Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Can Do Without Internet, A Car, TV, or local Friends, but Not All at Once.

This is the conclusion I've reached after about two months in Cape Town. All to say, we'd love phone calls, Skype conversations (once we have internet), letters, emails. We really appreciated the Christmas e-mails and cards in a special way this year.

We've been largely without internet except for sending and receiving email, because Telkom, the monopoly phone line provider, is, well, a monopoly. Lack of television and car are by our own choice, but our ability to get beautiful places is seriously curtailed, and I feel dependent on the kindness of others (my parents and siblings). I'm getting to the point where I feel too pregnant to bike, particularly with Noah in the back, which makes the prospect of the coming year (with a non-biking newborn) seem even more isolating.

Telkom is hopefully coming this Thursday, meaning we may have internet as soon as Friday. We'll see how we feel with internet, and based on that decide whether to find a way to get a car. A friend prayed for appropriate transportation for us, which suddenly made me want to pray for supernatural provision. Which is not an underhanded attempt to get you to give us a car but rather just to say, asking God for provision helped me look at our problem in a new way. I felt quite passionately that we should go without a car, and so I need a similarly passionate sense that yes, for now, a car is a good idea.

In the meantime, not having a car helps me to see my neighborhood differently. It's much harder to see run-down and trash-filled streets when it's hard to get away from them (they seem earthy and interesting when you're just driving by). I walk down the street- 100 year-old semi-detached houses on either side of me, and a crystal-clear view of Devil's Peak and Table Mountain in front of me, and the fact that there's a strong community doesn't make the trash and broken glass and trashed cars and people asking for money any less alienating. Rather than being diverse, the neighborhood is divided by blocks. Our block is largely white and some coloured (our unfortunate word for mixed race), but a few houses down begins a totally coloured Muslim neighborhood, and a few blocks beyond that, a largely black South African and Congolese area. I walk around a lot, which seems to help me imagining the transition between communities not being so awkward.

Thanks for your prayers for us, and for your support in other ways. I think we're hugely blessed to be here, and I'm still dreaming big, even if the dreams take more than my lifetime.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I'm Grateful For (and Water Birth)

We've been struggling with Telkom and some of the more bureaucratic and isolating parts of immigrating to South Africa, so here's what's been going well:

  1. A healthy pregnancy.
  2. Eug has skills and does stuff like build beds and fill massively cracked walls.
  3. Noah is talking like crazy and is generally growing up fast, reassuring me that he'll cope well with a little brother.
  4. Getting a package from Anna with a German Teddy and a fluffy singing Rabbit. They are Noah's favorite things, even though the rabbit is for Tiny Blob.
  5. Going to Fruit and Veg City with my sister for the first time, with the prospect of future trips.
  6. Getting my first foraging loot- also from my sister- a huge bag of pine cones with pine nuts for pesto and risotto.
    • Jo to Eug: I can see why pine nuts are so expensive! It takes so long to get them out of the cones, and then I still have to crack the shells!!! I wonder how they can be so cheap in Korea!
    • Eug: Uhh. Jo. They use machines.
  7. My parents watching Noah twice a week (at least, sometimes more).
  8. Having more family nearby.
  9. Registering for a PhD, and the prospect of at least a little funding.
  10. Getting a solar geyser this Tuesday.
  11. Maybe getting internet by next next week (please Lord).

And, I was writing to a friend about our upcoming home birth, which started with something along the lines of "I think my midwife is really into water births but I'm a bit concerned about logistics..." I may be too lazy for water births, despite being attracted to the idea of it being super peaceful and nice and so on. Last time, we didn't even get around to sorting our iTunes into "appropriate birthing music".

