Thursday, December 31, 2015


So much work to get to this state of chaos (which I like quite a bit).
I enjoy going on the forums and learning what people are doing to become self-sufficient. Absurd things, like eating turnips and kohlrabhi for months on end. Comparing calories and figuring out how to eek out a few more calories from their plot. Storing enough food for a year for when the SHTF. Sometimes it's lovely and down-to-earth and I learn a ton, other times I'm confronted with eating animal bits I'd rather not think about and planning as though scarcity and a Hobbesian life was our default option (though permaculture is all about abundance). I love these posts about trying to eat as much as possible from the homestead, even as they seem, at least for people living through Canadian winters, incredibly restrained and difficult. Sometimes, as one living without Amazon Prime here in South Africa, I want to tell them they can get anything anytime anywhere, as long as they're in, like, North America. The tension between available convenience and self-imposed restraint is really challenging to navigate, especially when you're navigating it with your kids alongside you.

This year we had some peaches, some apricots, some strawberries, and some different kinds of squash. Maybe a few tomatoes (time will tell how many). It's not exactly time to cut our ties with stores. Starting a farm that's focused on fruit production is the ultimate in delayed gratification, in faith. All that stuff. I have read approximately 2 trillion words about growing stuff, and have been trying a fair bit with my hands dirty and all that. Yet there's a huge amount of luck involved. The amount of patience needed for just one pomegranate is fairly breathtaking. Even when we have a great climate for pomegranates.

I'm nothing if not predictable: if you read concrete gardener a lot, you'll probably be able to just channel the rest and not waste time reading it:

Anyway, so if you're still with me there's this other thing I sometimes do. Not much, because now I have three kids and a farm and try not to leave the house ever. But I sometimes, rarely, go to academic conferences and meetings. Sometimes even writing retreats. A lot of the time we're talking about heady things like making the world a better place and bridging health inequity (and if we're going wild health inequity becomes a proxy for general inequity, because general inequity is health inequity) between rich and poor. It's awesome.

There's always lots of food at these conferences. And I am always the #1 fan of the food. because a) it's a meal I didn't have to prepare b) it often contains meat, which I want to be extra grateful for c) it's free and often quite abundant d) it's typically something nicer than my day-to-day meals. Yes, my day-to-day meals have a certain rustic charm.... they are often healthier and don't taste as factory-ey (though sometimes conferences are all fresh and local, too). Sometimes people don't like the food. I guess I'm setting up imaginary people, because it's not like I'm going to conferences with a bunch of jerks. These are really great people. But sometimes the food is not up to their standards. And sometimes it's totally up to their standards and (particularly with women) there comes this whole discussion of how much weight they're going to have to lose after the conference is finished.

And I guess I want to say: even the crappiest food, far removed from anything, mainly made in a factory, involved people and work and even soil. It sucks when it involved people who weren't valued, when the land wasn't valued, when the animals we're eating weren't valued. But there is this ease that comes alongside judging food that seems to overlook how incredibly difficult farming can be-- especially when we're demanding food that's organic and happy and valued and has terroir and all that. It's a lot to ask unless there are a lot of us growing stuff. When juxtaposed with the homesteaders on who are trying to eek another 100 calories out of their plot, it's a powerful contrast. So I'm totally grateful when I'm given plentiful calories. And I'm so grateful to be trying to make better quality calories; working without pesticides or fungicides on peri-urban land (in our case, sand) is pretty challenging.

Self-sufficiency is a powerful idea to pursue not because you end up making everything yourself. That's a long way off for me and my family. But the idea remains powerful-- whether in the form of electricity or wood for fires or food or water or compost-- because it forces us back to basics. To knowing all that stuff takes a ton of work and the best we can do is to value all that work, that energy.

