Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oranges in Cadiz

Earlier this year, I wrote about stealth gardening in Seoul, where people just took whatever land was unclaimed and grew vegetables- even in the center of satellite cities.

In Cadiz (Spain), we happened upon a more organized form of corporate gardening- streets lined with orange trees. It made me think again of Seoul, and what might be possible (and may already be happening) in Cape Town. Heavy traffic aside, the possibility of low maintenance fruiting trees and shrubs is really intriguing.
The oranges are moldy because winter is arriving- I think earlier in the year they were awesome.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Clutter has its Beneficiaries (me)

I've been bugging my mom to get rid of stuff. At the moment, as a minimalist-who-wants-to-actually-cook-and-dry-herself-and-not-sleep-on-the-floor I often generously offer to take it off her hands. Because "there's a lot you don't use day-in-day-out", I say. "And you can't honor the stuff in the garage". I think I got that from one of those zen websites. But the truth is, it's my old stuff in the garage. And I have absolutely no idea what it's like to have two children on opposite ends of the world (Boston and Kuala Lampur), where keeping their childhood stuff is tangible hope that they'll be around soon.

With no recycling pickup, there are plastic bottles spread around. And they get re-used, eventually, for something. I'm using coke bottles for self-watering containers, and they're awesome. I'm grateful for [my?] old fishbowl full of dust in the garage: Noah could get a guppy for his birthday or something. I'm grateful that my mom kept all our old kids books, Noah is suddenly able to concentrate through 20 minutes of stories at bedtime. I'm hugely, hugely grateful that my dad kept 12 strawberry plants and 3 extra granadilla seedlings and a "free" pomegranate tree and my million bonsais and a mishmash of old pots and so on. My parents actually don't put out much trash. With the sense that plastics can't just be dumped in the trash, and the competing sense that it's a pain to drive to the recycling center, I wonder if more is saved.

Anyway, here's to embracing some of the chaos of having (at least a few) things that you don't use every day. It's a stage of generosity.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Own Little House and Weird Chemicals

This Saturday our house will [hopefully] be vacated, and a week later we're hoping to move in. We haven't seen our house in the two years since we bought it. Eug and I agreed that, from afar, there was nothing we could do about the house, so we decided not to stress about it. Surprisingly, at least for me, we actually followed through and didn't stress, partially because we felt like the house was a gift in the first place. We had the occasional scare (Do you have $8000? Because your house needs MAJOR repairs), but for the most part, we've experienced the house as the unexpected blessing it was.

I remember it was the year we were praying for a tiny house, and this is what we got. It's more practical for a family than an actual Tiny House, but we're faced with choices how to make it our home. The kitchen doesn't have any cabinets- just a sink- and the rest of the house is also fairly bare-bones (though, strangely, the lounge has a very nice fireplace).

Stay tuned for when we move in and talk through everything we're getting second-hand. I haven't decided exactly how much detail you want, but either way the reason for talking about it is to say that our stuff doesn't need to be perfect.

Along these lines, one thing we haven't really had to think about before are the chemicals we bring into a home when we paint or bring in new mattresses- we've painted stuff before, but in small doses and we never really felt like we had a choice to do things differently. We've never had a new mattress. So we researched and found that
  1. fire retardants and other stuff may or may not be really bad for us and Noah and 
  2. the only natural latex beds in South Africa are imported and cost about the same as a small car
We weren't really sure what to do. Mattresses are expensive, and we want to vote with our money. It turns out (oh internet) that there are people who make their own foam mattresses. The foam is still made from polyurethane, and we're not exactly thinking fire protection, so it's not that we're finding a totally perfect alternative. But we found a factory that sells foam of whatever density you like, whatever size you like, so that's what we're doing. We are considering covering it with sheeps wool, my favourite textile.