  • When do we get the tub? 
  • Will there be enough time to fill it up? 
  • But I don't want to have a tub in the lounge for days, and I might not have enough time otherwise!
    • What if Noah gets in?
  • If it's in the living room, won't people be able to see me from the street? 
  • Does that mean I need to buy proper curtains, if the hydroponics plants aren't up or haven't filled out to provide privacy? 
  • But when? 
  • I don't want to pay for curtains! 
  • And what will they [who is they! me? Eug?] do with all the water afterwards? 
    • Put it down the toilet? 
    • Is blood acidic? 
    • Could the blueberries use it, then? 
    • But they'd only need, like, 2L, isn't the tub a lot of water? 
    • We don't have a garden where we can just dump that much water! 
    • How will the water stay warm? 
The good news, I'm not concerned at all about having the baby at home, the questions are about how to make it the least work possible, with the least cleanup. So that Tiny blob and Eug [and Noah?] and I can just hang out with as little blood around as possible. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sourdough Naan

As I mentioned a little while ago, I've started cooking with sourdough, to good effect. Timing for a +/- 15 hour rise time has been difficult without a big fridge that has space for the dough, and the quality of bread has gone from amazing to edible. So I'm going back to basics: This week I started the sourdough bread with about 40% whole wheat at around 6am, then punched it down around 3:30pm, before baking it at the same time I was cooking dinner- about 6pm- so I could use the heat in the stove for two things. It turned out much, much better than the last couple of weeks. The heat of summer meant a shorter rise time (rather than controlling the rise in the fridge) worked perfectly.

I've also noticed the sourdough starter would benefit from being used and fed a day or two before we use it for the large sourdough loaf. Hence the sourdough naan. To make it, I combined two recipes, this one and this one.

The adjusted recipe looked like this:

1.5 cups sourdough starter
1 cup white bread flour
1 cup whole wheat Bread flour
1/4 cup Greek Yoghurt
1tbsp oil
finely chopped garlic
1tsp salt (optional)
a pinch of baking soda
more flour as needed to make the dough less sticky.

I stirred the sourdough starter (pancake batter consistency) in with everything except the salt and baking soda for a first rise- until doubled. I had started a little late to allow a full rise, but leaving the dough for three hours may be better than the one hour I left it- sourdough tends to rise much more slowly than commercially yeasted breads.

After the first rise, I added the salt and the baking soda and left for 20 minutes or so.

Then divided into small golf sized balls, squished as thin as you can, and cooked with a little butter on the pan. I'd likely try water or a mix of butter and oil next time, as the butter tends to get hot and start smoking.

I love that the sourdough starter means I don't have to have yeast on my list of things to buy, particularly because I've only found yeast in small single serving sachets here in Cape Town. In the baking week, adding sourdough naan the day before making a sourdough loaf means that just as the sourdough loaf is running out, we have a little bread boost before the new sourdough is ready. It adds a little rhythm to the week.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This week's Menu, and Navigating the Dual Economy

Much to our surprise, the South African (or at least the Cape Town area) cost of living is high. Housing is an exception, as compared to Boston, maybe not the most fair comparison.

As South Africans know, there is a very strong dual economy- one for the wealthy and one for the poor. Prices at malls and supermarkets are comparable to U.S. prices, and often more expensive. But if you look hard enough, there are cheaper options out there, particularly for things were quality is not as important (children's clothing, for example).

Food prices are similarly complex. Buying staples in bulk at Makro (Pasta, flour, rice) can save money and waste, provided you have places to store away from ants (we use our deep freeze). We noticed that eggs and fish can be purchased at less than 1/2 the supermarket price at a nearby store in Salt River. My take-home is that if something seems super expensive, wait and look for alternatives. I felt really stupid for buying frozen Hake at Pick 'N Pay and then seeing it fresh for less than half the price at an Observatory fish shop. The exception on the strategy of measured waiting is our Friday-fake-restaurant meal, where this week, I just went totally wild and bought BOTH tabasco sauce AND blue cheese dressing for chicken wings. Yes. Living on the wild side. Anyway, here's this week's menu:

