Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. May this be a year of good things for you. I'm posting now because, well, I haven't seen in New Year in an embarrassingly long time. And 3:30pm seems as good a time as any to welcome 2015.

One purpose of the blog has been to keep track of the kids' growth. I took some time this afternoon to show the kids pictures from the past year, and they saw places they wanted to return to (Eli: I want to be back in Korea. RIGHT. NOW) and saw how they'd changed and grown. Actually, I'm not sure if they noticed but I liked the idea of it. 

We've gone almost a year without a car, and it is also heartening to note that we've had a lot of car-free adventures with the kids. Another purpose of this blog, as I see it, has been to think about how living without a car can/does work in Cape Town (for the annoyingly middle-class-- of course it has to work for tons of people, but perhaps the point is to change the middle-class norm), and I haven't done that enough this year. Next year, there'll be new challenges (living in the Deep South) so hopefully there'll be time to reflect on them. 

Anyway. Here are some recent pictures of Christmas. Christmas and New Year risk passing without too much change for us: Eug and I tend to work every day except Sunday. The main change has been that other people are more available to hang out, which has been awesome. 

On Christmas eve we discovered that a park on the way to Plumstead had a new installation! We stopped to let the kids try it out.  
Christmas eve-- playing outside. 

The kids wanted to pose next to a cactus pad I found (stole off a big cactus on the street).. to plant on a dry spot on our plot. I'm trying to diversify our food supply, and cactus seems to be both a security option, as well as a source of food. I wonder, though, if I can persuade myself to prepare and eat unfamiliar foods when we have nearby grocery stores stocked with familiar foods. I hope so! 

I realised I may not have shown you the Wonderbag (or have I?). It's been great-- like having a slowcooker. It basically keeps food warm (and continuing to cook). Great for beans, lentils, brown rice.

After moving all my plants over to my parent's house, or to the plot, I can't seem to stop myself from starting more plants on our dining table, which is outside these days. The sweet potato slips in the background are almost ready for planting, as are some of the pineapple tops, so I could clear some space for the next round of foraging. 
The joy of cold-stratified persimmon seeds coming up after just 3 days in the soil. Cold stratification seems to have made all the difference with persimmon seeds. I've previously struggled to get them to germinate, but I put these seeds in the fridge, then in wet rockwool in the freezer, and up they are popping. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Summer is in full swing and the kids are doing well, and Eug and I are gradually getting into a more relaxed daily routine. To make things work during my dissertation and DIY renovation we had to split the day with the kids and didn't get to spend much time altogether (unless cooking or cleaning frantically), so now it feels really good to have more time to think.
Art at the park
Trains pretty much all the time, everywhere...
Noah and junk mail. It's a thing. Tiny little cut-outs of everything, usually spread out in every room...
This is what happened when Eug asked Eli to pose. 
We recently went for a ride on the Wheel at the V&A Waterfront, as a Christmas gift for the kids. We used to go to the Waterfront a lot, but since we've been on bikes it became a difficult place to get to, especially during weekday traffic. Anyway, we braved the ride and it made the kids super-happy, even if it doesn't show in the pictures...

In other news, our house is on the market. You can check out what our house looks like now, here. Ok, so it never really looks remotely that clean in real life, but here's what it looked like 3 years ago. It's a bit like with the kids- I often don't notice the changes day-to-day, but then when I look back I can see that it's a pretty huge transformation. It's good to see how much has happened in three years.

We're still waiting for a few things to happen before we're allowed to build on our plot. We even had a bureaucratic problem related to our loft design being too small. We're thinking about dropping a container onto the plot to stay in until the house is finished. It will be a guest cottage for friends and family once we're in the house (did I mention you are welcome to visit?). It's hard to take pictures of the farm (and a lot of places) because I'm taking the train with the kids to get part of the way to the farm (and to the beach, etc), and having the camera would add a layer of stress to those trips.