Then we moved on to looking at paints, as it's quite possible our house hasn't been painted in a million kajillion years. Paints are also not the greatest thing on the planet. Who knew?! Well, we did, but last time we painted we couldn't quite deal with it. Anyway, turns out you can make your own paint from milk or hydrated lime, so that's what we're trying. It's not that we'll succeed, but I'll try and let you know either way. It's less about the actual chemicals (there's a million other chemicals we eat in our food, because that's a place we're dealing with just yet.) and more about the possibility that we CAN do something different, it's not that hard, so why not?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Noah's Adventures in Cape Town

First, one last picture from our travels:
Noah really liked Buzz Lightyear- he has Buzz on some shoes that he was given as a gift, and recognized it as the same person (ash, advertising). He came to the gift shop on the ship every day to look longingly at him.
The past three weeks have been spent at my parents' house, and I can better understand the argument for multi-generational family homes. My parents' have been an incredible help with Noah, and it will be very strange to be in our own house again. Noah is completely entertained by their two dogs, as well as the various fruit trees (all the trees are packed into a very, very small space- many in pots), vegetables, and Noah's very own (shared with Ethan, his cousin) sandpit.

My parents' dogs have sleeping cages by the their bed, which Noah thinks are absolutely the most awesome places to play.

I'm late in the game and thought I was just totally missing something as a mom, but it turns out kids really do like to play with boxes. The key is the door and the windows (thanks Mom and Angie- invaluable advice) 

And finally, about an hour of Noah's day, every day, is spent watering the vegetables, picking and eating tomatoes and strawberries and plums, and generally following my dad around. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Vermicomposting in Cape Town

In 2008 I wrote about starting to vermicompost in Boston. I started our new Cape Town worm bin about 2 weeks ago, and the worms are eating well and seem healthy and happy.

Worm bins are a quick and easy way to get concentrated, natural compost while drastically reducing your trash output. Worm castings provide almost all the nutrients your plants could need. And worm farming is very scalable: in Boston we started with just 50 worms and a very small set of bins, in Cape Town we're starting with 500 (though they're smaller) in a large bin, and I have a dream- once we're settled down- of canceling our rubbish pickup and repurposing our giant rubbish bin (used for rubbish pickup) for a larger scale farm.

Pros of vermicomposting in Cape Town:

  • You can leave the bin outside (in the shade) all year round, or have it indoors- either way, the worms will be ok. 
  • In Cape Town, without any recycling pickup (unless you pay for it), there's the great advantage to having a place to recycle small bits of paper, junk mail, and the like. Worms don't like glossy paper very much, but the worms should be able to take all the paper waste in our house, as well as rags and so on.
  • Our diet seems to fit pretty well with what the worms like: fruit scraps, bread leftovers, greens, papers. At least in summer, our supply (at my parents house) seems just right for the worms as they establish themselves.
The only con seems to be that you can't stock up on worms from bait shops, as in Boston. Most of the fishing shops here seem to be for ocean fishing (where worms aren't used as bait). So I had to buy worms at a gardening shop, where they seemed overpriced (R253 for 500). You also don't need to buy a ready made bin, which are overpriced and, I think, way to small for if you're trying to do serious vermicomposting. We used the bins we shipped to South Africa, drilled holes, and added newspaper.  

If you'd like to start, you're welcome to visit us in Observatory and check out the worm farm- I'm hoping to be able to share the wealth of worms as they multiply.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sourdough Bread is Surprisingly Easy

I've been baking our bread for about four years, and baking it without a bread maker for about one (with some breaks in between). But apart from a  disastrous foray into sourdough a couple of years ago, I really haven't tried to make sourdough before.

What drew me this time was that I'm not sure where to buy yeast in bulk in Cape Town (Macro didn't seem to have it the two times we looked), and the smaller servings of yeast are expensive. I love that Sourdough is even slower than regular bread, and that there's potentially even less waste. I also love the idea of keeping this thing in the fridge that keeps on getting better and better over the years.

A myth about starter is that you have to bake bread every day. Actually, you can keep the starter in the fridge and use it just once a week or so.

Since I took recipes from the internet, I won't repost them here, I'll just link to them:
Sourdough starter A couple of things to note when making the starter (his name is Brody) are as follows:
  • The recipe here doesn't note that you need to feed the starter every day after the second day. I fed it about 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup water (or a little more).
  • This recipe uses commercial yeast, which is a no-no in the sourdough world. I didn't realize this until afterwards. While the taste may not be as "pure" as real wild yeast sourdough, it gave me early success, which makes me confident to keep trying to make sourdough.
  • Sometimes I needed to watch the starter a little to make sure it was ok- on hot days, it seemed to need feeding twice a day.
  • 7 days later, it's ready to go in the fridge- I'm keeping it out an extra day or two to give some of it away. It smells sour and yummy.

