Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Settling in

This past weekend marked our official homecoming as we celebrated with a house warming festival – a marathon weekend party with some guests staying over in tents and others crashing on couches and the even the office floor! It was a sheer delight to welcome all our new friends and neighbours to our Space of Love.

Although we missed the presence of now distant loved ones, it was amazing to have a congregation of our new community – we are truly blessed to have accumulated such beautiful relationships in 2 short years. And our fellow tree-hugging bohemian neighbours make us feel right at home!

The party ranged from dancing to the tunes of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, to monochord and singing bowl sound journeys, constant camp fires and golf on the lawn (where we actually aim at hitting the ball into the dam – things are all a bit different on Farm 119!). We even had sweet saxophone sounds drifting over the forest late Saturday night…

At times I just revelled in sitting back and watching our new life unfold with this party (hopefully the first of many), signalling the kick-off.

Next will be Luke’s birthday at the beginning of December, followed by the holiday rush and some potential woofers who want to stay for 2 months. We’ll grab Chunkie (our revered builder) before he runs off for the holiday to install some shower doors and the Morso fireplace (which has started to rust in the container where it’s been waiting for a house for past 18 months!). Then we’ll be ready for Season…

You’re welcome to visit!

What I did not mention in this portion is the additional of puppy no 2: a 5 month old Jack Russell/Daschund combo named Fettucini, adopted from the Animal Welfare. Mushroom & Fettucini are a very vibrant pair and delivered a half decomposed monkey/baboon to our front door a few days ago! We had originally thought the dogs (and children) smelled foul due to kakiebos (a bad smelling weed), only to discover a few hours later that they were covered in dead monkey! Needless to say, much washing ensued…

Our next wildlife adventure came in the form of a baby puffadder which was found in Kevin’s make-shift generator room. It lived in a bottle on the kitchen counter for a day and was released only once Kevin had had his way with it (photographically speaking). This is snake season….

Then yesterday we found a scorpion while gardening….I am slowly becoming more accustomed to the great outdoors and all God’s creatures!

On the gardening side, we have some peas which will be ready for harvest soon (planted by our woofers), as well as beans, lettuce, spinach and herbs. What percentage will constitute the baboons’ share is still to be discovered, but the dogs are helping to deter them somewhat (sometimes assisted by Luke bagging a pot with his toy hammer!).

Mila is performing in her ballet concert this weekend (so there has been much excitement, rehearsals etc.) and she insists on wearing her new school uniform to school (although she is only required to wear it next year when she moves up to Grade 1). Luke is having his 4th birthday party next week…they are both well and happy.

We’ve decided have piercing/tattoo Christmas presents this year: Mila is having her ears pierced & Kevin & I will get some tattoos - Luke will be the witness.

Season is almost upon us – lots of friends and loved ones will be sharing our beautiful space, star gazing on our container roof deck and helping chase baboons away.

Happy holidays!






Sunday, October 25, 2009

Home!

It is with much joy and gratitude that I report our final homecoming to Farm 119!

After 2 years of planning, hoping, praying and doubting, having our bond cancelled, experiencing the economic turmoil of the world (being off the beaten track did not shield us from that one) and my mom’s sudden passing…..we are now home. I am overcome with a deep sense of peace and well-being. We moved in last Wednesday after which we were welcomed by a resident baboon who found his way into Kevin’s office on Thursday morning, swung on the roof beams and crapped all over the curtains!

Nevertheless, it has been pure bliss waking up on our own land every morning. I’ve forgotten how great it is to have you own home – to wake up on a Sunday morning with an unlimited list of DIY possibilities to fill the day! Having built a new house using recycled windows & doors also means that we have the best of both worlds: plumbing that works but beautiful old items in need of loving restoration. It seems our belief in reincarnation stretches to buildings as well!

The floor (recycled wooden parquet) is absolutely gorgeous, the 3 basin kitchen sink with fancy taps is an utter delight and staring at the various views through the windows and doorways keep us entertained for hours. We are also making acquaintance with the intricacies of a solar geysers (we previously used gas) and realised after the first cloudy day that we definitely need the gas back-up!

We also collected our new family member on Saturday: Mushroom is an 18 month old cross between a Labrador and an Alsatian and was so named by the old lady who found her as a puppy in the forest when she went to look for mushrooms. She keeps the kids busy while we get on with our DIY endeavours. She is slowly getting used to the cows – the neighbours weren’t too impressed with her incessant barking in the early dawn hours of Sunday morning!

I had some damage to my plants – I wasn’t quite quick enough to secure them from the cows and lost half a fuchsia and some of my azalea plant to the curious bovines! But they are now safely stored in the new greenhouse which turned out to be a converted sukkah (a temporary structure which we erect to celebrate the Jewish festival of Sukkot).

