Sunday, October 30, 2011

And so it begins!

Our adventure has started, thanks to many of you. Ok, sorry, that's really cliched, but I didn't have any better words. Here are some photos.
The Family in Myrtle Beach

This is soon after we arrived back from Myrtle Beach, and started to get rid of stuff. Can you believe how much clothes we had? Even after 2 other moves in 1 year?

Noah's new home...
Yesterday- when our awesome friends came to help us take stuff to Goodwill and generally help us on our journey
This is everything that we have left. Well, ok, not quite everything. This is everything. Kindof-- things slipped in without me realizing... 
Don't be annoyed by the note of pride in my voice that we have just two check-ins for our flight. It's a reflection on me, not on you. The green duffel bag above is full of disposable diaper inserts, so I almost feel like it doesn't count. Noah's stuff dominates in a big way. And the boots are Marisa's...

Having this little feels good, even though there are certain (a lot of) things we'll have to buy when we arrive in South Africa. I'm not sure what makes it feel good? Perhaps a sense that we are more than the stuff we have. Which is always very obvious, but suddenly much more tangible.

We're really going to miss our friends and family in Boston (not forgetting Providence!). We have received so much grace- people helping us to grow, training us, and just being generally loving and giving.

Marisa did the incredible job of taking us and all our gear to the hotel. Every step of the way, we had just the right person to do something no-one else could do. Thank you Marisa!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Unexpected Lumps

This morning we had everything planned out. Sell the car, ship our two boxes, wait for two people to come and buy stuff, start bagging stuff, solve the world's problems, and so on. Then, last night, in between the toilet getting clogged with a g-diaper (I'll never try to flush again), Eug having a farewell dinner with friends, my friend bringing over dinner to share... a two-inch lump. A hard, unmoving, lump.

On Noah's ribs. It looked bad. Eug asked "do we have to go to the ER?" We agreed, not if we can help it. Can we still have our respective dinners? We called our doctor (the most awesome doctor ever). She said the ER would be traumatic. So we went in first thing this morning, and she said we needed to get it looked at. And so ended our brilliant plans for the day.

Eug held the fort at home, while I went to the hospital with Noah to get his lump checked out. All the while I'm praying for it to be nothing. We get an X-ray. I have to leave Noah alone because Tiny Blob can't have radiation just yet. Hushed voices and the request that we stay a little while longer. Trying to keep Noah happy with looking at the fish tank. More praying. I can't help thinking, "He's not allowed to need a biopsy, Anna and Lia will never make plans to see us again!!" But really I'm thinking, he's got to be fine. An awkward ultrasound.

Two hours later, the radiologist says he just has a deformed rib that apparently we never noticed before. Relief. Thank you God. We leave the hospital and I tell Noah he'll see daddy in a second. And back to selling the car. And bagging stuff. But not solving the world's problems.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cloth Diapering While Traveling (G-diapers)

We use Bumgenius diapers exclusively while we're at home, and we've used them while traveling also. With Countrysave detergent and double washing we've had maybe 3 leaks since Noah was born. So we're big fans of Bumgenius. When we were in South Africa, we used Bumgenius and hand washed and it was great. It helped that at that time, Noah pooped in the toilet, it was very hot (so diapers dried). In Korea, it was much more difficult because Noah was no longer using the toilet and we were staying with family, so it was very hard to explain why diapers needed to be washed twice.

Because of the amount of space that bum genius diapers take up, as well as our experience in Korea, we're going to be using G-Diapers while we travel this time round. Our friend helped us create a stock of g-diaper covers, and we bought inserts. I'm not as much of a g-diaper fan, because I haven't had much luck flushing the inserts down the toilet- our toilet can handle maybe one insert a day. So we have 12 cloth inserts that we'll wash, and then we'll use the disposable inserts the rest of the time.

Cloth diapering is not difficult, but during travel it's not just about what's possible, it's about how to pack efficiently and not think about poop and pee while seeing the most beautiful places in the world. As those of you who visit our house know, our solution is usually a naked baby, but we'll try to keep him clothed as much as possible.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Huge Sale

We had our huge sale today. Unlike usual sales, where you have your secret stash of your favorite stuff (or, well, an entire household of stuff), this was pretty much everything. It spanned our living room, dining room, and bedroom. We're left with our 25 items of clothing each, and our share of not-entirely-necessary Apple products (though we are proud to be selling three such items, to reduce our total to 3).

