Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reflections on Sanity

I haven't known what to write here because my much of my energy seems to be dedicated to sanity. And I'm proud and don't like the idea of you coming here and finding a discussion (with myself) of how to stay sane; you probably have sanity covered pretty well, and if you don't there are better places to find refuge.

I also didn't want to talk about sleep deprivation because it seems a bit obvious when one has a 4-week old (can you believe he is four weeks already!). In fact, we have a newborn who wakes up a bunch of times every night to eat, and a 2 year old who wakes up a bunch of times just 'cos.

So, other than those two topics, what is there? Noah celebrated his second birthday and I made the chocolate beet cake and some raspberry vanilla ice-cream. Photos to come. Gladys is visiting from Nairobi this week, because she's helping run a conference at the ICC entitled "Money, Sex and Power" (what a title- you should see the speaker list)-and I am super excited, as you can tell.

And there's additional grace. We've received grace in our finances, in eating well, and in our first purchase of real, new, furniture. I have been struggling not to have somewhere to sit with Noah and Eli so we went and ordered a couch, which should arrive around the same time Eug finishes painting the living room (as with much of our house, the project grew). We'd initially hoped to make the sofa, but we realized that our sanity was more valuable: It was less my most frugal moment and more a moment of feeling of great abundance that we could afford to do something to stay sane. It was also a moment where I saw where money can buy happiness.

I hope to post photos in the next few months, but take a short break from posting other kinds of things until my dissertation proposal (attempt #2) is in good shape. It may be that I have to post, because I'm too excited about this or that attempt at growing stuff and so on. But at least in theory, I'll focus on Eug, Noah, Eli, our house, cooking, and the dissertation for the next month or so. See how focused I am!?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Week in Review

I haven't been blogging as much recently because I've been thinking about thinking about my dissertation, (sleepless nights, two little people, and overly ambitious expectations.). Today, my reward for doing a tiny bit on my dissertation is the pleasure of writing a post while Eli nurses (and Noah is with my mom- thank you mom!) I have twenty minutes before Noah gets back, so sorry for the stream of consciousness and lack of editing:

First, some fun links:
Beet Chocolate Cake I'd be suspicious but my friend Bridget is in love with the stuff (and likely could share a recipe without sugar.) Beets are coming into season at Fruit and Veg City, so I'm going to try it out.
Christian Unschooling, a great blog for those of us who feel like unschooling would be "despite" our faith rather than "because".
No More Harvard Debt, for those of us who have paid off tens of thousands for our degrees. He's at a different point in his life than us (see six figure salary), but what I saw was a surprisingly relatable view of finances.

A shout out to our favorite coffee shop, Expresso Lab in the Old Biscuit Mill for giving us free beans in celebration of Eli's birth, and for always giving Noah the best Babycino in Cape Town. We love this coffee shop, and we'd love for all their coffee to go fully fair trade. Along these lines, Luke, our friend with big coffee dreams is back from his trip to Ethiopia where he was discovering what might be possible linking fair trade coffee and small business entrepreneurs, starting in Ethiopia. I hope to feature more of his story here.

Our photo library is still lost. There's hope, but it's sort of sad so we're struggling to make a new photo library and start over. I know that you stop by to see pictures of Noah and Eli. Poor Eli has lived a thus far undocumented life.

I was thinking more about pregnancy and parenting preferences, but I've run out of time, so I'll rename this post "week in review" and talk more about parenting choices later.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Balancing Attachment Parenting, Elimination Communication and Transitioning to Cloth Diapers

Thanks for your feedback on Unschooling. I'll probably keep coming back to it as something I'm thinking about (as you all suggest, there's a balance to be had and each of us will probably find a different balance).

Attachment Parenting
Here's a recent article about a related subject: attachment parenting, which has raised a lot of discussion in parenting circles. When Noah was born, I hadn't heard of attachment parenting, but I did a lot of AP-like things. With Eli I'm much more conscious of what these things are- baby wearing, cosleeping, breastfeeding. Rather than being anti-feminist, which it's accused of, I found attachment parenting made me feel like I could rely on my instincts; I did it because it was easier and gave me confidence, not because it's necessarily better.

