Sunday, December 21, 2008

Refrigeration

After a chickenpox false alarm, Luke's birthday ended up being a very enjoyable day. Rain finally came last night (almost 20mm), so we can happily flush the toilet and wash the beach sand out of our hair.

The gas fridge stopped working a few days ago, so we hooked it up to the solar electricity, which worked for a few hours before wiping out the electricity in our batteries. This means that we are now praying for sunlight to charge our batteries - we need 3 full days before we can use lights again...

Catering for all our Christmas visitor without refrigeration promises to be an interesting adventure. We are eating mostly sprouts from the window sill & storing our cheese at the office. I attempted to feed myself lunch from the garden but could only produce a few sprigs of celery, some basil leaves and a couple of nasturtium flowers!

I am happy to report that my worms are doing very well however, and Mila's horseriding teacher is teaching us all we need to know about keeping chickens...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Water worries

3 years ago we were waiting for Luke to be born (he was expected on the 10th & arrived joyously on the 15th). This time around we are waiting for rain.

While filling the sink to wash the dishes late Friday afternoon, the tap sputtered and let out some rather bottom-of-the-barrel looking water… and a few disappointing taps on the tanks later confirmed the bad news…no water…no toilet…Luke’s birthday party 2 days away…& no rain sight…

Well what to do but pray? And call in your friends to help pray for rain.

Early this morning (Saturday) I woke to the sounds of a diesel engine rumbling on the driveway. My dapper knight in shining armour/husband managed to source a forestry local who was filling our tanks at a very gratifying rate. I am delighted at the prospect of being able to have a nice warm bath before Luke’s birthday, give him a wash and cook the pots of macaroni I had planned!

And our secret-agent water purveyor informed me that a cold front is on its way on Monday, so Luke’s birthday might bring a big present for all of us.

Please keep praying, it seems to be working…

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Evicted!

Latest news from the bush is that the landlords we rent our office from will not be renewing our lease agreement at the end of February - quite a spanner in the works.
We had planned on building a house first & keeping the office where it is: in a converted barn down the road which has electricity (useful for operating our 4 computers, large format printer and DSTV where Bongani (the nanny) watches 4 hours of soapies a day!).
The builders go on holiday soon & will only return mid-January which means that we will probably be converting a few more containers - instant office in a box!

I'm learning to enjoy life's unexpected twists & turns...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Religious zeal...

I usually steer clear of religious fanatics - I’ve always been deeply suspicious (and secretly envious) of their optimism and bright sparkly eyes. And now I am publicly admitting that I am one!

I have found Anastasia.

Here is a quick summary (from the www.ringingcedars.co.za website):

The Ringing Cedars Series contains some of the most important revelations to appear in thousands of years of human history - so significant, they are changing the course of our destiny and rocking scientific and religious circles to the core.

Anastasia is a beautiful young woman, who was discovered by the author in 1995, living alone, deep in the wild forests of Siberia.

She is considered to be a surviving remnant of an ancient Vedic civilisation whose extraordinary powers and knowledge far exceed anything known today.

Anastasia will lift you up and hurl you into a future that is… well… everything you imagined life could and should be!

Anastasia will have you dancing with delight and squealing with excitement as you re-discover you - in all your glory!

Anastasia's messages will simply blow your mind! Her soft-spoken words go straight to your heart - like nothing you have ever read!

And the more you read them - the better you'll feel!

Anastasia will restore your hope for this planet and re-ignite your passion for life. After reading this book - nothing will be quite the same.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Container conversion PART 1 & toilet face lift

Today saw much excitement on the farm, with multiple teams of builders, a noisy generator and gardeners getting ready for the arrival of our first December guests. I spent the day painting & renovating the out-house (“kakhuis” in my native tongue). This is a small structure erected by the previous owner housing a bucket and a plank with a hole in it, collectively comprising the toilet facilities. We lovingly refer to it as: Tom Pott’s Composting Spot.

It has taken me many years and much internal growth to accept the current state of ablutions (although I must admit that I have not yet taken a dump in the bucket!). Our system does seem a lot more palatable than the chemical toilets at Oppikoppi - by adding some saw dust and ash to the deposits, there is no smell (almost!).

Our container arrived yesterday and the internal cladding started today. The work is being done by our very own Mike Holmes look-alike: a delightful chap named Chunky who leads a nomadic sort of existence, sleeping in his van as he goes from job to job…

The concept of actually living in a container is also requiring me to break down quite a few social conditionings and constructs of the mind….I already feel a greater sense of freedom as the weight of these is lifted!

Watch our latest video:

video

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Building begins!

I’m happy to report that we finally have a structure that is being erected on our little piece of paradise….a carport/shed/maid’s room combo which will house our solar panels & batteries (and Kevin’s brother and 2 friends who are arriving on Sunday). We do not yet have any plumbing, so they will be discovering the merits of the “sh*t-in–a-bucket” system…

We discovered a few days before the construction started that we would have to transgress the 30 m building line rule in which case we urgently needed to seek approval from the neighbours. There had been some building approval horror stories circulating the neighbourhood which caused me to have a few sleepless nights, but thankfully no-one had any objection and we met some fine fellows, like Wessie Westraadt: our friendly neighbour who is pursuing a career in the correctional services.





After much deliberation and a steep learning curve, we have decided to go for 8 x 80w solar panels, 12 x 2V deep cycle 730W batteries, a 3kva inverter & regulator…thankfully we made friends with a neighbour who has vast experience with alternative energy (he has 58 solar panels, 3 wind turbines and an impressive array of batteries). My brain feels a bit cooked, trying to grasp the difference between volts, amps, standby wattage and such things, which he has tried patiently to explain.