Going back to our conferences: we often discuss getting people basic services, adequate food. I guess our lives are the flip side of that: figuring out how to value the services and food that we enjoy appropriately (and to cut the services and food that are excessive to the average person). We talk about access to tertiary education; and our lives represent the inverse of that too: when you have all the formal education in the world, can you provide the basics of what you need to live? Do you know what your body needs, or how to find water? In our case, the answer is a resounding "no"!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Korea, Christmas, and being back home

We went to Korea with a 7 week old Hana. We came back with a 10 week old Hana. The boys did great. Eug and I did well, though we were tired at the end. Seven people in a Korean apartment in winter is cramped. Received a lot of advice from strangers (particularly in Korean, from old ladies.... Eug stopped needing to translate. Me: she just said our kids will die of cold? Eug: yup.). Noah kept saying stuff like "oh this is a toilet without hay!!" or "where are all the flies"?? Life in Korea is pretty much the opposite of our lives here in Cape Town.

I wondered if, like the plateau between income and happiness (that is, after your basic needs are met more money doesn't make you happier), there's a plateau in the relationship between electricity use and happiness. With unlimited electricity, there's little to hem us in and consider what's really necessary. I know I would never have thought about 4 LEDs (in our sunroom) versus 1 (our verandah light) unless confronted with the prospect of draining our solar batteries and ruining their battery life. But using the 1 LED doesn't negatively affect our happiness. Nor does not owning a fridge (though giving up our freezer would). Anyway, I guess that's a plug for ridiculously circumscribed solar, even though it's not very cost effective or efficient.

Before we left, the boys were swimming like crazy: 

ready to swim...

Hana was mainly like this in Korea:
At one level, she barely noticed we were on a different continent. On another, there were a couple of days when we first arrived, and when we traveled, where she was clearly overwhelmed. We realised that airplane and all that followed represented her first experience of electric lighting. Not because we're complete luddites, but because the sun sets late in Cape Town in summer, and while we'll occasionally stay up by candlelight, we usually only have the verandah light to comfort the boys, and we don't have any lights upstairs.

The kids got Magnatiles from their grandmother. They're pretty cool.

It was cold so we were indoors a lot. We got new watercolour pencils:

And it snowed:

Children's museum. One of the more affordable places to visit..but a pretty long walk from the bus station... and the boys were really sad because the play structure had a height limit., even though it was remarkably safe.

The kids loved eating at restaurants and getting to choose stuff from their grandma's abundant fridge. It's like we had some kind of identity transplant.

Eug's brother James plays on the iPad a lot, so the kids got introduced to Angry Birds. I tried not to freak out because I'm not controlling. Right. Noah ended up making an Angry Birds encyclopedia so he could remember all the kinds of Angry Birds. Then, we made a lifesize slingshot when we got home. 

On the bus headed to the airport...

And then, Christmas morning...

An update on how things are growing on the farm, soon!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Masi, education & a long general update.

The protests in Masiphumelele are over for now. I'm not yet friends with anyone living in Masi, so I'm reticent to blog about the protests themselves. The mood on our street was survivalist, to the point of others discussing weaponry (some blunt kitchen knives, in our case, 1000 rounds of ammo and a few grenades, in others) But I'm not really friends with those on our street yet (though we're getting to know people!), either, so I can't really even speak with authority on the more middle-class reaction to the protests- I guess I can only speak for my own reading of things. I'd be inclined to think that the police were reactive (and violent and incendiary) in the beginning, and much more pro-active and thoughtful (and less violent) later in the protests. Using somewhat heady language, it seems it is the responsibility of the oppressor (the police, the state), rather than the oppressed, to act with care and restraint. At some point the overall tone of news shifted towards less incendiary, racist language. We are fine and I hope I'll soon be able to write about our neighbourhood with much more knowledge and understanding.

By coincidence, around the time when half our street left for the week due to the protests, and those of us who remained were told by the joint task force to get ready for evacuation, we gave our fridge to someone from Masi. This was my only real interaction with a neighbour from Masi during the protest. It was striking that there we were, in this heightened state, doing absurd things like hiding our car and getting a go-bag together with stuff we'd need if we had to run to the nearby mountain (yeah, with a 2 week old and 2 weeks post-partum-- I don't fancy my chances in a real emergency...). Meanwhile, our neighbour from Masi was mainly just frustrated rather than fearful, because she wouldn't be able to get to work the following morning. Her house and everything she owned had burned a couple of weeks previously (maybe connected to the protests, maybe just a reality of overcrowded and fire unsafe townships-- they don't really know yet). I reflected on the ways that our society generally, and recent reporting on Masi in particular, had created pretty fearful portrayals of "violent mobs", which bred racially-infused fear rather than understanding.