And here's the sourdough recipe I used. I didn't have to use any commercial yeast at all because it was pretty warm the day I started the bread, so I omitted it from the recipe. I also refrigerated the bread overnight, because I didn't want it to collapse while I was sleeping- again, because the rise times in the recipe are based on a specific temperature and it's hard to compare environments.

The bread was a little doughy when I brought it out after 45 minutes- so when I make it again I might leave it in a little longer. I'm also going to gradually transition the bread to whole wheat flour, but again, I needed an early success. The crust of the bread was really, really good. The sourdough taste was there- not as strongly as I hope it'll be in the coming weeks and months, but definitely there.

The cost of the bread, given that there's no yeast, was extremely cheap- give me some time and I'll work out the exact cost per loaf when one is buying bulk flour. I made one loaf in a huge roasting pan, but ordinarily this would be multiple loaves. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Breastfeeding during Pregnancy

I was planning on weaning Noah in the next few weeks, but now that the time is here it doesn't feel like it's a high priority. I know breastfeeding can be a sensitive topic, and that it's all tied up in our ideas of ourselves and womanhood and the body and health and... but I've become a bigger and bigger fan of breastfeeding as time has gone on.

In public health school they emphasized the way in which breastfeeding was devalued with the rise of formula in the 60s and 70s (which persists in many countries), and the way in which public health research has succeeded and failed in bringing the message of "breast is best" back to moms. Theoretically, I knew I wanted to breastfeed for one year, so that Noah didn't ever have formula. 

Practically speaking, two good friends were instrumental in actually following through on that- they provided me with the confidence to

  1. know that if I breastfed regularly and didn't supplement with anything, my supply would meet demand 
  2. breastfeed in public (which can be daunting at first). 
  3. know that breastfeeding while pregnant is totally fine (unless you have any conditions that make it not).
So, I pumped and pumped and pumped through the first year, and Noah kept breastfeeding. The first year is by far the most difficult. In the year of upheaval that was 2011, breastfeeding felt like a comfort that helped Noah to grow up in all the other ways that matter. Then I found myself pregnant, and it felt strange (but necessary?) to wean. So I swore I'd wean as soon as we were settled in our house (we're moving Jan 9). 

Now it doesn't seem like such a big deal whether Noah weans or not. I'd wanted to leave some space before the baby was born, but now I wonder if we can just see what happens. He may well wean when he's in his own room, which would be great. But breastfeeding is not on my list of things that make parenting a 19 month old hard. It's actually on the list that makes it easier. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Having a Daughter.

 Although I'm not absolutely certain we're having a daughter this coming April, it seems likely.

I'm nervous about the prospect of having a daughter, because I've studied so much, and I still study, and hopefully turn research to practice, but I am pulled in the direction of family and feel the balance sway in that direction. I don't think there is one best place for women, or one best balance.

I wonder how that will play out for my daughter, and I wonder if I can guide her so that she has an identity of her own and is also able to experience some of the joys I've experienced by being with a loving spouse and maybe having a baby or two. Guiding her and Noah, and being the biggest part of their lives while I can, sways my priorities in unexpected ways. In all the ways that matter, these are indeed the wonder years, but they're wondrous in a very collective way.

The mythology of women "having it all" in our generation raised my expectations of myself. We weren't saying at Wellesley, "I want to focus on my family in my late twenties and thirties"- it wasn't something that 18 years old worried about, it wasn't in our 5 and 10 year plans, and perhaps rightly so. Much of this stuff one cannot control. But it wasn't something we were consciously abandoning, either. We can have it all, but I don't think we can have it all and still sleep. Which is no longer having it all. Or "have it all" and still eat good food or be fully available to our babies. Which is no longer having it all. There's a tension in every member of the family having personal goals and dreams- dreams that pull in different directions.