Monday Fried Rice with Egg, mushroom and broccoli (we ended up having a meal with family on Sat)
Tuesday Pasta + South Africa (fake) parmesan + butter + basil
Wednesday Eritrean Lentils and pan fried potato
Thursday Cous cous with parmesan + tomato + basil + feta + green peppers
Friday Baked chicken wings and Potato chips
Saturday hake + vegetable on sale + mashed potato
Sunday soup + sourdough bread


Sourdough Bread/ naan
Pies (forgot to buy)

2 kiwis for Mr Noah

Shopping List
Pineapple or melon or mangoes
Apples X 6
2 kiwis
2 Peppers
cup-a-soup 4-pack
Cheap-ish nuts that would work in risotto (ended up being walnuts)
Milk X 3
1 bag potato chips
If small tabasco and ranch dressing equiv available, get chicken wings. If not, find something else good.
a little fish
(the below were postponed to next week, because I didn't make it to Makro)
Arborio rice (bulk, Makro)
Jasmine rice (bulk, Makro)
oats (bulk, Makro)
Cheese (cheese shop near Makro)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Two Sons

I wrote about having a daughter a little while ago, when I… uh… was having a daughter, or so I thought.About a week ago, we found out I was having another son. It was a strange feeling, as I am not sure whether I will have more children, or ever have a daughter. I thought a bit more about womanhood in light of your comments. What I came up with: Either gender, we are the first example to our children. Deep, huh?

But seriously, I'm wondering how we navigate gender- and the wounds we all have- with grace. I don't think I have more or deeper wounds than other South Africans, but I think both what I dreamt of doing with my life- and what I'm choosing to do now- are deeply intertwined with being a woman. Whether it's not asking for help around the house, or expecting that I need to be able to do certain things, or balance my life a certain way, or just getting upset when I don't measure up to those around me, or so I think (hospitality is one area where I feel really weak!).

A friend always dreamed of being a wife and mother, then found she hated being home with the kids (and couldn't stand sewing, another society standard in her circle). I always dreamed of being a neurosurgeon, but I find myself happy pottering around with plants (though probably not pottering with Noah all day) and have not yet had a knitting session that was too long. I feel like I'm doing a PhD on the side. We're all more than just one thing. Rather than being value judgements on the thing we're doing, I think there's always a tension between the dreams we have and reality, even when we get exactly our dreams. Like relationships, good dreams at the wrong moment aren't good. And coming back to parenting, in my experience our dreams are gendered- whether man or woman, whether I have reacted against society or with it, and whether my society is patriarchal or less so.

I phrased this in the last post in terms of "not having it all". By not having it all I don't mean giving up dreams or being content in really bad circumstances. Rather, I mean coming to peace with our broken histories and moving on, whether that means choosing to be ok staying home or choosing to be ok working, or some combination of the two. In the context of having children, where parenting is the fulfillment of a really deep longing, I mean that we should forego other deep longings in favor of really getting the benefit of one.

So I guess this is just a longwinded post about contentment, as one who is constantly pushing (any Wellesley readers in the house?). Contentment, particularly as parents, seems to a powerful step of maturity but sometimes gets a bad rap as "settling". I'm ok doing a little settling if it means I get to enjoy my healthy years.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Elimination Communication and Weaning...

Noah is sleeping in his own room, and I feel the need to announce to to the world. He was probably ready a while ago, but we've been traveling (one room for all of us) and Noah never had a room in our Boston apartments. Nor a bed, for that matter. No more! He has an incredible room. Eug and I will soon have our own cupboard and a bed, and maybe even a table that looks out on the mountain while we work. Aaah, dreams.

Noah's room has led to all kinds of developments. First, Noah is going to sleep at night by himself (wowy wow. Ok, it's kind of after a lot of stalling and some whining) and may well be weaned. In the knick of time, since he had started to grab my breasts and say "brea! More?! Please?!" In the end, it wasn't intentional, but my body was tired in the heat and moving and I sort of just dried up.

