunk costs (although hopefully we don't have to buy a car again for a long time!!) so we've always either given away the car or given away the money from the sale of the car. Which is not like a million cars: Eug and I have been married almost 8 years, and had 3 cars during our marriage. Anyway, so this time when we sold the car we gave the money to the Bicycling Empowerment Network. We don't know that much about them, but we liked that they seemed to be interested in making cycling in Cape Town more than a middle-class hobby, and they seem to have a dream that we'd love to share. We also liked that we can hopefully visit and hang out with them, as they're just around the corner from our plot in Masiphumelele. The money for the car would have constituted quite a big amount for us, so I guess my point in sharing this is that our experience is that outwardly strange financial decisions have all these other dimensions. Even though we've never met the people at BEN, we feel like we're part of their story, which is pretty cool. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dinosaurs, forests, rain.

We haven't gone on as many exciting trips recently- winter combined with my work. I'm conscious that this blog is curated and that you only see little bits of our life, and I wonder how best to show parts that are both fairly honest and helpful. I have no idea. So here are some pictures of the kids in front of extinct animals, and in the forest... 

The National Museum is this year's big destination for us. It's fairly quiet, right in the centre of the city so easy to combine with other trips (to home affairs...). The aquarium was our go-to place on a rainy day when we had a car, but we haven't renewed our membership because it's a fairly long trip in heavy traffic on the Bullitt.
Eli takes his trains everywhere, so for him the museum is mainly an exercise in finding straight lines for a train track.

Noah to Eli: They've never actually seen a giant squid, ELI!! 

We had to reapply to Eli's Social Security at the U.S. embassy (after they lost the application the first time) so we borrowed my parents' car and combined the trip to the embassy with a trip to Tokai forest:

This picture is probably more representative of our winter: a lot of time spent playing games with duplos:

Noah and Eli have started to play complex games together, for hours at a time (they also fight, so it's not all idyllic). We spend hours reading to them every day, drawing together, and if the sun comes out we go to the park and sometimes see friends. And that's about it.
Noah is four now, and while we're not following a formal curriculum for his (very early) education, I wouldn't say we're unschooling either. Eug and I talk about what we'd like for him in the next months, and these conversations mainly revolve around wanting to help him cope effectively with everyday situations. There are moments where the kids are so genuinely kind to one another that I feel like I'm getting a glimpse of heaven. Noah is teaching Eli- about plants (edible and inedible : "don't eat it unless I give it to you Eli!! It might be poisonous!!), planets (MARS is the ONE WITHOUT OXYGEN Eli) and Noah-type logic. This is sometimes followed by really bad moments when they're hitting each other.

Eug and I were joking recently that our lives seem to be an experiment in inconvenience. In winter, we're without hot water much of the time because the sun doesn't get the solar geyser hot, and biking is not always that practical with the kids + heavy rain, so we're home a lot. We get food from our farm share, and at the end of the week sometimes we're left eating a lot of cabbage. Winter has made our choice seem more extreme, and there are real losses that get more noticeable over time- for example we can't safely go out after dark without a car. While life has many inconveniences, it feels abundant. I should qualify that- time is still in short supply, and we've come to terms with that more or less. The natural limits of life without a car seem to fit the place we're in, with small kids who don't like to be rushed.

Lastly, if you're the praying type, could you pray for the decisions that are in front of us for next year? I hope to finish my PhD soon, and since we have not returned to the U.S. since we left almost 3 years ago, we are considering whether to do part of a post-doc in the U.S. It would allow us to visit and reconnect with friends, both in Europe and Boston. We are also considering the possibility of selling our house and moving to a small farm in nearby Noordhoek, where we could have extended family join us. We have a farm in mind, so we're hoping if it right for us, it will still be available when we are ready to buy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Birthdays: a photo update

We've been in serious birthday celebration mode here, with all four of our birthdays within the span of less than two months. Eli turned two and Noah four. Much as spending our days with them are intense and emotional (oh the emotional roller coaster of being 2 and 4), it's a huge privilege to spend them mostly together.

Eugene has just finished his first children's book (check out if you have kids/know people with kids?) and I am still working hard on my dissertation. Every year seems to bring big changes for all of us- seeing Noah and Eli grow makes that a given, but it also seems to be our MO.

Noah speaking to his grandma in Korea. Eli has his name tag from church (where he refuses to stay by himself, anyway) not because we forget his name, though sometimes I do.

Some pictures from Eli's birthday present-opening time:

Noah spent ages writing this and painting a train for Eli's birthday
Getting acrylic paints for Noah works better for us than getting large bottles of kid paint. They last pretty well, and Noah invests a lot of time and effort into painting. The downside is that it's hard to paint when Eli is awake, as he paints the walls, his stomach, anything he can find. 

Jelly beans for breakfast.

Eli's birthday trip to the Blue Train

Our kids take the regular Cape Town train pretty regularly, but we'd never taken this toy train at Sea Point. For R15, you get to go around in a circle for 5 minutes in a very run down rickety train. That is, Noah and Eli's idea of heaven.

Noah wanted to ride up front with the driver. I was amazed that he was willing to be in a compartment with someone he didn't know. He managed for a little bit, and then started to freak out.

The Blue train also has an amazing playground, full of interesting places to climb and play.

the foofie slide. 

My aunt and uncle were visiting from Pretoria and staying nearby, and were able to come and visit with us. 

Asleep on the return journey. Too much excitement.

Noah turned four!

Last year, for Noah's third birthday, we got him this 1/8 size violin.  I was a little more invested than he in the whole idea- learning violin was a big gift my parents gave me, and that I wanted to pass on. I let it be, and later in the year Noah asked me to start teaching him. I got my own violin fixed, and now about 5 days a week, for about 5-10 minutes/day, we practice plucking and tuning the violin, and learning to hold the bow correctly.  Violin is our attempt at classical education, while this year's gift of a ukulele takes more of an unschooling approach. We sortof like both approaches, to the extent the kids are currently very curious and open to all kinds of learning.

With the whole family at my parent's house:

Our bike ride back... Not bad (note Eli asleep on tarp)
Noah's actual birthday- cake #2
 Noah asked to go to the Playshed, an indoor playground for his birthday:

Noah got a ukulele for his birthday, and Eug's book came out, which is a pretty great birthday present.