I had to move our trees (that had been in tires and pots in our back area) down to our plot to make our house more presentable to buyers. My dad has been amazing about loading up their car with water and picking Eli, Noah and I up at the train station to head down to the plot once or twice a week. It's a very dry, hot time of year and since the plot is desert-like, it's a terrible time to start experimenting with permaculture. Right now I'll grow just about anything on there, just to add biomass to the sand. We'll worry about our edible yield soon enough. Acacia saligna or Port Jackson is one of the most hated invasives in South Africa, yet it's nitrogen fixing, and stabilizing parts of our plot where otherwise we'd be losing a lot of soil to wind. So I tend to think even invasives have their place, at least in this specific circumstance. I'm not focusing a lot of attention to pulling anything out-- when we move onto the plot hopefully we'll have a better sense of how everything fits together, and how we could grow more food.

Our new neighbour has muscovy ducks, who seem a super strong and healthy breed for both eggs and meat, for us as beginner farmers. A South African breed of chicken, the koekoek, is popular as mixed-use bird and apparently the muscovy will hatch out eggs for them. I get super-excited about plans like these, but probably it's a few months before we'll be able to manage to care for anything other than ourselves on the plot. First we have to organize access to water!

Granadilla cuttings- who knew you could do granadilla cuttings?! Granadillas do very well in Cape Town, so I'm hoping we can cover one fence with many of them.
So we are slowly working on the plot, and so far the trees have all survived the move. On the plot are 2 hanepoort grape vines, 4 (tiny) moringa trees, 1 tiny pawpaw, 1 pomegranate, 1 lemon and 1 peach tree some small avocados grown from seed, as well as a macadamia nut tree and a suffering citrus of some kind, that was already on the plot. At my parents' house they are keeping some of their trees in pots, ready to transplant in the winter once the trees are dormant (or close to dormant), and we know the plot a bit better. My dad is keeping grapes, peaches, apricot, plum, orange, pomegranates, lemon, and our blueberries, as well as a whole bunch of moringa seedlings, elderberry cuttings, and more. I think he gets worried when he sees me, in case I'm planning to dump yet more cuttings or seeds on him.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This Week

Eug and I share a file on our computers called "this week". Every week on Wednesday, we talk about how the previous week went, and our schedule for the next week. We also discuss what we should pray for, for the kids and for ourselves. Recently we've been taking the praying part more seriously, perhaps because we're in this uniquely change-filled time, where so much is out of our hands.

We're working on the kitchen and I've started to work a few more hours for an HIV/maternal health study in Gugulethu, as well as a couple of other migrant health projects. I feel tremendously grateful because I'm continuing to learn and do research, while being able to spend the bulk of my time doing stuff related to our home (spending time with the kids and cooking, mainly). I also feel torn between different parts of my life-- they're quite different and this is a very busy season of our lives-- which I reckon is probably something that many of us share. Not having a car is a big pain right now, but who knows, perhaps it's also a relief- there's not a lot we need to do with a car, but I know if we had one I'd be going to our plot in Noordhoek every couple of days. The bikes slow us down and I know I'm getting a lot of exercise, at least!

Surviving the floor, and the millionth coat of paint
When we think of the week ahead, it's easy to get caught up in the mechanics of it all. When we pray for the week, we pray for things like how to spend our time, for our health, for Noah and Eli to have good days and weeks. Sometimes money. We've bought and sold our house more or less based on a few minutes' discussion on a Wednesday night. I love that. The main power in praying for the week ahead, and for the kids, has been in taking some of the pressure of being my sons' role model away. When it's my job to grow them into awesome men, I get furious when they're not (and since they're 2 and 4, there's no guessing their trajectory). When that's in God's hands, I still freak out sometimes but I'm also able to hang out and participate in their generous, ridiculous and sincere moments of joy, anger and pain.