The protests in Masi coincided with unprecedented student protests nationwide over university fee increases. Even though I've spent most of my life at various learning institutions, I'm not sure of their role in social change or my role in them... if I were to cherry-pick my role I'd be interested in figuring out how we could be more down-to-earth about responding and speaking truth to local problems. Providing knowledge to all is a central part of that. I was inspired to be more thoughtful on this blog about who I am saying our evolving lifestyle might work for.

I've tended to take the Mustachian view-- which is from the perspective of a very first-world U.S. (white) guy-- that we have way more life options than we think, and that if you're reading this, you probably do, too. That we are rich if we are vaguely middle-class. I feel so strongly, in this age of global warming, that we need to be a generation that produces rather than consumes. But figuring out what that means is super difficult given that my baseline consumption bar is set pretty high: I am speaking from a place of many-layered privilege, and my perspective is shaped by this. I am mainly hoping that writing about our [privileged] choices will make them slightly less weird for the next person who has a bucket toilet, or a rather limited solar power system, or whatever else we try next. Because downward mobility on the part of the privileged is an important part of social change.

On to the much more current survival challenge:  keeping our family of five sane, fed, and sortof cleanish. Hana is a wonderful little human. She smiles. I love newborns. I love that you just have to sit and feed them, and together figure out life. The hard part is the sheer physical toll of having another baby and needing to take care of the other ones, to keep the house clean, to cook, to not let trees die. For Eug, about 3 days after a new baby is born, he starts to get antsy because he hasn't worked on his projects. The great thing about having a third child is that one can recognize patterns and no longer judge (hopefully). For me, antsiness starts about 3 weeks in so I've already dived back into trying to prove my post-doc worth while realising how silly I'm being.

We thought if we didn't have anything except this table, the kitchen/living room would look clean. Apparently I'm too lazy/tired to clear the table before taking a photo
Eug recently spent a day on this table. Our dear neighbours JP and Alina gave it to us when they left for Seattle, so Eug shortened the legs, sanded, painted and varnished it so it could work as our dining table. It's wonderful (thank you JP and Alina). We've mainly eaten meals sitting on the floor, and we realised that we should in this house to save space on chairs. We were going a little crazy trying to eat with our strange assortment of chairs, so this project definitely promoted immediate sanity. Eug is hoping to build some seating that doubles as storage in this space, which will also be a backrest when we're eating. He's using waste wood from around our property, which makes it a much longer project than it would be otherwise.

As I mentioned earlier, we gave up on making the fridge useful, and decided it was silly to keep a working fridge as a glorified box for food. Also,  Because our freezer goes off at night, the top of the freezer is a lot like a fridge, so we're using the freezer as both a fridge and a freezer. It works pretty well, and also freed up some space. We're looking at whether a solar freezer or a wind turbine would be a better option for the long term... Or maybe we should just get a dairy cow... or a goat..

We're doing a lot of scheduling and goal-setting to stay sane. Scheduling food, scheduling work, scheduling special time for Noah and Eli, making super low-bar goals to be happy about reaching (keeping kids secure: mmmeh sortof, not running out of food midweek: TBD). The goals seem a little absurd. Nevertheless, when we list "Eug and Jo getting sleep" as a goal, it somehow gets more attention, and it's more apparent if that goal is at odds with another aspiration, like, working 8 hours a day. We're starting with each of us working 1-2 hours a day and building up from there.