It would be a sad kind of feminism that didn't allow us our instincts and our connection with our babies. It's also silly to take things to extremes: I forget to put Eli down occasionally, which leads to ridiculous things like being in the toilet with him for two days straight and not brushing my hair or washing my face. But that's silly, because Eug is available and Eli also does great laying on his lambskin.

I'm not all that strident in many of my beliefs around baby care, but I really believe the context and timing of our choices may matter more than the actual choices. Research offers support for breastfeeding, but otherwise I simply don't know enough. Rather I want to use the wisdom of our instincts, of trusted friends and family, not because they're necessarily right (each generation has their own strange ideas), but because we can glean the context in which a particular child-rearing idea worked, or didn't.

Given how little we know and how much changes, wisdom is most powerful in the context of relationship and environment and figuring out what is working for a family: So if unschooling or attachment parenting is running you, your spouse, or your child into the ground, maybe it's time to change tactic. And if using some crutch (computer, running water, watching this 20 times with Noah) to pass the time is the difference between feeling like a run down, exasperated parent and not, I'd say use the crutch.  Though it's not always so easy to identify what's not working, is it!?

Elimination Communication
I've started taking Eli to pee in the bathtub (this is the only potty that's big enough for this boy) and it's fun. It's easier now, when he can't move around and he's peeing and pooping pretty much continuously.

When Eli was first born it felt a bit daunting to start, because he didn't like the potty and it's getting colder here, so it doesn't make sense for him to be naked for any length of time. But taking him to the bathtub with each diaper change has been a really easy way to start out.

Transitioning to Cloth Diapers/Nappies
The last thing that's happening here is the transition to cloth diapers. We spent the first two weeks in disposables- for the sake of sanity and because it was raining so much- and it's a little tough to get used to washing again every day (multiple loads). Eli also came out a little small for Bumgenius Diapers, our diaper of choice. Another reason to do elimination communication: laziness. The cost of disposables and the amount of trash we created in two weeks was staggering.

Happy Mother's Day! Here's to trying whatever works. Noah turned two yesterday! He also pulled out the external hard drive with our photos, so it no longer works- note how calm I am? That's how much I trust Eug to work miracles or look up on the internet how to work miracles.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thinking More about Unschooling

I vacillate a lot as a parent- from angry to super kind and loving, and everything in between. Parenting brings out all my own issues. Particularly with a new baby, I tend to have age inappropriate expectations of Noah, which is compounded by the fact that he's a toddler and is thus annoying to his parents. All this must be very confusing for Noah.

Thinking about this and, tangentially, the death of Maurice Sendak, I've recently found this website on unschooling really helpful. A lot of what I'm reading about unschooling encourages parents to see a situation from a child's perspective, which has been powerful for me.

I'm still use bribery, but I'm starting to try to understand why bribery works (perhaps as an acknowledgement  that I've just made him do something that he doesn't want to do), and how to make it less about bribery and getting Noah to do what I want-- which has the underlying attempt at control-- and more about figuring out how to live together as a family- with all the transitions that we're in the midst of.

He's not yet two, and so I'm not talking family meetings or deep discussions of feelings. I guess I'm just starting to figure out how to process Noah's behavior less personally and more in the context of his development and needs. Really, I just wanted to recommend that unschooling website.

In other news, Eug installed a motion-sensitive light in our front area, partially in the hopes that it would scare the cat who keeps pooping in the granadilla, and partially in the hopes that people will stop jumping over our wall and taking stuff from our tiny front space. While Eug connected the wires, Noah had free reign of the drill, which is surprisingly not very dangerous. If I had more energy I'd put Eli down, get up and download the video so you can see it. It may be that you don't need to see videos of our toddler, though. Here's to Noah turning two on Saturday- maybe that'll give me an excuse to post more photos and videos of him.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Making Ice-Cream in Cape Town

We're big on treats in our household- things like eating out occasionally, having dessert, special day trips, and so on (this is why Eug and I both have fairly large personal allowances for all non-essential spending, so that we can treat each other to meals and buy gifts and meals for family, and pay entrance fees or whatever). When we don't have a newborn, we reserve one day of the week for something out-of-the-ordinary, and we have dessert or something every night after Noah (the kids??) are asleep.