Second, Noah is incredibly amenable to using a potty again. We were gifted my great-grandmother's old green potty, and Noah loves it. This will be the 5th generation using this metal glazed potty. After almost a full year of no elimination communication, Noah is happily toddling off to use the potty, and is without a diaper during the day mostly without incident. Elimination communication seems to have been a big part of this, together with hot weather and wooden floors that can be wet. It may continue this way, it may not. My hope is avoid having two babies in diapers, but I'm trying not to convey that pressure to Noah, who- I need to remind myself- is still quite small. Maybe I can just go all the way hippy and not use diapers for Tiny Blob. Perhaps.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Never Know What to Buy at Hippy Markets

After sharing our meal plan, I felt like talking more about food. One of the most funny moments during our travels when we unthinkingly bought some supermarket Gouda, even though our host's fridge was full of incredible artisan Milan cheeses. It was embarrassing, and we insulted our hosts. The gouda was just…easy?

I'm told we're predisposed to crave salt, sugar and oil. I sometimes think for a few minutes about the Buffalo Blasts at Cheesecake Factory. I miss them even though I only had them a few times. In my defense, I also very much miss the giant pieces of bacon that we used to buy at Whole Foods in Cambridge before heading over to church. I know my bacon.

When I'm at the Old Biscuit Mill here in Woodstock- the local gourmand meeting place- everything looks theoretically amazing, but I end up just getting a strawberry smoothie, at most. Which tastes very similar to the smoothie I make at home. I'd be equally happy with a coke float. I avoid produce at Woolworths because of their over-pricing and over-packaging (even though there are similar issues of over-packaging at Checkers, Pick 'N Pay, and Spar- But Woolworths says it's better). Actually, I'd take conventional locally grown produce without packaging over tastier, organic produce in bags and polystyrene.

As an aspiring hippy this is a strange place to be. I guess my point is that my palate is just not that refined or reformed. I like fresh local food because I believe in it, but only to a point- I want to eat really, really well without much space and without spending more. There are a few things that I can honestly identify as much better (strawberries, peaches, raspberries, and I know my coffee and ice-cream), but I grow food because I believe in it, not because I feel certain my food tastes better. I'd probably eat it even if it tasted worse- I simply don't trust my tastebuds to always know the difference. I don't care whether quail eggs taste better, I just want some little quail to nurture and steal eggs from.

And gradually, over several years, I'm begining to notice the difference. This is not to say I turn my nose up at dodgy processed food: McDonalds hash browns are amazing, even if I choose not to partake for reasons unrelated to taste. But the list of foods I can appreciate is gradually growing. Good home-made sourdough, good milk, maybe some South African parmesan and fresh pasta. I'll choose a small bit of good, well-raised steak over a larger ready-made or fast-food meal. But I'm no foodie, and that's ok.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meal Planning

Over at Frugal Girl, I've always admired that Kristen has a menu plan. There was a time when I kind of did- to the extent that carbs for each night were defined, but it didn't end up working in the long term, because I didn't have the right things to go with cous cous, for example.

After a week of walking to the grocery every day, I decided to try out a menu, mainly so that we shop once a week, if we're lucky when we borrow my parent's car. I thought I'd share the menu for the next few weeks. We have two pots, two pans, and a roasting dish and nowhere to sit, so the goal at the moment is pretty low-bar: don't eat out, and eat fruit and vegetables every day. This menu has more meat than usual because I cooked a chicken yesterday, and because we're having a steak instead of eating out. I figure the best steak we can find is a ton cheaper than Eug and I buying a meal at a fast food joint.

It's also very hot at the moment, and electricity is extremely expensive. So I cooked the chicken and potatoes, and peppers at the same time as our bread for the week.