Not that we get rid of dreams, but we have to choose the timing and direction of our dreams carefully. Men do too, but women's experience of parenting is uniquely physical and all-encompassing, and then there's patriarchy. I'm very encouraged that my dreams and Eug's dreams (and Noah's budding dreams) are not limited to our lifetimes. I'm convinced that God gradually prepares us for stuff, and the timeline is not as super important as it feels at 28. It's a paradigm shift that wasn't entirely natural for me. I've had to make choices, and make choices that allow me to hang out with Noah, Eug and others without thinking about furnishing our house or writing papers or researching the next proposal or charting where refugees live in Cape Town (yes, my work is fun). There's pain associated with those choices- not a bad pain, just a strange tension.

I'm glad I had high expectations, even as I now experience the natural boundaries of a 24 hour day. For my daughter, as for Noah, I hope I can imagine for her a really wonder-filled childhood.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Disjointed thoughts

My parents have two dogs, a big one and a little one. They sleep in my parent's room, in a little crate and a big crate. Guess where Noah wants to sleep? yes. He thinks the big dog is a pillow and the little dog is his minion. Noah has also learned how to pray a little (motivated by a pressing need to pray for the dogs) and how to do some basic gardening.

When we were getting rid of everything, the tough thing was that you can't get rid of everything all at once, if you're trying to find good homes. So for a couple of months, we were gradually reduced to a mattress and pillows. In Cape Town, the challenge is that, if you want to do things deliberately and gently, that also takes time and all we have is a fridge, a washer and a stove. All in all, it seems like it will be about 1 year of transition.

If we leave my parent's house and get on the train or go closer to the city, we're likely to encounter beggars or blind people singing for money - at least a few times a day. Whereas in Boston I felt like at least some supports existed, in Cape Town I'm not sure (perhaps there are supports). I have conflicting thoughts: I think there's something freeing about just giving to everyone who asks you for help. I think it's fairly Biblical (probably as much for the giver, who then doesn't have to judge each person or face an agonizing choice again and again). But I'm suspicious and cynical much of the time, and logic and research tells me that there are other, better ways to give to combat inequality. So I'm inconsistent. Your thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let's Do Something about South African Banks

This is from Eug and I, encountering SA banks for the first time.

Here's the rundown on ABSA's charges, where my family has banked for many, many years (and ABSA is not necessarily the worst- we can do this again for FNB, Standard, Sanlam, and many others) You can download their 30 pages of fees here.
  • There's a monthly fee and usually an annual fee.
  • If you want to put your money in the bank, they take a percentage of that.
  • If you want to buy anything with the money in your bank account, they take a percentage of that
  • If you get angry and want to withdraw your money or take it somewhere else, they take a percentage of that.
  • If you want to find out if you have any money left in the bank, there's a flat fee for that.
  • And after you find out you don't have any money, and you want to know where all your money went, there's a flat fee for that.
  • And, of course, there are also the administrative fees.
  • Then, you'll get an overdraft fee because you ran out of money. 
  • It's your money! The banks have the privilege of investing it. 
All these fees hit the poor the hardest. I've never seen a more compelling reason for the Occupy Movement. South Africans, these charges are not normal or acceptable (and we're no fans of mainstream U.S. Banks, as I've written about here). Home loans/mortgages may be the reason that banks find themselves in this place of power, but there has to be a way to oppose this.

I suggest credit unions are one way. Without even considering socially responsible investing, many South African banks show themselves to be profit-mongering and NOT client-centered. Banks should represent the interests of the average client. If they don't, lets form Credit Unions and leave the banks to their large deals and outrageous charges.

Our small act of opposition, in the absence of credit unions: A potential beacon of light in the SA banking world: we're going with Capitec, which seems relatively small, but has only one kind of account with a R4.50 monthly fee and a R1.00 fee to withdraw cash at Pick'n Pay. These are the only fees we'll have to pay. They also offer 4.75% interest on your regular [checking] account. We'll let you know our experiences. And maybe one day we can be part of forming a credit union, or building strong and effective South African equivalents, known as SACCOs (check out the league here) in Cape Town.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tips on Extended [Hippy] Travel with a Baby