For the past 5 months, this hasn't included ice-cream, because, at least in SA supermarkets, ice-cream is full of strange, strange ingredients, and cream is not one of them.

So, for my birthday, Eug bought me an ice-cream maker and so began our ice-cream making.

A Cost-Benefit Analysis 

  • The cost of the ice-cream maker is R600 
  • The cost of a 1L-2L batch of home made ice-cream is R10-R20, depending on your source of cream, yoghurt, or milk.
  • The cost of 2L of ice-cream in the supermarket is about R40-R60, if you buy a single serving at a nice ice-cream shop it can cost R30. Steers Ice-cream with dip is R10/serving.
  • Depending on how often you get ice-cream from these different sources, your break-even point may be earlier or later. I think we'll break even at about 30 weeks, which seems like a reasonable point.
Intangible Costs: Storage
  • After being super careful about getting appliances, we have another appliance. oh well. It's a fun one.
Hard-to-calculate Benefits: Health
  • The store-bought ice-cream didn't make us feel particularly good, so the ice-cream we're making in the ice-cream maker feels and tastes tons, tons better. 
  • We're able to drastically reduce the amount of sugar in our dessert, without feeling deprived. I have a major sweet tooth and I'm surprised by how much it can be satiated without processed sugar now: 
My favorite ice-cream/frozen yoghurt recipe so far doesn't have any sugar. It's
  • 3 bananas
  • about a cup of plain whole milk yoghurt
  • A little less than a cup of milk.
It's surprisingly sweet and lovely. Although we don't always have cream in the house, we usually do have plain yoghurt, which I try to make from scratch. When the yoghurt is made from scratch, the cost of the ice-cream is really, really low- less than R10 for 4-6 servings. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A New Orientation towards Health Care

With our move to Cape Town we had to think anew about health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, house insurance, and so on. I wanted to talk about a rationale for going without health insurance, even when everyone around you might consider it essential.

There's two important caveats: 1) Medical aid in South Africa is generally not very good if you don't have any work benefits- it's expensive and doesn't cover everything, or even most things (for many people, it really only covers catastrophic events). 2) We're pretty healthy so I mean absolutely no disrespect to all the folks who absolutely need insurance to cover chronic medication, surgery and the like. I'm largely writing about those of us who are insured in the event of possible emergencies.

A while ago, I talked about South African banks and I wonder if we need to imagine something creative for health insurance, also. This isn't limited to South Africa, though small groups of wealthy South Africans (I count myself among you) may be uniquely positioned to do something brave. South Africa is also trying to create a more cohesive National Health System, but it's a long ways off.

A group of young people who call themselves The Simple Way (best known for Shane Claiborne) in Philadelphia pools resources to insure one another. I'm throwing it out there, with very limited knowledge, because I think that there are more humane, less capitalist ways to imagine coverage for emergencies. Where we have a safety net, but the safety net is other people (and in S.A., also the government health system). I don't think going totally without a safety net is a good idea, because there are too many stories of tragedy doubled because of finances. Our safety net is currently about a two years expenses worth of emergency fund. (Our budget is pretty unique because we don't have a consistent monthly income). This safety net means we can take risks without becoming a burden to anyone if something does happen. Insurance is set up to make insurance companies money, so the chances that we will save money are fairly high.

