Friday, February 27, 2015

February homeschooling update

Rock sculptures. Mainly parent-made.
I've been pondering how we as parents express beliefs in relation to who we are and what we do. In these updates, I want to focus on what we're actually doing, because I guess a lot of the belief stuff can just be jarring and alienating, whereas the stuff we do with our kids, and how we do it, that tends to be stuff that we're all doing, in one way or another.

February was a month of visits from friends from the U.S., and unexpected dental surgery for Noah. There is nothing quite like toddler dental extractions (2!!!) to dampen the smug self-satisfaction (well, actually mainly insecure hopefulness) of one's parenting. Actually, it was that and the fact that the dentist asked "is he speaking English??" (YES!!) that led to some self-doubt.

A golden tortoise bug, just because it's awesome.
For goals for the kids, we kept on with swimming but with not quite as much passion as in hot January. Noah is almost swimming without water wings, but Eli is more enthusiastic in rivers.

After the dentist visit, we're working every day with Noah on helping him pronounce words so that others can understand him. We use Mommy speech therapy rather than seeking out a speech therapist, because it feels like something to work on daily (and, well, money...). There are a bunch of sounds Noah struggles to pronounce in specific settings, and we've tried to be up front about what we're doing and why. He seems happy to try talking through worksheets with one parent, and sometimes Eli will join in pronouncing easier words. He gets a smartie per worksheet, so it's not exactly self-motivated, but it feels somehow important enough to try.

The third goal was related to having time alone with each child. When one of the kids had a little time (15-30 minutes) with one of us attentively willing to just hang out, everything felt more manageable. We still put the kids to bed separately, which is ridiculously lengthy and involved, and so I guess they get plenty of attention, but perhaps could use more time apart from one another.

The lesson from February has been something about being in the zone, where the kids feel genuinely able to continue doing something without squabbling. The electrician came to bring the house up to code before transfer, and removed 100 year old electric fixtures, which the kids could play with for hours (even better when Eug hooked up an old bell to actual batteries!) Noah was super excited because he electrocuted himself a few times (on small batteries) and thought he was extra awesome.

Other activities that worked well: giving the kids a big piece of plywood (2 ft X 4 ft), tilting it and showing them how to make clay "roads" for water and marbles to run down. The messier, the better. The less involved I needed to be, the better. I freak out because I want it to be a Proper Learning Activity, and they just want to go wild. So I leave and go and cook something. And it works perfectly.

Eug built them a little woolen zipline in our kitchen for little things to travel down, which had to be put up every day for a while.

They can play at the beach for ages without needing to involve Eug or I.

Finally- back to the penguin beach, to show friends.

Noah's lentil penguin.
They'll occasionally get in the zone doing other things- looking at books or playing legos. Noah has become obsessed with the "How to Train your Dragon" books.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ride a bike, change the world

Today (Saturday), near our new (future) home, a bike rider- a cross-border migrant from Malawi- was killed by a truck, and it was terribly sad. So this post is preachy and sentimental, because that's where I'm coming from right now. And in amongst the preachiness, I just want to acknowledge that not everyone has the margin to ride or take public transportation everywhere. But I hope there are enough of you that do, to make this helpful.

I work in a field (public health) where we talk a lot about equity. We talk about the fact that, if you're born in a certain place in a certain time, you have a likelihood of 40 fewer years of life that your brother or sister who happened to be born elsewhere. Half a lifetime taken from you at birth. And this chafes at us. So we look at ways to change this, so that everyone has an equal chance of living a good, long life. When the UN or the WHO gets together, they consider all the ways to alleviate poverty around the globe. Some efforts work better than others.

In these attempts, the underlying argument is that some basic needs must be met-- for water, sanitation, and housing. Perhaps education. These are human rights, we declare. So many of my peers and loved ones are hard at work to promote greater equality of opportunity, and it's awesome.

Where am I going with this? The problem comes when we imagine if we were, in fact, collectively successful in our efforts towards equality. The tough question that I struggle with is this: Could everyone live the way I live without the world's resources becoming utterly overstretched? What if "equal" meant living like I live.... would that be ok? If not, how can my family live a joyful, abundant life that does not use more than our share of the planet's resources? If, by "equal", I mean a little worse off than my life, why?