Monday Pasta + Left over pasta sauce
Tuesday Roast Chicken + Potatoes + Vegetables on sale (turned out to be broccoli)
Wednesday Panini with roasted peppers, leftover chicken basil and cheese
Thursday Soup w/leftover chicken + Sourdough Naan
Friday Celebration night: Steak and a bag of potato chips
Saturday Fried Rice with Egg and mushrooms
Sunday Left over Risotto w/green pepper and mushrooms


Left over risotto in fridge (Eug)
1 pack Instant Noodles (Eug)
Sourdough Bread (Jo)
Plain yoghurt
Soup, maybe if we need it.

Chocolate muffins, if there are any left
melon or mangoes

Shopping List
Remember shopping bags!
Think trash!
Pineapple or melon or mango
1 Red and 1 Yellow pepper
Vegetable on Sale
Small Pies (2)
Roast Chicken (roast chicken pieces?)
Steak (1)
Milk (2)
Cheese (large)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Couple of Pictures

The view from our bedroom window- Devil's Peak and Table Mountain. Every evening the clouds roll in.
Our first wall. Clearly not home made paint, but we're really proud of this wall. My parents had old floorboards in the garage, which we sanded and varnished and are now using as these shelves.

Life with one chair.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Biking with a Baby and Asking People for Stuff

We've been in our place just over a week. No Telkom (internet or phone line) yet, but otherwise we're making slow progress on our house every day. After a lot of plastering (and babysitting by my parents) one wall in the kitchen is almost done! It's Firecracker Red 6.

We seem to go to the supermarket just about every day. Maybe a bar fridge wasn't such a genius idea. Or maybe it was, if I could only stop myself from buying chocolate. Today Noah got two trips on his little seat on my bike, and unlike on the car seat (when he cries about going in) this time he cried (limbs prostrate, pounding the floor with his little hands) when I dared stop biking. It was 35C (a million degrees F). I had to stop. I was surprised to discover that babies fall asleep on bikes. Noah seemed way, way too excited. Until he wasn't, and was totally asleep.

I bake sourdough bread, plan meals, sweep almost constantly (Noah has a sandpit) hang with Noah, and occasionally study or work. I'm officially part of the IN crowd after paying R50 for a key to Station Rd. playground.

I remember before we moved, and even once we'd been in Plumstead a couple of days, I was very much into the idea of getting people's leftovers- stuff they didn't want, and so on.

In Boston, this would be totally socially acceptable and we'd get to meet our neighbors, enjoy a little grace, and avoid creating an entirely new waste stream by starting over new. Freecycle Watertown often posts couches, beds, washers, microwaves, and other household items. We once couldn't get anyone to take our fairly nice love seat. Here in Cape Town, a broken fridge will be gone within minutes on Freecycle. Which is not to say there isn't extraordinary wealth floating around.

Then we arrived in Observatory. Every day between three and eight people stop by asking for food, clothing, plastic bottles, or money. Suddenly asking our neighbors for stuff became ridiculous- we immediately were amongst the people being asked because we have money and a house. So I felt a bit naive. But I'm learning.

On learning hospitality, we've already had people over and met several of our neighbors. We still only have one chair, but those who have visited have been gracious.

Friday, January 13, 2012

There Are Dreams Bigger than The Urban Farm

We've been in our house about a week. We're still waiting on internet thanks to Telkom (14-21 days "or more" they say. aaah government monopoly) which means we are quite productive. But no pictures, unfortunately. The good news is we've painted one wall in the kitchen. The bad news is that when I scrape off the paint on the opposite wall, bricks actually crumble and come off in my hand.

I wrote several times in the last few years about our big dreams of the Biltong Factory. The biltong factory was actually a run down biltong distribution center, which surrounds our property. At about 1/10 of an acre, it was perfect for transforming into an urban farm/with a small unit for friends or family to stay, or to use as a B&B unit. Given a few years of saving, it would have been within our price range- around R500,000 (R8=$1). Having a larger garden or a place for family to stay is less feasible otherwise, as most houses in this neighborhood are getting quite expensive. My longing was for a sense of permanence and continuity and cool dreams that fitted with my strengths. Which, I suppose, is not uncommon when one is pregnant and getting close to 30.