Regardless of whether foregoing insurance is foolhardy or financially savvy (which may depend a lot on your own health and age), I've found paying for health care has been counterintuitively healthy. I thought it gauche to find the cheapest care or refuse care because of cost, but it's actually empowering. I got a cash discount on my hemoglobin test, and I refused the other tests because I knew I'd had them before. Having Eli at home was both cheaper and better. For Eli's care we're shopping around- we could spend a few hours waiting in a queue and get his BCG and weight check free, or we can get an appointment with a nurse and pay about $8 (R50), or we can pay much more and go to a pediatrician (we're taking the middle $8 road). Whereas in the past I've been ok relying on tests as a measure of my wellness, I'm now holding us to a higher standard. Medical care is vital, I'm all for it (and we will always get Noah and Eli the best care we possibly can). But I've looked to doctors for answers and when I didn't find good answers, I thought I needed to look to other doctors rather than try out different things myself (I'm not talking about doing surgery on myself, but on weighing things like side effects of medication and so on).

For the most part, as a young family blessed with pretty good health, answers lie with us. When we have back problems or wrist problems or stomach bugs or even high blood pressure, the cause and the solutions are often pretty clear, and they're not at the bottom of a pill bottle.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Beginnings, Endings, and Plastic Insulation: 12 days with Eli

It feels like Eli has been with us a long time. Whereas with Noah we had a plan of how we do things- I had 12 weeks maternity leave, a plan for after those weeks, a breast pump, good friends to copy and lots of books- with Eli we really have no idea, and are taking things as they come. Thank God for the help of family. The thing is, without a plan, we also feel like we should find a new rhythm pretty fast, particularly for Noah's sake. So in my signature style, I started a couple of Google docs to try to get the house running again. Then Eug and I pondered the fact that Eli isn't yet two weeks old, and is still completely unpredictable.

Which started me trying to express how these moments with a newborn are at once very good, physically draining, and fleeting (many of you know this already).

On Sunday, Eli's sixth day, we carefully devised a plan to go to a cafe for coffee during Noah's nap. Since we never taught Noah to nap by himself, this is a complicated science. After several hours of implementing, we succeeded and sat down to our coffee with Noah in his stroller and Eli asleep in my arms.

At the next table came a mother and grown daughter. The mother had fairly serious dementia, and she knew it, so the conversation was so painful as she tried valiantly to make the lunch enjoyable for her daughter. She had dressed her absolute best, and she didn't seem to understand the menu options so she tried to stick with a safe "sounds nice" and "yes I'll have that". For the daughter, the moment was pretty strained as she tried to get something her mom would genuinely enjoy- she'd even brought along a small bottle of champagne for her mom- and you could only imagine everything surrounding this weekly lunch date. It was clear that they were both trying to make the best of a really tough time of life, and it was also clear that this kind of pain- the pain of aging and nearing death- is unavoidable.

And there were Eug and I, drinking our coffee in near-silence and trying not to fall asleep (and, I suppose, eavesdropping on our neighbors).

The daughter looked over to our table a lot- 6 day-olds get a lot of attention- and when we left, she commented on what a good time this was in our lives, and on how much I should enjoy the blessing of having babies. It was a strange juxtaposition. We are blessed to be celebrating the beginning of life. But there are endings, too: With two children, I wonder if that very significant life stage of bearing our own biological children is over (although we don't yet have a plan for family size). Unexpectedly, pregnancy felt like the most basic fulfillment of what my body was meant to do, and I spent a big chunk of my twenties either thinking about pregnancy, actually pregnant, or recovering from pregnancies. There are other endings too, as we adjust to uncertainty on how best to manage our careers/vocations in a family of four.

So the time is good, but I am learning to enter into- to really feel- the beginnings and the endings and even the sleep deprivation and hormone changes.

Lest you really didn't want to read all that, our other discovery is that Cape Town can be cold, houses are not built for cold (though we have a wonderful fireplace) and that our 100-year-old wooden windows have really large holes.

In the U.S. we'd use window kits that use clear plastic which are shrunk onto the windows to act as an insulating layer for the duration of the winter. Here in Cape Town, we haven't been able to find that plastic so we taped clear trash bags onto our upstairs windows. They're not as invisible as the Boston version, but they're a really good option if you're in an old Cape Town house. We can't cover the large downstairs windows- nor would we want to- but our two bedrooms are now a lot warmer. It's also our biggest achievement since Eli was born, so I pretty much have to tell you about it.