Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A week at home in pictures

We take pictures like this to make you think our house is really peaceful and get you to come over... Ha! 
Eli loves pineapple. I just had to be careful he didn't suck it out of my hands and choke.

It's worth 3 pictures to show that Eli is sitting. He also started crawling, but that is less romantic because it makes Noah super angry that Eli can get to his stuff. I say "all we have is ours, Noah" or something equally cryptic about ownership, and then he understands. Just kidding. That just makes him more angry so I only do it if I'm being annoying.

In a moment of weakness at the pet shop, I bought Noah a goldfish. I know. Thankfully my parents had an old tank in the garage, otherwise Gold wouldn't have been happy. We were keeping him in Eug's giant beer heating up pot. I am hoping this is a stepping stone to quail.

Noah is becoming a great drummer. Especially late at night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Peeking out of survival mode

Noah's idea of hiding...
We've spent much of this year in survival mode: we've gone through so many major life changes in such a short time. Survival mode is sort of an unfortunate place to be, because in it it's hard to step back and see the bigger arc of our lives, and also quite hard to fully enjoy the tiny beautiful moments that make up most of the day. I'm often stuck in this middle ground, where I'm thinking about the plan for the day or week- neither appreciating what's happening right now nor the bigger story that I'm a part of.  I think this is quite common for parents of small children. We're sleep deprived!

We have gone one week without a car, and without it our choices have been greatly reduced. It's less about the car and more about the sudden change of pace, but I was suddenly pushed out of planning our survival. I'm a planner and a control freak by nature, so rather than acknowledge that something isn't working I tend to try to find another plan, and yet another, and another. Chocolate at the end of the day is one survival plan. TV is another. Eating out or coffee out is another. Or just taking Noah and Eli on an adventure. Some of these are fine but others aren't. Chocolate at the end of the day is awesome but it is a sad highlight. I don't want to spend the whole day waiting for the moment when both kids are asleep, or even later, when I feel like I can stop working.
This week the number of genius plans I could come with to make our lives work was very limited. In a very good way. It's been.... quiet. 

We all try to make our lives work. My experience when I pray is that I get some perspective on why something is not working or why I'm trying so hard. I think God sometimes enters in and asks me things like: oh, you're really not coping with cooking while watching the kids. Do you have to do both? oh. I guess not. 

Here's to peeking out of survival mode and enjoying what is and what will be. May it be so for you this week.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Unschooling and doing what we love

One of my primary motivations for pursuing unschooling for Noah and Eli is this idea that we don't actually have to spend the bulk of our lives doing things we dislike. If that is true, and school is primarily drudgery in preparation for more drudgery in the working world, then it makes sense to see what happens if you scrap it all. 

How to Do What You love by Paul Graham is a great essay on this topic. An excerpt:

"If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house."

I'm not sure we're there yet in terms of doing what we love, and conveying that to Noah and Eli. There's some balance here, and it takes a lot of negotiation and give and take, especially as part of a family. We somehow have to balance sacrifice to nurture our kids and provide some minimum financially, with nurturing ourselves. 

One argument against unschooling that's given me pause in the past is the argument around parent's time; that in order to unschool, our dreams have to be sacrificed for those of our children and on and on through the generations. We haven't figured this out yet. I'm trying to find what I love partially outside the house so that everyone else in the family can do the same- find our loves both internally and externally. With the physical demands of two small children, this sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. But I feel quite safe that Noah is learning phenomenal things and that we're staying connected to one another and figuring out what works. I doubt we'll figure it out any time soon. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Car Pods in Obs

I once interviewed a woman who is part of cycle coop in Western Mass, and one thing she said that stuck with me was this, paraphrased:

"in a car, you're shut off from your world- whole communities only exist from the car window"

I've thought about this a lot. I shared our experiences of isolation when we first arrived in Cape Town, and our decision to buy a car when it was clear we wouldn't be able to get very many places on the train, and are waiting on biking with Eli until he turns 1. Ironically, it felt like not having a car was shutting us off from whole communities. And we've loved having a car these past few months. As we share here, we get to have many amazing adventures every week, and few of them would have been possible by train or even bike.

But many of our adventures have this uncomfortable undertone: at many of these amazing places in Cape Town you would have NO idea that white South Africans are a small minority of our population. What's more, you may have breezed by townships to get there. And perhaps this is part of why we liked having a car. It's so much easier, practically, mentally and emotionally.

Obs/Salt River, is a really diverse, interesting, fun neighborhood. The way this manifests is complicated, though. For the most part, people seem to be driving away from the neighborhood for their leisure time (even as people flock here on weekends to party).