We recently finished 6 weeks of traveling, and are now still living out of suitcases at my parents' place as we wait for our tenants to leave our house. Here are some things that were useful to us while we traveled:
  1. Clothes that you don't need to wash often (we used Icebreaker). You'll have plenty of washing with just your son's washing. Take some laundry detergent with you. 
  2. G-Diapers turned out to be a great option for travel- we started with some disposable inserts but much of the time we just had 12 hemp inserts.
  3. Don't take a car seat unless you really have to. If you really have to (we did), consider travel if you buy a car seat- that is, don't get a huge one. The car seat made lugging our stuff around much, much more difficult.
  4. Klean Kanteens (or any water bottles) are great. Having water at all times is a huge plus if you're traveling. 
  5. Travel while you're still breastfeeding makes the issue of thinking about milk much, much easier. We largely didn't give Noah milk during our travels, but we were able to find whole, plain yoghurt and cheese to take care of his needs.
  6. Toys. I'm not sure we knew what we were doing here. But the only "toy" that was really used during travel was a set of markers and small notepad. He got really into some lightweight books we were carrying, and we wondered why we were lugging around the heavy board books.
  7. Our computers were very light, and we had small external hard drives as backup, should we need them.
  8. All our important documents were in one small accordion folder- since we were moving we were traveling with our marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports, medical records etc. We had scans of everything in case anything happened. 
  9. Even if you're all the way to not needing a stroller in the real world, having a stroller during long-term travel is very, very useful. There's a lot of walking and if you're ever with other people, your pace and nap times are not always consistent. 

Minimalism and Frugality and Starting Over

Advice for traveling minimalists: Avoid a car seat (or at least a large one) at all costs. Traveling with all our stuff in S. Margherita
I have some questions about responses to poverty and inequality that I'd love your comments on, but my thoughts are only quarter-formed. So in the interim, I wanted to update you on how things are going with settling down in Cape Town. We're staying with my parents, so there's less of a rush to equip our house with a lot.

Starting over means buying/acquiring stuff over, and that's really striking at the moment. We knew we would have to buy many things, but it's a strange feeling nevertheless. It's also quite striking that in South Africa, the benchmark for trash is much, much lower. Which means even pretty basic old tables (that we could pick up on the street in Boston) are around R200-300 (US$30-50).

I have conflicting feelings about how best to acquire stuff, because I want to have things that look consistent and nice (particularly in the kitchen) but that's often both expensive and wasteful. So I'm waiting for creativity to hit, as there is a third way that's consistent, beautiful, cheap and second hand. The third option requires more time.

1. Being with my parents and having a lot of family around is great, because we're able to get some of their things and experience their welcome.

2. The two-economy South Africa is apparent when we try shopping in Woodstock second hand shops, or in certain parts of Observatory. There are things that are way more affordable if you avoid large chains. There's a lot of junk in pawn shops, but all we need is that one good thing.

3. Having a smallish house is really good when we're starting over. It's also good we don't have a lot of clothes or toys or books to store, because our house has not one cupboard right now.

4. Starting over with Eug is really fun, because we can balance each other out. Eug is very steady and measured in thinking through our needs, and he's ok waiting on things that are not absolutely 100% essential. For January move in, we're hoping to have
  • a stove (Gytha and Will's old stove- Thank you!), 
  • A bar fridge (bought today for R1000) 
  • a second hand washing machine (bought today for R1000)
  • a deep freeze
  • bikes and a bike seat for Noah
  • mattresses and bedsheets for Eug, Noah and I. 
  • towels
Thinking in terms of absolute needs was very freeing, as buying 10 things seems manageable and affordable. I'm more impulsive, but also more frugal and very conscious of waste. I would gladly rush around on Gumtree (craigslist) and pick up deals, but the reality is that we are working, taking care of Noah, I'm preparing my dissertation proposal, and we're getting reacquainted with being part of our family. So we're busy.