Eug and I have different approaches to stuff. He grew up wealthy, and they never needed anything. But he didn't get attached to stuff nor did he get entitled. I grew up less wealthy- we still had abundance but not the same kind as Eug's.  When we married I was surprised how adaptable Eug was.  He was happy with a lot, or happy with a little. Either way, he was fine. He could throw away an entire garbage bag of good gear (though he says I've reformed him as far as throwing stuff away), whereas I wince if the candle has a good hour left in it.

Fast forward five years. Eug is totally fine with selling his first gift to me (a fluffy lobster) for a meagre $1. But I'm not sure. It's been our loyal lobster for a full five years. It's traveled the world (well, to SA and back). It pretty much summarizes our approach to material goods. We had this same conversation again and again as we were sorting through things. I had to stop asking for his opinion because I knew what it would be. That said, I'm able to let go, but it takes a little more of a push, and maybe a single dramatic tear.

If the excess baggage company we're using comes through for us (that's a prayer, for the praying types), we'll still be paying close to $800 for two 22 gallon bins (they're the kind recommended for worm bins). Or about 2 extra largish rolly suitcases. We don't want to spend more. It's somehow less about the actual amount of money and more about the thought of how that money could be better spent.

And so, knowing that I'll have to part with these things in death anyway, I feel like it's ok to part with them now. It seems like a strange analogy, but it works for me. They don't represent my value of relationships or of good experiences. They're just things that are expensive to ship, that someone might have better use for right here in Boston. It is incredibly meaningful to pass stuff on to people we know, rather than strangers. So it's ok to let go, I just need to write, and write again, about it...

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Time for Everything

You know I jump on a lot of bandwagons. The blogosphere is full of minimalists, frugal people, simplicity folk, vagabonders, zero wasters, and social justice people. I like all of them. Social responsibility takes a lot of different forms, and none of us have it all figured out. I have heroic dreams around justice, but those need some day-to-day, mundane, shape. Right now, they consist of trying not to throw stuff away, and trying to be generous when we don't feel sure of the future.

I want to encourage you if you think you've sold out, as I sometimes feel. Whatever bandwagon you're on.

I'm starting to think you can be kind of a minimalist and super frugal, but you can't be all-the-way minimalist-parents-100 things-still-super-frugal. In 10 days, we'll be really close to the 100 thing mark, but we're also eating out A LOT. We're no longer prepared for the eventualities of daily life with a 17 month old. We have no tricks to draw from, few books, few toys. We're using free (credit card points) gift cards to eat out, sometimes, but it doesn't feel like a frugal moment in our life. It feels like a moment where we should enjoy the great things about not having much. And there are great things- I love the stuff we do have. There's a massive amount of freedom in letting go and trusting that Gumtree or the Cape Town Freecycle or our neighbors will supply our needs.

At the moment, minimalism is also not very simple. Maybe because we're still getting there. It involves quite a  bit of scanning and lots of rather obsessive sorting. I guess that's just moving internationally, not necessarily minimalism. For a few weeks, we'll be vagabonding. Traveling and working simultaneously, on one-way tickets.

In the midst of all this change, we're also expecting Noah (also known as little blob, in a previous life) to be joined by Tiny blob late next April. See how I just slipped that in there?

When we arrive in Cape Town I'm hoping we can take as much as we can from our brief experience of minimalism, and somehow balance it with the new moment we'll be in. It'll be a time for frugality, perhaps simplicity. I'm encouraged that social responsibility and social justice can draw from many different inspirations at different stages in our lives. This does not mean that we sell out or indulge ourselves, but that we recognize the moment we're in and enjoy it for what it is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Renting out Overpriced apartments while people are Occupying Wall Street

I know our stuff is not forever, but for an aspiring minimalist I'm pretty attached. There's freedom but also some feelings of loss and uncertainty, as it's all very complete, down to our plants and soap and dishes. I even feel attached to Eug's stuff. His college assignments.  And what is one supposed to do with wedding guest registries? Look at them?