Cape Town seems to be doing a lot to figure out how to make the city less dependent on cars. It's not there yet, but I think in a couple of years it just might be.

In the meantime, this is what I'm trying, and I'd love to hear what you're doing, too.

  • I'm trying to be less anti-social, and get to know my neighbors and my neighborhood so that the adventures outside of our neighborhood stay special, and the neighborhood is a place to stay. 
  • I'm going to try the train with the two kids, and see if it's feasible.
  • I buy what I can in our neighborhood: Coffee beans from Expressolabs at the Old Biscuit Mill, Oats, nuts, raisins, honey and peanut butter from Komati, Cheese from The Cheese Shop (Lwr Main), Eggs on the corner of Lwr Main and Albert, for Noah's experiments with using money we go to the corner store across from Woolworths financial. 
  • We're looking forward to Eli turning 1 so we can start biking. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

One Year On

We left Boston about a year ago, and while I miss Boston terribly we're beginning to find our place here. 

I wore out a pair of shoes. I replaced them with an identical pair.

We had a baby.

Noah liked Eli better when he couldn't move.

Spending our days in the bed Eug made.

Can't spell his own name.

 Noah turned 2.

Falling into a brief car-free experiment

Much of my energy recently has been taken up by juggling my PhD and Noah and Eli. I've had all these ideas that I want to share with you, but I feel like a hypocrite writing until I have magically cracked the code to a burden-less PhD.

There is nothing really helpful to write about the PhD. There's just this:

  1. I know, in a deep and fundamental way, that the PhD doesn't matter a whole lot. It's good training and it's wonderfully flexible.
  2. Despite this, I can't stop feeling that it does matter a whole lot, and trying to get it to go better than it is.
  3. I haven't been able to cool this simmering stress, and trying harder to relax is an oxymoron. So I'm just riding it out and trying to stay rooted in the best way to spend my time hour to hour. Kids have a way of keeping you grounded in the present.
So I'm going to go ahead and write from this space of latent hypocrisy.

On Wednesday we unintentionally fell into a brief car-free experiment, because our car has a broken part and the part will take at least a week to arrive at the garage. All in all, we'll probably be car-less for about 10-11 days. I thought it would be fun to take this as a car-free experiment, and try to be conscious of the triggers that make me/us load up the car-seats and drive. 

No big deal, right? We're hippies!

Well, sort of.

In between getting a car in March and now, we've fallen into using the car almost every day, and it's become a big part of our lives.  

For this post, I'm just going to share our current consumption, and the rest of the week I'll try to explore with you some of the issues involved with living car-free in Cape Town with a baby that's too young to go in a bike seat (not for long!).  

I've been gradually working on stretching our tank of gas/petrol and thus weaning us off the car a little: 

At the moment, we use 30L of petrol every two weeks. This is about 8 gallons. 

1L of petrol costs R11.85, which is about $5.30/gallon. Yes, it's not cheap.

We drive 410km on 30L, which is 13.67km/L. In U.S. terms, this is about 32 miles/gallon on a tank, which is very good, considering we don't drive a hybrid and this is only partly highway driving.

A lot of our driving we frame in terms of sanity- I need to drive somewhere where Noah will be his little awesome self and I won't have to play another one of his strange games while juggling Eli. This week is a chance to reframe. 

How do you balance petrol/gas consumption and sanity? How do you balance fuel efficiency with the cost of a car? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Convert a 240L Trash Bin into a Worm Bin: Large-scale Vermicomposting

A lot of the worm bins that you can buy ready-made deal with very, very small capacity (1kg, 2.2lb of food waste/week max.) In our case, that would have meant that we would still throw away much of our food waste. I'd made a large farm with two very large plastic totes, but the worms were still being overfed. I knew we ultimately wanted to stop trash pickup but was a little hesitant to use our large bin until I was absolutely sure that we had almost no trash. 

Anyway, we were recently able to convert our city bin into a worm farm. I noticed there weren't yet any tutorials on how to do this, so I thought I'd go into a little detail here.

240L seems perfect for our needs, as we eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and only have a tiny concrete space (so no space for regular composting). We're a family of 4, and Eli will just be starting solids properly in the next few months. A few of these might be perfect for a block of flats.

