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!