If you have signed up for Eug's newsletter (if you haven't, do! He won't spam you and what could be better than amazing kids' books), you'd know that Noah is super into the Magic Treehouse books. So home at the moment consists of the kids playing (fighting), a lot of reading (this week: Dr Seuss, Magic Treehouse, Winnie the Witch, Richard Scarrey), and a lot of drawing and painting (and origami, partly inspired by Noah's cousins, several times removed, who started this awesome NGO), and a surprising amount of Youtube episodes of Postman Pat, since we returned from Korea and haven't figured out how to make it through the day without it. We're starting to get back to the beach, this year by train. And we added a pizza day (as in, going to a restaurant and buying and eating pizza together) to try to add traditions to the kids' somewhat unpredictable lives- and to have a meal taken care of while our kitchen is in our living room, and we can't get to the sink. Aargh.

This past week, my dad and I also planted moringa seeds in the rain, while Noah and Eli played in the shacks currently on the property. While there is so much that is uncertain and tentative about our move, the plot where we'll build feels hopeful and full of life. There's nothing more exciting than going there once a week and planting something or hacking away a branch here or there. Meeting a neighbor or giving  grass to the next-door lamb. For now, we're playing at farming and are inevitably quite naive, but I'm loath to lose the naivete, because with it comes huge hopefulness. I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Preparing to sell our house

We got back from Korea and promptly all got very sick with a stomach bug. We recovered pretty fast and are in a season of final (hopefully) renovations before we sell our house. (This is what it looked like when we moved in three-ish years ago.)

It's a bittersweet process- this is the first house that has been truly ours, Eli was born here (like, literally in the bedroom), we love Observatory, and I currently bike to work in about three minutes. So hopefully we will somehow be able to mourn the move while being excited for what comes next. Anyway. Friends were asking for photos of our house, and I thought rather than take "after" photos, I would take the house in the messy state it is in right now.

As I've mentioned here before, we started praying for a tiny house about five years ago. It seems like a strange thing to pray for- a small house. When we met the contractor who will build our house, he balked at the plans and said "why not make it a bit bigger?!" Our answer: because bigger costs more than we can easily afford, and we're too lazy to clean or keep stuff around. I see small houses as a kind of restraint in which one can easily feel abundance. The constraints of a small house are self-imposed, but I imagine that it can help us understand the limits of our needs, and a different way of being middle-class. In a world where the middle-class is burgeoning and being middle-class increasingly means a car and a house big enough to fit quite a lot of stuff, I want to be part of the counterweight.

In terms of process, building a house is a complicated business, even when it is very small. We decided not to build ourselves, though much of the non-traditional aspects of the projects will likely be our domain (cough humanure hacienda cough). Despite the contradictions of nearby shacks, there is council approval to deal with, and then there is the fact that we've already had a busy few years. It is within the realm of possibility to move without stressing the kids out more than we need to. The thing I am most grateful for is that we were able to buy a plot of land cheaply enough that we can sell our house concurrently, rather than camp out on a plot without water or electricity while the house is built. It seems that the process will take about 16 weeks or longer, so there may be some time where we're digging greywater trenches and camping out, but we're trying to plan to NOT do that.

We got these pine doors second hand, sanded and varnished them. Made our house look super fancy.

Eug and I spent a really long time sanding, varnishing and painting.
No more dark blue bathroom.

Still no dark blue bathroom!

And lastly, we're working on the kitchen this month. It's horrible but it already looks tons better than this photo.

For the first time, the granadilla is bearing fruit. Like, a lot of fruit. hoping we will be here to eat them!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Korea 2014

We've been in Korea the past three weeks, heading home tomorrow- On the way here Eli had his own seat for the first time and was glued to the in-flight entertainment.

In-flight entertainment
We're always thinking about how to help our kids learn and grow, and while traveling seems to make them more flexible, it also seems to involve a whole lot of entertainment hours, because of the ways our schedule is messed up, not to mention 24 hour trips in airplanes (with personal screens) and airports. Horrible amounts of passive entertainment aside, before our trip Eli was mainly wearing underwear, but peed a lot outside on our plants because he hated asking us for help. But he didn't want to wear diapers on the airplane (or ever again, apparently), and amazingly, he's now completely fine day and night while in Korea. The boy knows what he wants. If it sticks when we get back, I will be faced with an existential crisis over what to do with all the time we used to spend washing diapers.