5. Five Concrete Gardener-like things I'm very excited about as we get closer to our move in date are:
  • Having a bar fridge and a deep/chest freezer. I'm hoping this will help us eat fresh produce, and waste less food. The fridge is large enough to cool water or keep vegetables, eggs and milk for a few days. Then, I hope the chest freezer will store some leftovers (if I can figure out containers). The tiny fridge should be quite full, and it's also much more energy efficient than a larger fridge-freezer.
  • Having a small concrete area in which to concrete garden (May the concrete one day be removed). It's like having a big balcony on both sides of the house. This means tomatoes, swisschard, three small potted trees, one vine, and some of the bonsai are finally coming home to me! I started about 10-15 bonsai over the years, and about 5 will be able to come to our house, and the remaining bonsai will be shared or repotted. Bonsai give me huge amounts of joy, despite the fact that they don't bring anything food like.
  • We're not sure exactly when they'll be installed, but we're really looking forward to buying both a PV solar panel and a solar water heater. They'll pay for themselves in about 3-5 years, and I'm hoping to move the little house towards being energy independent over time.
  • Biking around
  • Painting and fixing up furniture. Eug and I have chosen a couple of colors to use throughout the house, and we're just going to use wood stain and paint on old furniture. Hopefully this means that we'll only need to buy mattresses new. 
I'm learning through this process is that it's good to be willing to balance a lot of competing desires, and to hold on to ideals lightly. The reality is that some of our choices might turn out to be wrong (financially or otherwise), but that's ok.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Any Excuse for More Pictures

Eug took some pretty amazing pictures on our trip so I feel like posting some more. 

We're finding that furniture and appliances, even second hand, are pretty expensive, and are just learning our way around again. Noah's doing well. For the sake of feeling like we were making progress, I made a worm bin and bought worms today. My parents have to host us + worms for 4 weeks, but they're pretty interested in how the worms settle in.

All our stuff

On the train to Santa Margherita

Noah listens to music with a complete stranger on the train

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Starting Over In Obs

This post is especially for Capetonians (and even more especially for those of you in Obs or nearby).

We really wanted furnishing/equipping our house to be fun and unexpected, rather than strategic and based on our design preferences. Though I suppose it'll be both since we're hoping to fix things up where possible- either by painting or staining. So we're writing a letter to our neighbors (currently strangers) and asking for second-hand stuff to help us get started. We wanted to ask friends, also. We're very happy to buy from you, and we promise that whatever resources we save will be put to really good use elsewhere. That's a bit vague, but we'll take the responsibility seriously.

We're only moving into our place in early January, and we're in Plumstead until then. We have access to a car now, but we'll likely have less access in January.

So here's our list- we'd love recommendations on second hand/pawn shops in Cape Town, also.
We know some things are a long shot, so we don’t have any expectations. Without further ado, Here’s the list.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Wonder Years To Come

I'm not sure if "the wonder years" is the right term, but I'm referring to those years your great aunt remembers even after she's forgotten who you are. The years sometime in the past where we were Somebody, when we were idealistic, when Amazing Things Happened, and Before the Children. For example, for my grandfather, I think it was the years when he was in Italy during WWII. On the one hand, I think it's innocuous for us to have those years and those stories. But I think sometimes a sense of nostalgia can be matched with a sense that the best things have passed, at least for Me As An Individual.

Although traveling with a baby has been hard and much quieter than travel before Noah, the travel has really helped me to get rid of the sense that some of the (common and less common) disappointments of my twenties represented a loss of The Best Years, even as I can't go back to the idealism of past dreams. Those dreams turn out to be less central.

Please do not be horrified by the frequent appearance of The Stroller in the following photos. We are still aspiring Hippies.
Part of this was seeing my Atlantic College roommates and houseparents. I have often looked back on AC- when the future was wide open, where we shared quite deeply of ourselves, and where I fell in love for the first time- and wished I could go back. Being together with Anna, Lia, and Kate made me feel as though we've all grown up and made choices, but that even better things are in store for us. My roommates (and Ray and Angie) only became more kind and more generous in the past years. It seems like our personal dreams are less important than I thought.

Part of this was traveling itself: Leaving our comfort zones, quitting my job, and traveling slowly. In our closing months in Boston, I felt so hopeful because we experienced that we actually do change- weird quirks and past hurts can actually start to feel better. By grace, I find that a pretty incredible thought.

Noah is preparing for The Worst.

And lastly, a big part of this is tied up with returning to South Africa. Returning to South Africa was one of the idealistic dreams of my late teens and early twenties. When I let go of it as something-I-absolutely-needed-for-my-life-to-be-ok, it somehow happened all at once that we moved. At the 12 years (and five of marriage) don't seem very long now that we're here. The intervening years weren't just waiting, they were Something.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Boat Trips

[A sidebar: I am developing serious amounts of aggression as everyone tries to pet, tickle, play funny games with, pick up, or take my child by the hand. And Noah is getting less and less friendly as he feels more and more threatened, hopefully not permanently. Even as I understand that each person on their own is just being sweet. The price of having the only baby on board a boat.]