Extra picture because Eug never gets photographed...
In the general realm of focusing on our kids' development given that they're not at school or daycare: I'm taking the kids to a neighbour's pool (thank you awesome neighbour!) to practice their swimming, and supplement their lessons. One of our goals for this year was teaching the kids to not drown when in water. And the year is fast ending... They love their swimming lessons so our first attempt at getting formal help teaching our kids stuff is going remarkably well. It helps that it's a physical goal, and that it's a pretty lightly held goal. It's totally not essential to our kids' growth and development, or the happiness of our family, that the goal is achieved this year. For our bike goal, the kids are just riding in circles in our empty reservoir. We won't fill the reservoir until they're good swimmers and the fencing around it has grown in nicely. We're also trying to follow our kids' interests as much as we can since we're home a lot. This book is awesome at suggesting specific steps to facilitate learning without taking over.

It's interesting that the things that are easy to set concrete goals for are not the most important things: character, caring about other people. You can't really make goals about those in the same way. It's something that we work on together (on ourselves first). We're learning about character and kindness by learning how to live with one another and express ourselves in ways that aren't hurtful. Which, when I'm sleep-deprived, is not exactly easy.

It's hard in the middle-of-the-night exhaustion, but if I look back rather than focusing overly on my tiredness, I'm amazed at how far our kids have come already, and that we have three healthy kids despite the fact that I mainly ate chocolate during pregnancy. In the moments when I'm struggling, it helps to focus on how few tantrums we have nowadays, or how helpful and kind the boys can be. And less on how annoying it is when Eli decides he is a mouse and won't stop squeaking. In all their absurdity, these are good days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We have bees!

I wrote this before we got periodically stuck at our farm and half our street evacuated because of protests in Masiphumelele.. I'm not sure what to write about that, yet, so I'll just leave the post as it was.

Around the time Hana was born, a swarm of bees came into our hive. It had been sitting there empty for a few months, and I wasn't sure anything would happen with it, given that here in South Africa, we're affected by American foulbrood and I wasn't sure if there were enough healthy swarms out there. We're excited to see bees coming in and out of our first hive, and apart from giving them some water, we're leaving them alone for now.

With me super pregnant and giving birth, and Eug busy with lots of different farm projects, my dad has been watering our trees as we head into summer. We don't have any irrigation system set up as yet. So my dad is watering by hand, and Eug and I also water with the kids, hauling buckets out to our trees. We are so grateful for my dad's help this summer. I'm banking on the idea that a deep (20L) watering once/week is better for root structure than more frequent watering in smaller amounts. I reckon this will be a hard year for our trees, then next year should already see major positive changes. I've been spending a lot of time mulching, but now I'm holding off and allowing support plants to grow and provide wind breaks and shade. We already have a lot of fruit trees started, and it's fantastic, but keeping them alive and growing this summer is going to involve quite a bit of labour.

In anticipation of Hana starting to walk (! and the safety of visitors' kids), Eug and I are starting a living fence around our (empty) reservoir. We have wonderful neighbours with a family nursery, where they sell a huge variety of plants cheaply. Looking at the cost of growing fence vs. buying poles, wire, and cement, we realized that buying thorny shrubs with edible fruit (Natal plum and kei apple) was cheaper and more long-lived. The problem is that the fence takes time to get established, and needs some pruning to make it impenetrable to kids. We're hoping that a year's effort and growth will produce a good living fence, even as we think through other areas that need fencing. Even on a tiny plot, fencing requires a lot of thought, and quite a bit of money. We're trying to figure out how quickly we need fencing up (relative to other priorities) and what kind of fencing makes the most sense.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A third! Welcome Hana

We are so grateful to have a third child, as of Wednesday night. Having Hana was really different from labour with Noah and Eli. For about 3 weeks I had very real labour pains at night, on and off. They were painful. I felt like an idiot every time I thought they were real. I called in the midwife once, and she sat there until she figured out I wasn't really in labour. She said it was common with third babies. Then her due date came... and went... I visited a chiropractor and tried homeopathic remedies. It was quite new for me to be seriously considering whether we needed to induce, and whether I agreed with current guidelines on going post 41 and 42 weeks. I had to decide how I thought about respecting the recommendations when the relationships between midwives and backup hospitals depends on some degree of adherence to those recommendations (and in the relatively unusual event that a low-risk pregnancy needs to be transferred to hospital, it's really important that midwives have admitting privileges and a way to get women seen).