So anyway, Noah hates change, Eli doesn't mind as much. Noah is acutely aware of the perceptions of everyone around him, which presents a lot of pressure when he can't understand much Korean. That's pretty much the story of our trip. That, and my being much more grateful than last year for free food and hot showers at Eug's family's place, and our family all wearing clean clothes simultaneously.

Playing dinosaurs.

dancing to the beat of his own drum.

We stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights so that the kids could go to Lotte World. I really dislike theme parks, serious (no-fun) person that I am, but I was persuaded that the kids should experience it once. The kids spent ages watching construction on the huge new Lotte building across from the hotel, and probably enjoyed the swimming pool at the hotel as much as the busy, crazy Lotte Adventure theme park, where they were over-stimulated and over-tired.  Take home message was: it's fine to be persuaded, it's also fine not to go there again.

A room full of balls with different ways to shoot them= Heaven for Eli and Noah.

Besides our time at Lotte world, we pretty much stayed near Eug's mom's place in Bundang, hanging out with family, visiting parks and doing our usual stuff: playing, reading, sometimes working.

My mom-in-law's place, where we've tried to just have a normal schedule as much as possible, which evidently includes pretending to sleep in a cupboard. 
We get to see many different parks, and though they're all very similar, to the kids it's like a whole new world to explore every time we arrive somewhere (very slightly) different.
Sculpture park, where Noah and Eli climbed on a few sculptures, and a lot of burial mounds.
Seoul forest- big and full of millions of school groups (except in this picture). In the background are the 2 largest apartment buildings in Seoul, where the rich and famous apparently live.

Playing with school groups

Eli got a lego airplane with pizza. To be fair, it was a very expensive pizza.
For Eli, anything that has both an engine (theoretically) and eyes is worthy of attention.
Eli has spent a lot of time on my back. Our first trip without a stroller, and the problem is less one of stamina and more about safety in super busy streets, with a little boy who thinks that he can face down a car and win.
Book theme park at Yuldong park. Loud classical music in an empty amphitheater, with the kids' footsteps amplified by the stones.


Korea brings up a lot of insecurities for me, and this year was no different. The slice of Korean life that I'm exposed to is centered a lot on convenience, which involves a lot of consumption, often conspicuous and frantic. This seems to be more or less the opposite of our apparent quest for total inconvenience (with some reasoning and hopes behind it, but still), and previously I took this contrast to be some kind of aggressive threat to our lifestyle, and to sustainability. This visit it wasn't as important to make a decision on the roots of Korean society (and I realized how much judging I do), and we were grateful for very generous family members, great infrastructure, and feeling safe walking in the street, among many other things.

I think this change in perspective might reflect my current approach to our hopes and dreams. I feel tremendously grateful for what is ahead of us- having land to grow stuff, building a really small house, meaningful work, home/unschooling, trying to make sense of the world and our place in it, listening to God and other people. I feel as though we're stepping towards really good things.

At the same time, it is good to travel and see that our kids are just kids with strengths and weaknesses, and our parenting- for all it's idealism and striving- is similarly just a mix of life experiences, limited perspective, strengths and weaknesses. It's obvious that our unusual lifestyle (as compared to our peers) hasn't given us a special edge on joy- when we have a sense of joy, it's from somewhere much more powerful. My experience of Korea is also improved by age: I am also, gradually, no longer the youngest adult in a room, and this also provides a healthy dose of realism. I'm in my thirties! We do some work stuff! We have kids and responsibilities! Sometimes it works! Sometimes all we get is a smelly case of self-righteousness. There is something to be said for embracing mediocrity to the extent it affirms some of our common human experience. This trip, the daily decisions with extended family over what to eat (meat? not? takeout?), wear (my mom-in-law's clothes, or in Eug's case my brother-in-law's), or talk about, and whether to buy stuff or not, did not loom as large as previously. It was a relief.

All to say, it will be good to be home but I'm so grateful that we're figuring out this multi-continent family stuff as best we can.