When we came to look at our house on January 1, it was apparent that the urban farm dreams were not going to be realized. The factory had been bought and converted into a cab/taxi depot. They layered the concrete with more concrete, built a car park and renovated and expanded the building, and are there to stay- and with the new buildings the land is very much out of our price range.

I had been thinking a bit about the farm as we traveled to South Africa. Our family friends recently described how their thoughts about owning a house in (ridiculously expensive) Boston had shifted towards being long term renters, so that their income would be more free to give away, and also that they be more free to move should God inspire them in that direction.

Which made me think there are dreams bigger than having an urban farm in Observatory- maybe dreams where we are less the drivers or central characters in the story. Where I don't have to micro-plan or even save (I'm not dissing the merits of saving, but saving is kind of my thing already). Or be too fearful of the sense of transience and uncertainty that comes with a small house. Perhaps there are more creative ways to offer hospitality to friends and family (and the little boys can share a room until forever, right?). As for urban farming, I can't wait to show you my coke bottle self-watering containers- small but effective- and the possibilities of the small spaces in front and back. With the long growing season and about 1000 coke bottles, the amount of food we can produce in a few square meters is astonishing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Psychology of Using Baking Soda and Vinegar for Everything

Baking soda and vinegar pretty much summarizes what we use for everything cleaning-related. There's also oil for face washing, washing soda and soap for laundry, and we use regular dishwashing soap (sunlight) for dishes and the wooden floor. But for cleaning the bathroom, or the sink, or my hair, and as deodorant there's baking soda and/or vinegar. Which I wanted to explain, to myself, as much as anything.

Our move to South Africa made this more certain, because we're starting over without our old stash of wood cleaner, Fantastic, Window Cleaner, makeup for wedding emergencies, moisturizer and so on. I like the certainty of it. Although I kept my tweezers through the cross-continental move, as though in some future life I'll care about my unibrow again (I cared only during the three weeks that Eug and I spent dating).

I was thinking what the point of this was, beyond not wanting to expose my family or myself to random, often toxic chemicals. There's not having to store dangerous chemicals with a one year old in the house. There's not having to store much at all. Except I just bought 25L of vinegar, which is a lot. There's control over our budget. I'm convinced that one key to saving or giving financially is getting rid of as many recurring expenses as possible, so that your income is free to go wherever it needs to. There's the satisfying superiority complex I've developed. Sorry. But I think overall, the key is the sense that I can buy one thing for many uses, and I pretty much know what that one thing is.

If you're thinking of trying out baking soda and vinegar, or some other simpler way of cleaning clothes or yourself, I just want to encourage you. It adds up to something, over many years. And we pick our battles- my best example is the following:

Home Made Paint

After 4 failed attempts at whitewash paint and milk paint, we raised the white flag of surrender and are using store-bought polyurethane paint for our house. There just wasn't enough on the internet to get us to the point where we could troubleshoot what was going wrong. And the house is just too run down not to paint at least some parts immediately. With the home made paints, the paint either went on well but was too much like whitewash to actually stick (it became powdery and rubbed off too easily to use indoors), or it didn't seem to show up at all. If you've made wall paint with success, we'd love to learn from you one day. The only remaining paint that I'm keen on attempting is egg tempura, for very small surface areas. I know I could have looked up environmentally friendly paints, but after four days of failed paints, I was desperate to get started and I'm generally a bit skeptical of stuff that markets itself as "eco-friendly". Cynicism, go away.

The good news is that this is the very first time an attempt has failed so spectacularly. Everything else I've tried has been both doable and effective. Even the semi-successes have had good implications: for example, I don't always wash my face with oil, but when I don't, I actually don't need to wash my face with anything at all. I advocate the attempt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Immigrating Home

Thanks to huge amounts of support from family, we're doing well, but immigrating is a discomforting and stressful experience, even when one is immigrating home. With S.A. as a reference point, banks in the U.S. seem more innocent (though they aren't), foods more varied (though they aren't), and surprisingly to me, the cost of stuff seems lower in the U.S. 