We've been on the boat 14 days, with 4 days to go. I've been hesitant to write about the experience, because as you may know I get very judgey very fast. So maybe I'll start there. Because we're usually most judgey when we're most insecure, right?

One of the main callings in my life has been a call to justice, broadly defined. This includes a call to generosity and frugality (while believing this should always allow one to continue to feel God's abundance- like in Milan when our friends treated us to the best meal of our lives). Generosity and frugality can also be translated fairly broadly when one has a spouse and a baby and another baby half-way grown. My personality makes me extremely cautious with budgets and such, to the point of keeping resources we don't really need because we're thinking retirement or loss of limbs or moving back to the U.S.. So there's the contradiction.

Enter an 18-day cruise, which is firmly a form of transportation for us. It's also part of this picture of abundance, where we are given gifts at surprising times that made this the best and most exciting way to get to SA.

Two weeks in, I'd say cruises are probably not part of the life I hope for. With a small son, staying on a boat for 18 days is hard. Environmentally this cruise was better than flying. Eating from the buffet is likely about the same environmentally as cooking at home, except we find ourselves eating more meat and wasting more food. We use about the same amount of water, and we're in a small space. I'm not entertaining any guilt over being on the cruise-- which I think we absolutely should be on-- just reflecting.

But inequality and racism is never more stark than on the boat. Cleaning and maintenance staff are from Madagascar and Mauritius and India; wait staff are Indonesian and Eastern European; beauty staff Cuban, entertainment staff W. European and South African, and captains and supervisors are white men- mainly Italian but some white South Africans. Everything is designed to make you spend money on alcohol, or even just soda or ice-cream or internet or DVDs about your experiences.

I've really enjoyed the day-long stops, mainly because our choices were greatly simplified by our tiny son who wants nothing more than to swim (even in the freezing cold). I never realized how big the world is, and how vast the ocean (air travel is deceptively fast). Boat travel requires incredible planning on the part of the crew- how many fruits to buy, what kind, how much water to stock, when to cook what, how to keep people happy when there's 7 days between stops. And The inequality and wealth we see on the boat is a reflection of the world.

So I'm finding it a good moment to be reminded of what we are called to, and to the ways we're not quite sure of how our calling should be lived out, only what our very next step should be. It may include hotels and traveling (I very much like hotels, at least right now) or it may not. But it'll be good.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Perfect Space

The last few four or five weeks we've been living out of two suitcases, more or less. There's a car seat beside the bed, gathering dirty laundry and random baby books. I'm pretty sure we need more space, even with our 25 items of clothing each.

For just over 3.5 years, Eug and I lived in an apartment that's not much bigger than our cabin on the boat. And it was perfect for us. We had a very large cupboard for storage, and we were actually able to host about 12 people on a couple of occasions. We moved because the large downstairs apartment became available (we take almost all opportunities like that), even though I wasn't sure if it was necessary until later in Noah's life. We moved again, to an even nicer space, but by this time we were giving away our stuff and never quite settled in. On the ship, the challenge is not only the transience of it all, but that the space is not designed for a small, very active, child.

Soon we'll go from this extreme to the something amazing: a little house of our own. Our property (erf)is 90m2 (about 1000sqft), and the house has two levels (which is unusual for Observatory).

Which started me thinking about how to make a good space for three- almost four people. Along the lines of "Your Money or Your Life", I tend to think small and central is a good choice, because it doesn't make sense to pay for space we don't absolutely need. But I have a grey zone, because I'd love to have a space for chickens/quail and a space for friends and family to stay for months on end. One solution is to have a space that can be rented out on Air B&B when we don't have visitors. Which may happen, one day, but likely not for a few years.

I think this tension- between having enough space for us and having enough space for who we'd like to be- highlights the challenge of making a so-called "perfect space". So maybe it's ok to just toss out that term, and say that it's ok to settle for mediocrity (at least when it comes to living space) and embrace some of the tension of living in the present while hoping for exciting things in the future. And perhaps it's possible to take small steps towards becoming good hosts and urban homesteaders- even with a space that's just right for the four of us.