In the long wait for the birth, I read a lot of birth stories and I guess what I took away from them was that birth is scary because we lack control over so much of it. Some people try to control it by having an elective c-section, medical induction, or going with the wishes of their Ob/gyn, even though their ob is not necessarily acting in their patients' best interests (yes, i'm going all political-- 70% c-section rates in private hospitals in South Africa demands at least some comment!). Others try to control birth by deciding that no matter what happens, they'll give birth naturally, at home. And I guess most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes, weighing our choices as best we can. I'm super grateful for the Ob/gyns who step in the 10% of the time when birth can be dangerous or deadly, even as I believe that giving birth without intervention seems to be better for women's health in most cases. And for what it's worth, I share a bit about each of my children's births because I think it's challenging to identify with vaginal delivery as normal and safe, when all our middle-class South African friends have had c-sections. So I want to be that one friend who had three normal vaginal deliveries, and who can you point towards the crowd of others who also did if you want me to. I do not share because my abstract beliefs about birth are important in our relationships or judgements about our common experience of motherhood, or because I think these are moral choices.

In the end, I felt lucky. With some natural and less natural induction methods, she came without the need to be induced in the hospital. In fact, she was an unintentional freebirth (yes, there's a name for it), as I was waiting until the boys went to sleep before I called the doula and midwife (and I wanted to be super sure I didn't call them too early), but by that time I was ready to push Hana out. (The doula made it just in time, but not the midwife-- our wonderful doula helped capably with the only potential issue, the cord around Hana's neck).

Those of us on the hippie spectrum risk romanticising labour and birth, when it's ultimately-- in my experience at least-- extraordinarily painful and messy-- and such a tiny part of parenting. And beautiful and lovely and intimate and bonding. But did I mention extraordinarily painful and messy? So I guess I'm totally excited to have had another healthy birth, and I would love to support women in choosing to give birth at home naturally. Allowing our bodies to control us-- albeit briefly-- is extraordinarily powerful. It's a wonderful way to welcome a new life. But I have a renewed awareness that we-- our conscious selves, at least-- have markedly little control over the process, even when we embrace our own ability to birth. Otherwise I would have waited for the midwife.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More off-grid (ish) farmlike stuff for us in Cape Town, as well as an update on our composting toilet

As summer gets closer, our electricity situation improves, but we probably could still be more comfortable with a wind turbine at some point (perhaps in winter, if that turns out to be possible for us). At night, the only appliance running in our house is one light, for the kids, because our battery life lasts only about 2 hours past sunset (mainly because we need to keep the batteries charged to 50%-- even that is probably not great for battery life). The main challenge with this is our deep freezer. Our deep freezer is super useful because we don't have a refrigerator, and we're not growing much on the farm just yet. So the freezer has milk, cheese, some meals where we doubled our ingredients and made two batches, butter, and sometimes meat. I'm sure we would be able to adapt if we needed to. But the tradeoff-- not having things that need to be cooled-- may be untenable (and unsustainable) in its own way, as we live a little bit away from the nearest source of dairy, in particular. So for now, we have the freezer going full blast during the day (the solar panels can handle this no problem during the day) then at night, we switch the freezer off and the freezer stays frozen until the morning. We also charge our computers during the day, and have the internet router going.

We don't currently have to wash clothes that much, but when we do we have to connect to the municipal power box outside our house, as the wattage on our washing machine trips the inverter. It's sad, but it also makes sense to use a washing machine for a couple more years. I guess we're trying to figure out how to tweak our lives without taking on so much we burn out: washing diapers by hand seems like a recipe for burnout.

