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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grocery shopping by bike, and exploring parks

Overall, biking around Cape Town has been going very well. We've been going to the beach less often than we did with a car, because the 1 hour train ride involves more planning than hopping in the car on a sunny day (and because it was starting to get cooler, although now it's crazy hot again). But we've been getting to know our neighborhood much better, and there is so much to explore.

My confidence took a temporary hit recently, with a fall on gravel at one of the underpasses around Rondebosch common. My hand was grazed badly enough that getting home was really difficult with the kids. The thing is, there have been times when- for no other reason than grumpiness and a vague sense of danger- I hiss under my breath at the kids "don't put your arm so far out, you'll be hit by a car!" and other horrible things, but when there was this real crisis, we pulled together. The kids got back in the bike (Eli had some minor cuts, but they didn't fall hard or fast), Noah buckled them in and helped settle Eli, and we sang songs the whole way home, I with a pair of the kid's trousers wrapped around my hand as it bled. I couldn't have been more proud of the boys; overall the bike is one place where they are happy and loving towards each other, except when they're fighting over who gets to drink the water.

Eug and I can switch between the two bikes easily now, which greatly extends our distance on days where we ride together, as we can change bikes when the Bullitt-rider gets tired. It makes trips into the city and to Plumstead very fast and easy. We are managing hills we never thought possible when we started riding.

Last week, I carried a 12.5kg bag of flour, 72 eggs, 4 kg of meat, 2kg of butter from our Food buyers club (thank you Nicola!), and the two boys home on the Bullitt. All told, I was hauling about 50kg- it was a short ride but felt empowering (not to mention it was just necessary- which is not to make too much of a big thing of it, as [maybe] there is more to life than figuring out how many kilograms one can pedal around the city).

So I feel like we are all getting used to getting everywhere by bike.

Grocery shopping was one area where we weren't sure exactly what to do before we sold the car: we'd not been eating as much fruit as we did when we frequented a Farmer's market in Tokai, which on the one hand was fine because we were still eating more fruit than when we lived in Boston, but on the other hand it was a problem because Eli has weeks where he just doesn't eat the meals we're eating, and we're more inclined to worry when he's not getting fruit. Farmer's markets are abundant around Cape Town, but finding one that happens at a time that works with our schedule and is close enough to bike to was tough. While we can get to supermarkets (and occasionally do), the fruits tend to be expensive, anonymous, and involve a lot of packaging. Then we found Hope Street market.

The entrance to Hope Street Market, where we can park right outside with our bikes.
So here's our breakdown of how we're doing food without supermarkets or a car, for posterity and for anyone weird enough to avoid supermarkets in our area:

The Farmer's Market at the nearby Old Biscuit Mill on Saturday tends to be a bit too exclusive (expensive) and touristy so we were happy to discover the Farmer's Market on Hope Street in the CBD. It's a 30 minute ride on Main Road into the center of the city on a Saturday morning, and then we're able to get our fruit for the week, have a croissant, and visit a park, book shop, or museum downtown together before heading home.  The market also has olive oil, pecan nuts, and oats. Our vegetables come from Harvest of Hope, our eggs/flour/meat/butter come from a local Food buying Club. There is a small health/hippie foods store in our suburb of Observatory, called Komati, where we get beans, nuts and peanut butter. We get rice and any Asian ingredients we can't make from scratch from the Korean store on Main Road. The only thing where a question remains is milk and cheese, where we have to choose between a super cheap factory shop and a super expensive local cheese shop. We're on the fence on that one, but being on the fence means for the moment we're going with the super expensive local cheese shop, because the cheap shop would involve more actual planning. Let's just say we're eating a lot less cheese and have discovered the glory (and cheapness) of dried beans. The take home is that grocery shopping has become a different part of our lives than before, but it generally doesn't take longer (everything except fruits and vegetables are closer to once/month than once/week), it is just different- a good different, for the most part. And we forage when we can.

One of us takes the kids to a park almost every day as we cling to summer, and by now we must have over 20 parks that we visit- there are massive variations in the kinds of parks out there- from idyllic to full of drugs and people passed out- as in any city in the world, I suppose.  At one park, small children will run freely without adult supervision in sight, at another just a couple of blocks away, there will be only nannies with bored kids. It is interesting bear witness to the ways that 500m represents such a stark difference in child rearing and everyday life, and for the most part we're always the outliers. On the bike, we are able to bear witness to a lot: Eug says he will write about parks in Cape Town sometime.

I've started to appreciate that the parks here are challenging and dangerous for our kids. They get a lot of their energy and adrenaline out, even if it occasionally leaves me terrified. 
Our kids don't always wear shoes at parks, so we have to suss the park out before deciding on shoes. It's a lot easier to climb without shoes.
hipsters and the roller