Here are some images taken when we were marking out the house with the architect:


Our container should be arriving tomorrow…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Sign Lady

With the slow progress of the building process over the past few months, my creative juices have started boiling over with rather odd results. With an abundance of old, rusted corrugated iron sheeting to dispose of and a constant stream of inspiring thoughts and awakenings, I started painting signs & putting them up all around the property.

Now, I've become the strange "sign lady" of Bibby's Hoek...

"Place of Joy"

"There is nothing to fix, but much to love"

"Let nature run the show"

"Love"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A "recycled" eco-house?

Since playing with Lego at the aged of 4, all I ever wanted to do was build my own house. (This even led to me endeavouring to become an architect before my career took a mysterious turn towards accounting.) Having sold our family home & moving to a slice of paradise with a derelict old house, I have the exhilarating (and sometimes scary) opportunity of living my dream.
Severe budget constraints & an ever-increasing eco-awareness are resulting in quite an interesting architectural experience.
The first unusual development occurred when we were notified of the cancellation of our finance (FNB & ABSA both revoked all unused flexi-bonds when the global financial crisis hit.) Where we had previously planned on using elegant eco-architecture & alternative technologies, our options radically shifted to tyres, containers & recycled goods!
Hence, my latest project: converting an old shipping container into a playroom/guestroom. Insulation promises to be quite a challenge, since metal boxes are not designed for comfortable habitation! We'll be installing a set of recycled French doors & windows for ventilation & are planning 3 layers of insulation between the metal and the internal cladding as well as a living roof (i.e. a lawn on the top). Which of course brings us to challenge no. 2: waterproofing.
We plan to solve this one by rubberizing the top of the container, using plastic sheeting & creating drainage.
I found an old public swimming pool ladder for getting to the top & I can't wait to appreciate the stars in their full glory from the top of the container...
***
After 2 months of re-application procedures, we've regained our finance and our eco-house is back on track. Schedule has been abandoned, I have a renewed passion for reclaiming recycled materials & a very interesting guest wing in the making!
(photo's to follow soon)

Ode to a tumble drier

Today I have really missed my tumble drier! We've had rainy weather for 4 days, during which our solar panels didn't charge; basically we only have whatever electricity is stored in the batteries. It becomes a "who-wins-out" game between the weather & the power...
So, of course, there's no TV for the kids, no sewing for me & the stuff you would normally amuse yourself with in rainy weather become limited. The sweet irony of solar power: it's there when you don't need it & when you need it, it's not there! Hence my deep admiration and appreciation for the humble battery.
On the up-side we have water & gas to heat it up with. The baths can be long and deep...if only we had the tumble drier to dry & heat up the towels! (The watt usage of a tumble drier is so high that we will never have one running off solar power.)
Fortunately we are not dependent on solar water heating, yet!
But the kids are ecstatic at the prospect of pancakes...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First year in a nutshell

It’s been a year since we traded our suburban Sandton life to a more rural off-the-grid one on the edge of the Knysna forest – and what a journey it has been!

We had been contemplating leaving the hectic city rush for a more rural type of existence for years (as I’m sure many other suburbanites do). After 4 years of browsing the countryside, we found a small piece of paradise: 1.7 hectares bordering an indigenous forest in the Western Cape (South Africa), situated at the end of a dirt road where a spectacular hike into a gorge begins.

With nothing but a very dilapidated old structure, no electricity or municipal services, this promised to be the perfect canvas to create an off-the-grid eco-house and live a more sustainable life…

We managed to rent a small, solar-powered, old farmhouse down the road, which meant that we had to bid a sad farewell to many of life’s “necessities”: toaster, heater, hairdryer, iron, microwave, satellite TV. Being dependent on rainwater tanks also meant that the dishwasher & washing machine had to stay behind. By learning and exploring a new way of life, we’ve learnt that there is immense expansion in contraction and that we don’t need nearly as much as we think we do.

Country living has been quite an adjustment and we got so much more than what we bargained for! John Seymour’s Ultimate Guide to Self-Sufficiency (which has been adopted as our new bible) did not prepare us for the baboons, for example. Getting to know them has been truly insightful. They have ripped the roof of our tool shed and destroyed our wheatgrass crop twice, which has led us to investigate all sort of options of protecting our vegetable garden. We’re currently planning to build a geodesic growing dome (and we’ll probably have to erect an electric fence as well).

The floods came and changed our septic tank into a septic terror…even our house guests had to get involved in the digging! I have made close contact with dry and composting toilets and an area of interest has opened up where I previously didn’t give the flushing the toilet much thought. We intend using a biogas digester in our new home which will take care of the “waste” as well as providing us with gas for cooking & refrigeration (the downside being that the methane gas produced apparently smells like a fart!). A matter which warrants further exploration…

We’ve almost run out of water & been without electricity a few times (but not nearly as much as we would have been if we stayed in Sandton!). The awareness of conserving water has probably been our biggest eye-opener. Water truly is the source of life and something that should be regarded with reverence and gratitude. Having such a close connection between rain & bathwater; sunlight and using the power drill, has definitely increased our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things.

Rubbish management has also taken on higher importance. We have bins for horses, compost, worms, recycling, re-using and removal. The science of worms has truly taken my fancy & we currently have 2 wormeries under experimentation. I have even managed to convince my father to keep worms!

It has taken me about 6 months to recover from what some call “urban shock syndrome”. The silence out here in the country is overwhelming – you can hear yourself think! There is no electricity or traffic to cause a constant hum and no media polluting our minds by trying to tell us what to think/be/buy. Without the distractions of city life one’s inner landscape takes on a life all of its own.
Living this close to nature has brought a profound sense of peace, joy and freedom (and feeling completely insignificant – which keeps us in our place!)

We begin construction on our little “eco”-house soon & the blessed journey continues…

"Contraction is expansion"