During the building process, we also installed an instant hot water heater, to help us in the winter when we anticipate our solar heater will not give us very hot water. We thought hot showers in winter would be nice. But now we realise there is no way we have enough wattage, even in summer, to power the instant water heater. May others learn from our expensive mistake-- I'm guessing we'll either sell the water heater, or keep it in case we decide to set up a wind turbine sometime in the future.

Deep thought on electricity: typical appliances take up A LOT of energy, and solar is very expensive in comparison to the grid. But the relative efficiency of the municipal power seems to lead to crazy overuse and appliances that are really inefficient. Looking at our fridge and freezer, it may make more sense in the long term to get more efficient appliances or get used to not having cold stuff, rather than getting more batteries or more panels. But after spending so much on the house, we're trying to take a break from buying stuff.

First attempt at greywater recycling
For water, Eug and I set up one greywater (technically blackwater, but hey) system this past week. We still need to set up our rainwater tank to serve another part of our property. Theoretically, as different water sources benefit different sections of the plot, we'll start to effectively cover the whole plot. Also theoretically, our water needs will decline quite rapidly after three years.

The greywater system we worked on this past week: I forgot to take photos as we worked, but it is a windy, gradually sloping river that takes our kitchen sink and washing machine water. The ditch is lined with plastic that had been left on the plot, followed by gravel and planted with reeds. Spaces between reeds are covered in thick mulch, to prevent standing water and risk of mosquitoes. After going through the reed bed, the water heads into a hugelkultur bed-- essentially large pieces of wood, covered by topsoil, and planted manure. That is, the water that leaves the system is meant to be absorbed into the branches of wood. We're not yet sure how long it will work for, and if we'll have to wash the rocks after a while, which will be a pain. We figure this is version 1.0, and that we'll re-evaluate after two years, or sooner if necessary. I think it's infinitely better than sending water directly underground, which is what we were doing previously.

Composting toilet
Our composting toilet is great. It doesn't smell, it's flexible, saves a huge amount of water, the kids are actually better at adding hay than they were at flushing the toilet. If you're here in Cape Town and this is something that you'd be interested in doing, or applying in NGO settings, I invite you to visit and check it out. Seriously. I know this is not the answer to all the world's problems, but I think it is a really great option for lots of people in lots of places.

We started to use our oat hay, which we have to cut to make the stalks easy to use as cover, but the good news is that even the oat hay is very effective at preventing odor. We're not using a huge amount, either. Buying hay- particularly at this time of year- greatly increases the cost of the toilet (though it's still cheaper than water/sewage costs), but the hay is absolutely a luxury. We knew it would be a learning curve for us, so we bought hay, but there is plenty of carbonaceous material around us that would be fine to use if we had the time to harvest it. When the autumn and winter comes, collecting a year's worth of cover material in the form of leaves will be doable. Leaves are bagged by the municipality and left on the pavement, so we're hoping this will be the only time we buy in cover material.

compost pile. Doesn't look too gross, right?
After less than a month in our house, our compost pile is already steaming. Following the Humanure Handbook, there's a thick layer of straw surrounding the newly added compost, and compost is always added to the center of the pile then covered well with hay/straw. Even so, flies are a potential nuisance, because we also add fruit scraps to the pile. This past week my dad gave me two bags of grass cuttings which we used to add extra cover to the pile. It's much more dense than the straw, and seemed to completely take care of the fly problem.

Free resources!
I'm so excited to have found some sources of free horse manure. There are permaculture people who don't think it's a good idea to bring in manure, and others who think it's a bad idea to bring in ANYTHING, because of the risk of fungicides and pesticides and dewormers, etc.

They may be proved right, but in a South African context getting free ANYTHING is pretty fantastic. Even woodchips (which we need for our sandy driveway) are super expensive (and not guaranteed to be pesticide free, either). So for the stage we're in, horse manure represents this amazing source of free fertility. Unlike organic and inorganic fertilizer, it's free and adds a lot of biomass, which is what we need on this sandy, hot and dry plot. I'm hoping that this will help our fruit trees get established and strong, so that they're gradually able to manage with fewer and fewer inputs of things like manure.