What you need:
  • 240L Bin
  • Tap (we got ours from a beer supply store, nurseries are also likely to have them.)
  • Something to create a false bottom (see what we used below!)
  • Something to filter castings so the bottom mainly has liquid
  • A hatch where you can retrieve the fully processed castings (so you need something to reattach the piece of plastic so that it can open and close. If you look below this will make more sense)
  • Ventilation for the worms. (biggish holes are fine; happy worms don't flee)
  • Red wriggler worms. You can start with whatever portion your bait shop/nursery supplies, and gradually help them to reproduce to scale up the farm. We  started our farm with roughly 1000, now we likely have several thousand.
  • Jigsaw and drill

Worm basics:
  • Worms can stand a fair bit of cold (for example, a unheated indoor space is usually fine, even if places like Boston), but dry out quickly if there's direct sunlight on the bin.
  • Worms like some shredded, wetted, newspaper on the bottom of the bin to help mediate moisture and provide bedding while they're getting settled. A bunch of shredded dry newspaper on top of the food waste will help mediate moisture and keep fruit flies and other bugs away.
  • If you have worms leaving your farm, it's a sign that somethings not comfortable for them (too hot, too wet, too dry, too much onions/orange peels/other.)
  • Once the farm has a fair amount of food waste and worm castings, I've found small amounts of undesired foods (meat, onion peels, orange peels) are fine. 
  • Worm castings are the perfect compost. Really, it's awesome. 

Step 1: Move the bin into a spot where you can work on several sides.
Here's the bin! Eli was observing.
Steps 2 and 3 (We forgot to take a picture after step 2):

  • Install the tap as close to the bottom of the bin as will still work for collecting liquid. It's not hard to install the tap- you can drill a few holes with the largest bit you have, or use a jigsaw to smooth it into a round hole. basically start small and gradually make bigger until the tap squeezes through. 
  • The unfortunate step is that you actually need to climb inside the bin to get the washer/nut fitted from the inside. We'd left the bin to clean and dry for several weeks before doing this, so it wasn't too gross. Wait a second.... if you cut the trapdoor first.... whoa. So you DON'T need to get inside the bin after all!
  • Using the drill and a jigsaw, cut a trapdoor that's big enough for you to get your hand in with a small spade, to retrieve finished worm castings. This is THE major advantage of this system. The worms move upwards towards new food, leaving worm castings relatively worm free, so you're not losing worms when you fertilize your plants. 

The piece of plastic is removed. We used a hinge we had lying around to reattach it.
Step 4: Make some kind of false bottom, so any extra liquid has a way to drain away from the worms.

  • This is where we have to get creative, as I'm not going to suggest buying something and making a shelf in the bin. I happened to find the lid of a laundry hamper lying on the street, and it turned out to be a good fit. The indentation for the wheels holds it up from the floor of the bin. 
  •  The holes on the laundry hamper lid were quite big, and I wanted to find something that wouldn't let too many castings (or worms) through, and that the worms wouldn't eat. I thought these orange bags would be perfect- very strong with relatively small holes.

Step 5: Drill holes in the top third of the bin
  • The number of holes depends on the size of the bit, but for now I'm going with 5 holes on each side, 1cm diameter each. I'll edit if it seems like there's not enough air in the bin. For now it seems great, with the bin about 2/3 full.

Step 6: Add Bedding and Worms!
  • If you're adding worms for the first time, add wet newspaper, followed by the worms with a tiny bit of food (some apple peels or something) followed by dry newspaper.

The worms in their new home. 
There you have it! Let me know if you have questions.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Biker Boy

Someone we knew said she'd like to give Noah her old toddler bike, but it fell through. By this time Noah was obsessed with the idea of it (he cut pictures of the bike out of newspaper ads and tacked it on the board in his room) so when I found a second hand one, I snapped it up:

Are guys born knowing how to pose like this???? He wanted something so that he could collect stuff when he goes out on the street. Or I did. One day I noticed my pocket bulging, and he had just been dropping rocks into my back pocket. 
Eli is getting his personality: he's lovable and flexible but Don't Take Away The Thing He Wants to Chew On.

Noah helps with cleaning the floor, provided his bike is nearby. He also bikes to the bathroom to pee.

I think we might wake up neighbors in the morning when we go out first thing with Noah on his bike. But it's a pretty noisy neighborhood in general, and the neighbors I've asked like Noah's noise. 
Our friends gave us their old bath hanging thingy. Which allows Noah to better eat and play while in the bath. Not the best habit but it's a relaxed way for him to finish leftovers from the food he nibbled on during the day.
Extraneous picture of Eli.

This is not a real post, I know. I'm so excited to do a tutorial on how to convert a 240L bin into a worm bin (YES, we did it!!) but I'm also navigating the waters of dissertation discouragement. It's different doing a PhD with two babies: my stress is the air they breathe, so I want to deal with stress deeply and try to make our home a good place to be little. That sounds stressful doesn't it? The way I'm navigating at the moment is working late at night so that there is less negotiation over my time during the day. Which is tiring, but not stressful. I find myself in the kitchen for at least a little time (before Eli wakes for the first time of the night), alone with my computer, and it's remarkably peaceful.