We're gradually making our way around. Learning where to go for what, and so on. Observatory feels very different from Plumstead (where my parents live), as we walk everywhere. Actually, we could bike, but assembling our bikes turned out to be harder than expected, mainly because there were no instructions in the box. But anyway, walking slows down the day in a good way. Errands seem kindof fun. Cooking and cleaning and trying to figure out how to fix up our place is a full time job, but we have other full time jobs (Noah, working, studying). So I guess it's ok that internet takes weeks and weeks to set up.

The view from our bedroom window is pretty incredible: the edge of Table Mountain and uhh... Devil's peak? Every night the clouds roll over as though there's going to be a massive storm, but they disappear into nothing.

And, after the most incredibly high tech ultrasound, little blob is a boy again. He was a girl to me until this afternoon. I had come to love the idea of a little girl, but a little boy feels just right. I couldn't love Noah any more than I do already, and I figure it would have been the same with the little girl, or little boy, as it happens. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We Introduce Our House

Enter in the front door
The front area is a narrow strip of concrete, so for the first time I'll ACTUALLY be gardening on concrete. Which I'm not sure I really wanted to do, but it's going to be fun.
There's a short corridor, with doors to the living room, kitchen, and bathroom
This is our living room. The fireplace is one of my favorite things in the house.
The living room connects to the kitchen, which is bare but opens out into a small stone-tiled area, where we hang laundry, put some potted vegetables (and a tree or two?!), and maybe one day raise quail.
The kitchen just has this sink, and the paint and plaster is struggling. We're weighing what we can handle doing against the fact that it would be nice to be able to actually use the kitchen, and not just be trying to fix it, sometime soon.
Here's the outside area- Eug is taking a photo from the far corner of it. It can be packed with plants, and I'm optimistic about how much food we can grow. It's also possible that the tiles can be gradually removed. Taken when we bought the house, and I was pregnant with Noah. Aah, two years later and pregnant again. The circularity of it all...
The last room downstairs is the bathroom, which is also quite basic. But it has a window and potential for greatness. 
Up the stairs....
To the geyser/water heater. We're hoping that the geyser won't be necessary once we get a solar heater, or that we could have a smaller geyser at some point, that could fit in the roof. Right now it's blocking the entrance to the second bathroom.
The second bathroom is painted bright blue, and has a bath and sink (no toilet...yet)
And finally, two identical rooms, one (hopefully) for Noah and the future little blob. Note I'm still wearing the rabbit pants...
 Phew. You made it through the extensive "before" tour. I promise, I'll do the "after" tour in bits.

The house is far from perfect, but it's ours. No banks. It's a little house. Eug and I are dreaming of making it a place of rest and refuge for people who want to stop by. If you're the praying type, please do pray that we could make it so- we're early beginners in hospitality, and it would be great if we could learn it in-process, not only when we feel our house is "presentable". We have a lot to do, and we'll likely do it very (very) slowly.

Noah's Christmas in South Africa

It was wonderful to be with family for Christmas!
Noah's awesome train set

Hanging with cousin Ethan

Noah's favorite toy (may it rest in peace) being taken on a walk in the garden

Fun with cousin Becky!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aah, for a little Ikea in South Africa

Eug and I find ourselves talking about Ikea a lot these days- about our favorite chair, the cheap bookshelf, the fun trips to the Stoughton Ikea.

[Ikea is perhaps the largest furniture store in the world. It keeps costs low by designing furniture to ship in flat boxes and be assembled at home by customers.]

My love for Ikea was as much for the experience- going and getting breakfast or ice-cream or Swedish meatballs, drooling over the showrooms and then coming away with something that didn't look quite the same in our house- as for the furniture. While I loved the experience and was a shameless customer, I have no doubt that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture- Ikea furniture doesn't exactly last if you're moving a lot, and we bought new furniture because we knew it was there, it was affordable, and that we would like it. I also think that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture in the U.S. because the U.S. is already a throwaway culture; the impact of Ikea in Europe is likely very different. Ikea also sources its materials from around the world. The energy implications of a truly multinational furniture company are staggering.