We recently got a tenant for our apartment, using a property manager (hence many, many, many prospective tenants passing through.) Our apartment is expensive. Too expensive for us to stay in for any length of time. We have it through grace and the gift of a downpayment before Eug and I were married.

So when recent grads or grad students passed through and desperately wanted to live in the place, I felt like staging an intervention. I wanted to tell them: "Save your money!" "You can't afford to live here!" "You think you can, but you'll be spending your life energy to pay for silly rent!" I felt very old.

I sensed some element of entitlement amongst the prospective tenants, which may be imagined on my part. But it was a strange juxtaposition, as we followed young people protesting on Wall Street- citing very real issues- and at the same time had young people passing through who believed that right out of college, they should afford a nice apartment near the center of Boston. Different people, different circumstances.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Glimpse of Eritrea, In Pictures

Recently, when I'm in a  place (right now, Myrtle beach) I find myself wondering if I will ever see it again. It's a strange thought- before I was married, before Noah, it wasn't something that crossed my mind. But it's not an altogether negative thought- change is ok. 

Anyway, a couple of years ago I shared some pictures of Massawa, and as I was throwing stuff away I came across an old CD with photos of Asmara. They're not super good photos, as I'm not one to take photos in the center of the city, but I thought they give some sense of the life of an expat in Eritrea. 

This housing complex is called Sembel, and nicknamed "Korea", after the architects who built it. After visiting Korea this year, I know why. Although the high-rises in Korea are much, much taller, the basic structure of the complex is very similar: many, many identical buildings. For the most part, university staff and other expats lived here. This was likely some of the best housing in Asmara, if you don't consider the beautiful colonial houses, which are luxurious but in short supply.

If you don't mind me romanticizing Eritrea for a moment, one of the most amazing things I saw was as you leave Asmara, you get to the edge of the escarpment and it just drops off, sharply and suddenly. You can walk into clouds.

This is the main market in Asmara, which makes me think of zero waste and food aid all at once. Much of the food being sold had "USAID: Not for Sale" stamped on the side. I don't know the full story of the food, but food availability was not something one could take for granted. The zero waste part is not quite zero waste (there are the sacks, which get reused to death) but it's pretty close.

There were all these finches that are super-expensive if you try to buy them as pets in South Africa, so we were always taking pictures or stalking the little guys as though they were ours.

The steep landscape between Asmara and the coast has been home to stepped gardening for thousands of years. This is Ghinda, which is very fertile because it's around the height above sea level where the clouds hit the mountains and produce rain. Rain is scarce in the rest of the country.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Stopping Full-Time Work

Tuesday was my last day as a full-time employee. It was anti-climactic because the next day, I started working as consultant- essentially doing many of the same tasks I was doing the day before, but remotely. Writing from Myrtle Beach still feels very different from the State Lab. Eug is working across the room, Noah is napping, and I'm able to work as fast as I want to, without interruption (and watch the ocean at the same time).

While I was working and taking care of Noah, our lives were very rushed. We felt strongly that Noah should not be in daycare, and we also could not afford any kind of moderately ok Boston daycare. We were hugely blessed to both have work we liked, where we're treated well, and where we're doing things that are quite fulfilling. With Eug working from home, we also got much more time as a family than many dual-income families. But Eug and I both got very little time when we were not either solo-parenting or working. I woke up at 5am, rushed to work, tried to focus during work, rushed home so that Eug could rush through his work, while I took care of Noah and cooked, and then we cleaned and got ready to start over the next day.  Living in the U.S., the very high cost of health insurance means at least one person in a family absolutely needs to either earn a ton, or work full-time in a benefitted position. (or have a low enough income to qualify for state health insurance; obviously having an income that low is no picnic, either) The cost of healthcare seems like such a strange thing to plan families around, but it's a reality.

Despite feeling that it was unsustainable to keep going as we were, I feel decadent not to be working full time. It's been two days and already I wonder if I'm a slacker. And I've been writing a journal article! I want to redefine what work means for me, so that it isn't the arbitrary how-many-hours-did-I-spend-in-front-of-my-computer-at-the-office measure. It felt unsustainable, but so many people in the U.S. and elsewhere go as fast as we were going for thirty or forty years. I consider it the result of unfair blessing, more than extreme frugality (though we tried) or genius planning (though we tried), that we've left that incredibly fast pace of life.