There is still much to be done on Farm 119 – we’re expecting some more woofers and our revered builder will hopefully return soon from a well-deserved holiday. But the journey has finally begun….

We are truly blessed.... (and love our flushing toilet!)


Monday, October 5, 2009

Completing the house





And so after almost 2 weeks, we bid a sad farewell to our wonderful woofers. They leave behind well dug and composted beds planted with previously pot-bound plants and a variety of vegetable seeds; piles of collected cow dung and compost heaps, painted and varnished decks and a rhino-boarded children’s room. It is actually quite unbelievable that these tasks (which loomed and weighed on my consciousness) could be swiftly completed by such fantastic new friends in exchange for tented accommodation and some food… if this is the alternative to capitalism, I’m all for it!
We shared a potjie around the fire on their final evening, accompanied by our builders and lovely neighbours. I listened to Thomas (our landlord/neighbour) and Goldie (the woofer) playing guitar under the stars and felt humbled and grateful for the Universal order of things. How things always seem to turn out perfectly in spite of our plans.
The house is nearing completion and is coming together quickly now with finishing, plumbing and electrics. I still can’t quite believe that after 2 years of planning/hoping/praying/obsessing we will finally be living on the land and a new chapter of our rural integration will begin.
I have rearranged my working hours so that I work 6 hours instead of 7.5 at 80% of my pay. With eliminating a lunch break, I now finish at 2 pm and gain 2.5 hours of daylight. This has opened up an entire chunk of the day to spend playing cars with Luke, sewing Barbie dresses with Mila and communing with my plants. Mila had her 6th birthday party recently – also a “goodbye” party for the house we’ve called home for the past 2 years. Organising a birthday party without the help of my mother was very daunting but ultimately empowering. Following in Papa Tony’s footsteps, Mila has become quite the equestrian, while Luke (in keeping more with my ancestral line) is rather obsessed with cars and swear words (which he calls “square” words!).
Kevin is gallivanting again – he did the Whale Trail hike, followed by Cape Town where he opened another exhibition at Exposure Gallery (at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock). Without him working and printing at the office we’ve had lots of power for watching DVDs and surfing You Tube – when the cat’s away…
As soon as he returns the packing will start in all earnest as we prepare for our homecoming.
More images: www.digitalfactor.co.za/farm119oct
Much has been happening on the farm. I arrived yesterday to find a digger loader preparing a large hole for our septic tank, the final walls on the house raised and our new WOOFERS painting and preparing vegetable beds. I had never seen so much action on the farm at once – it was rather overwhelming but thoroughly exciting!
Our wonderful WOOFERS (Neta and Goldie) arrived a few days ago after spending some time at the Kula Dharma eco-community in the Eastern Cape. With all the woofing requests over the past months, I lost track of who’s who and so I was expecting some tough German girls, but they turned out to be a delightful Israeli couple from a Kibbutz near Haifa who can teach me a thing or two about farming! We provide them with food and “luxury” tent accommodation (and dry toilet) and in return they get onto all those jobs that I haven’t been able to. Kevin also has someone to share humus and Hebrew jokes with.
Kevin had a very successful exhibition in Johannesburg and is off to do the Whale Trail tomorrow after which it’s Cape Town and another exhibition, so he’ll be missing out on some of the action on the farm.
We’ve been spending a lot more time on the farm and it’s really starting to feel like home – the kids have also started painting their room and constantly want to know when we’re moving in. Our rent runs out at the end of October so we’ll be in our new little house before then! After 2 years of uncertainty, it’s quite unbelievable that things are finally coming together.
Kevin and I and the kids, Chunkie (the builder), his assistant Garth (and his dog) and our two woofers all sat around on the office floor last night feasting on some soup that Neta had made – there was a real sense of community. No doubt my mother had a hand in this most marvellous blessing…

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Going home

This new moon sees many changes afoot in the life of the forest dwellers…we finally gave notice to our landlord and we will be making our homeward journey before 31 October. Our carport-2-house conversion is going very well – it’s is extremely exciting to stand on the new floor and see the walls go up. Our clever builder, Chunky, managed to figure out a way to fit a kids’ room into the design, so we won’t all have to squeeze into one little bedroom after all! It will be a tight fit, but there’ll be less floor area to sweep and there’ll only be enough space for things to be in their place, so no space for mess (or so I hope!).