The other free resource that we're gradually making the most of is kelp from our nearby beaches. Full of trace minerals, we get a large bagful every time we head to the beach. They key to responsible foraging seems to be to take the seaweed that has washed up to shore (and so is no longer rooted), but is still wet (and thus hasn't lost too many nutrients).

Small houses

Our house is not tiny, but it's smallish. (5mX9m, + a 2mX2m sunroom). So far, it's felt huge. As best as I can tell, this is because we're using our shipping container to store all the stuff we don't necessarily need to use daily-- our garden supplies, extra clothes, bulk food items. There isn't any wasted space, but we don't have lots of space to entertain guests or eat. We're hoping to get a folding dining table when we're in Korea, as this is what we always used in the U.S. The kids' bunk bed is a great space saver, though right now all the built-in storage is being used for hoarded rocks and stuff. oh well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

August-September update

A fragmented post on our kids' education, so I don't forget:

Deep thought on schooling the last couple of months was: environment matters a lot. It's so much easier to invest time and energy into the kids' learning when they've spent time outdoors and run around a lot (and where that didn't feel like an tiring investment on our part, as taking the kids to the park so often did). That is to say, our new home is a wonderful, almost surreal, place to raise Noah and Eli, and it's been more clear to us that they really do learn no matter what.

After a long break, Eug and I recently looked back on our goals for the kids for 2015:
  • Learning to swim
The idea was that this would guide how we spent time over the course of our days, weeks and months. Swimming was great in summer, but we reached our limit when winter came, and Noah and Eli were both fairly hesitant to put their heads under water with us. Recognizing that it was going to be a couple of months before it will be warm enough to swim in the ocean or outdoor pools, we decided to try swimming lessons down the road from us, in an indoor heated pool in a family home. Lessons are wonderful! It feels wonderful to see other adults investing in our kids, and interacting separately from us.
  • Learning to ride a bike
They're still using training wheels, but I think Noah and Eli might be able to go without the training wheels in a couple of weeks.
  • Praying/connecting with God
This is so hard to think about in a non-contrived way, but we're trying out talking about stories in the Bible. Right now, a lot of helping our kids connect with God seems to be related to admitting when I'm wrong, and apologizing. But I'm hoping we can practice praying together more in the next couple of months.
  • Reading
Our realization somewhere in the middle of the year has been that our kids may not be ready for structured reading lessons, but that we can focus on reading them really great books. So that's what we've been doing. It's not that we weren't doing that before, but I had a sense that I should try for more explicit and goal-oriented literacy for Noah, which I'm less concerned about for now. Anyway, here are some pictures that show our days a little more:

following toads around

catch and release

Our neighbour's dog lives with us, apparently... Here, he's trying to lick our baking bowl..
Noah's perspective on our farm. He goes around with the camera finding interesting things.

It's getting warm enough for the beach, but the wind is a bit crazy.

Eli spends a lot of time posing.

Our neighbour's dog managed to kill this giant Cape Dune Mole Rat. We kept it in our house for about 24 hours, which I think counts as some kind of science project. Then we buried him underneath an apple tree...

Noah's perspective on mole ratty.

Physical exam.
A moving burial...
Eli can actually move the wheelbarrow, if it's not too full. Hooray, another apple tree!
 We've started baking and cooking more together, now that our kitchen is settled and I'm less stressed. The kids love stuff where there's a real output, and real danger. So chocolate covered raisins and strawberries won their time on this occasion:

Cardboard airplane.
Another one of the goals we had for this year was for both kids to be able to ride without training wheels. We didn't get terribly far yet, and the kids' bikes were stolen from my parents' garage. So we recently bought them a bike to share, and they've been riding every day (with training wheels) up and down the street, and most recently, inside our (broken) reservoir. 

Lastly, the kids got a bed-- made by Eug. Lots of storage and generally awesome. The baby's bed rolls out at the bottom. But it turns out if you don't give your kids a bed for, like, their whole lives, and then suddenly you do, they're too excited to sleep. May it be short-lived...