This throwaway culture meant that Craigslist (the U.S./international Gumtree equivalent) prices for all second-hand furniture were driven WAY down, and plenty of people were just trying to get rid of their furniture for free. They could just get some good Ikea stuff to replace it. And we were often the beneficiaries.

While you can get reasonable prices for some furniture on Gumtree, the overall prices are much, much higher. New furniture is hugely expensive. So we're faced with the typical consumerist dilemma- do we want a consumer culture where we have more for cheaper, or not? If not, why not?

I remain a fan of Ikea for what it's trying to do- provide creative well-designed furniture and take over the world. It's a smart company. I miss it. But I hope it doesn't come to South Africa anytime soon. We're being much more creative about finding furniture and making do than we ever were in Boston. There are fewer ready-made solutions, and that seems good, at least for now.

The Case for Recycling Paper

This morning I read this well-researched article by Pablo Paster about the case for recycling (or not recycling) paper. Check it out!

I'm just becoming familiar with the Cape Town recycling scene. The city doesn't pick up recycling separately, which I think vastly undermines their efforts- or rather means that residents have to be much more pro-active than otherwise.

That said, if items at the recycling centers actually get recycled, we're doing better than many places. I'll try to find out. There's a thriving informal recycling sector, but near our home in Observatory there are piles of rubbish that include plastic bottles and other recyclables.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hopes for the New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope it's a really good year for you- in all the ways that matter.

We saw our house today, and were so grateful to find that it was clean and the tenants had left. There are a few repairs that can't be done with us living in the house, so we can't move in just yet, but we're hoping to move in on Thursday. As we see our place and the fairly urgent repairs that are needed, I started to think about two somewhat related, somewhat unrelated things:

1.) Michael Reynolds and his Earthships (don't you just want to call your friends and say "hey guys, want to meet up back at the earthship?):
Recycled tires and old glass cleaned up good!
A few years ago, we watched a documentary "Garbage Warrior"about this renegade architect who has been trying to make truly sustainable homes his entire career. He uses old tires and rammed earth and old glass and otherwise rejected wood. He comes across as a somewhat crazy genius in the documentary, and you can't help being inspired by off-the-grid living that seems to be warm (solar and geothermal), filled with running water and most modern conveniences. He's extremely critical of mainstream construction and architecture for the amount of waste it produces. My favorite feature of his houses is his use of glass bottles as skylights. The light pours in, but there's no actual window.

While the "earthships" seem very much a rural phenomenon- in the city the best thing we can do is (I think) make a very old house very livable and hospitable, for as long as possible, I still draw inspiration (maybe we'll call our house something crazy and insist other people do too). As we figure out repairs and paint and making our house homely, I feel inspired to be creative about using waste and trying to make do with unexpected objects.

2.) We don't need much, but having or not having is not really the point.
It's been quite ok not having much the last few months, which makes it easier to gradually get stuff and think through repairs to our house. What I would have considered "the basics" a few years ago feel less important. It's all very exciting. And I talk about it a lot, to anyone who will listen.

That said, stewardship in the context of home ownership shouldn't stand alone as an idea. "Living well on less" is awesome, but it still fits into the category of "living well", which is not really a fully encompassing life goal (unless you interpret it quite broadly, then it might be- but I'm talking housing here).

My hope is that I can be about stewardship for something. It's a big part of our life right now as we start to figure out our home, but it's not life-giving in and of itself. This year I'd like to use the Bible verse, Micah 6:8, as one guide to the bigger things- to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Those are at once comforting and pretty intense (that I've taken completely out of context so forgive me for that). That's a half-finished thought, so forgive me for that, too.