In 2006, each individual on the planet could make use of the resources of about 5 acres (including raw materials for clothing, fuel, etc). This is rapidly declining- it'll likely be around 2 acres by the time my children reach adulthood.

Using this acreage, a family car is simply not tenable for every family or adult in the world. It's intuitive, too. There are traffic jams in China that last for days. But it's so hard to imagine not having a car. If you're in places like South Africa or the U.S., and are vaguely middle-class, it's our norm. I dare say that many South Africans consider the level of convenience provided by a personal vehicle, their "right". Bought and paid for. But one can't put a cost on reproducing this notion of the car as a right. We reinforce this picture of what "middle-class" looks like. It is weird and very difficult to be a professional without a car, and there is a strong assumption that one MUST have a car if one is to be a busy and productive member of society. As the middle-class grows, so does the demand for personal cars.

The knee-jerk reaction to the death of the cyclist today has been "we should ban riders on busy roads" or "we saw someone with a child, riding!! that's not safe!" I understand such responses. But I think we need to turn our perspectives around, recognising that many people do not have a choice but to ride or take public transportation.

This week in Cape Town, if you are going less than 5km, consider being brave and ride there. Or if you don't have a bike, walking. Taking a minibus or bus or train is certainly an great alternative to riding- and there's a desperate need to improve these services in many parts of Cape Town. Find a day when you can practice riding during a relatively quiet time of day. Then later, try during rush hour. Tell your friends. If a hundred people took their cars off the road during rush hour, imagine how much calmer Kommetjie Road would be. Then a hundred slightly less brave people will be willing to try riding, or taking a minibus, also. And a hundred more. Soon enough there'll have to be a dedicated bike lane and bus services might progressively improve, as they are in other parts of the city. If we are willing to offer up our collective vulnerability, or some level of comfort, so much could change.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's on our farm right now...

We're almost at the end of the most difficult part of the year- the long dry summer (Nov-Feb) when the area receives almost no rain. Here's what is on our farm right now:
  • 10 moringa trees (started from seed, 20-50cm tall)
  • 1 pomegranate tree
  • 1 peach tree
  • 2 lemon trees
  • 6 avocado seedlings (all started from seed, 20-50cm tall)
  • 1 mango seedling (started from seed)
  • 1 macadamia nut tree (already on plot)
  • 1 citrus (probably naartjie, already on plot)
  • some prickly pear, along the edge of the plot.
  • 4 grape vines (3 hanepoort, 1 sultana)
  • A fair amount of fynbos/proteas/lavender that was already on the plot.
  • some sweet potato plants
  • 1 small pawpaw, grown from seed
  • 3 (struggling) olive trees, densely planted together
Everything is small and at least a year away from really producing anything, which means that I have to learn patience. A forest is not grown in a day, apparently.

We have a fair amount waiting at my parents house, waiting to go into the ground as the weather cools down and we get a better idea of good places to try to plant:
  • 2 guava trees
  • 2 acacia trees (hoping to add many more- security and nitrogen fixing)
  • 2 peach trees
  • 1 orange tree
  • 3 elderberry trees (young, from cutting)
  • 2 pomegranate trees
  • 2 blueberry bushes
  • 1 apricot tree
  • 1 plum tree
  • 20 or so strawberry plants. (many quite small)
  • a few more nitrogen fixing trees, seedlings.
  • 2 comfrey plants
  • 14 grape vines
  • 3 granadilla vines (pretty small right now)
  • Quite a few pawpaws, grown from seed
  • A lot of pineapples- pretty much all the pineapples eaten in our households this season are in glasses of water, growing roots.
There's also quite a lot I'm interested in buying in the next couple of years, but it seems like a good idea to go relatively slowly, since we don't know a whole lot about the plot yet.

I'm on the lookout for nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs, and I have a bag full of foraged seeds, which I'll try to plant directly into the soil and just see what happens. So far things have been growing slowly but well, and mulching each tree heavily seems to have helped a lot-- we've just been watering once a week, with soda bottles. Having the plot is such a new experience and right now we're still just spending an hour or 2 there at a time-- I'm really excited at the prospect of living there, but building still hasn't started, so it will be a while!