For more pictures: www.digitalfactor.co.za/farm119aug

And so we’ll leave behind the old farmhouse that has been our off-the-grid training ground. Over the past 2 years, this house has been witness to our many moments of joy and bliss as well as our deepest despair, loss and sadness. It certainly feels as if we have worked through a lot of karma in this place. As they say in my mother tongue: ”dit was lekker, maar nou’s dit klaar!” It is with much gratitude and great excitement that we move forward on the journey…We say goodbye to the old gas geyser, wall cracks and temperamental septic tank. I’m sure we’ll miss our spacious bedroom and daily interaction with horses (the cow on our farm is pregnant, by the way).
On the vegetable front: Luke and I had a wonderful Sunday lunch in the garden last week when Kevin & Mila were on a Jo’burg jol. We feasted on our garden produce of 3 types of lettuce, some rosemary and fennel. Then, a few days ago, we had visitors…the baboons (who supposedly don’t eat lettuce) ripped out and demolished every last one of our 6 beautiful plants! So we’ll have to start again…I’ll try spinach this time…I’ve heard they don’t like it…

Monday, August 10, 2009

It’s been almost 2 years since we moved off the grid and by now the initial shock to our way of life has normalised. City luxuries like dishwashers, hairdryers and tumble dryers are items long forgotten and hardly missed. Creature comforts have been replaced by silence and wide open space.

As I reflect on the changes we have grown through, there are many valuable lessons which this rural life-style has afforded us. FLEXIBILITY immediately springs to mind.We tread the fine balance between sunshine (giving us electricity) and rain (providing our water), and so the weather plays an integral part in our rural reality. Hot baths are no longer planned or anticipated but greatly appreciated when the opportunity presents itself. And notions of “movie night” might be dashed by constant cloud cover. I’ve found that my perfectionism has been softened as we learn to digest situations with a healthy dose of humour and go with the flow of nature. While outdoor activities are always affected by the changeable weather, our building process has also taught us to be flexible. What was to be a house made from hemp, turned to a rammed earth and timber structure until the economic meltdown came along. Now it’s out with new and in with old shipping containers and recycled materials.

In my training as a management consultant I was taught to “release my agenda” when involved in high level business meetings, and this experience has been invaluable in swinging with the punches of nature.Learning to RE-USE precious resources has led to creative opportunities around all corners. Our used yoghurt containers become planters for seedlings and polystyrene packaging is reincarnated into Barbie furniture. Used water is never discarded before considering the thirsty plants or muddy boots that need cleaning.

Our daily lives are still as full and busy as when we were city dwellers – in fact, activities have only been added to our agenda. Like tapping the water tanks upon returning home from work to check the water levels, then pumping water to the header tank to ensure that our vintage geyser delivers hot water for a bath. Or checking the charge in the solar batteries with a hydrometer before watching DVDs on rainy days and mixing bio-enzymes and pouring it down the toilet once a month to ensure healthy bacterial life in the septic tank (very important!). And then there’s using the bath water to irrigate the garden - manually with a watering can. Not to mention regularly cleaning the gutters to ensure we catch the rainwater. So much for a “simpler way of life”!

With a full-time job in town, 2 small children, no domestic help (except for a well trained husband) and all the added tasks of living off the grid, learning to MANAGE MY TIME is a constant challenge. The best solution I have so far come up with is the “family forage plan”, whereby the family forages for their food in the garden instead of eating meals. This can eliminate or greatly reduce the time spent on shopping for food, cooking, eating and dealing with dirty dishes, while increasing the time we spend in the garden. Not to mention the cost savings and improvement to our health. This plan is underway (although we’re still completely dependent on the Pick ‘n Pay) and progress will be reported on…

Being so conscious of precious resources has of course taught us to have an incredible APPRECIATION for the simple things in life: sun rays, rain drops, a beautiful sunset and a well functioning septic tank. I often pause in deep gratitude to watch the children playing in the mud, ride their bikes down the dirt road or build intricate insect homes from discarded building materials. The old cliché of “the simple things in life” has never been more apt. Time spent with now distant loved ones also takes on great significance.

BALANCING our modern lives with a more natural one is a constant dance (which goes out of step from time to time). Taking our cues from Mother Nature always helps us reclaim our natural rhythms while our dependence on Her abundance continuously highlights the fine balance of nature and the fragility of the systems that sustain life on our planet. And if this awareness can rub off on the next generation, it was worth leaving the dishwasher behind!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Progress

We have just re-emerged from a family flu hibernation period and I am happy to report that our friendly and trusty builder Chunky has returned to wave his magic hammer. We now have almost half a bathroom and a flushing indoor toilet is within sight!

Our renowned solar energy expert and self-sufficiency guru, Mr R has also installed an impressive looking machine which should enable us to charge the batteries with the generator and this will hopefully enable us to live and work on the farm – quite bizarre that our future home can hinge on this piece of engineering.

The plan is (currently) to finish the little bathroom and continue to enclose the double carport into our new living quarters. I’m still trying to get my head around 4 people in 50 square metres in what promises to be the ultimate exercise in contraction. Luckily we have 1.7 hectares of “outside” and summer’s on its way….

My mom’s ashes were buried in a lovely ceremony around the roots of our family tree (a “Liquid Amber” which is apparently from the US). Rather fitting as the US is where she did her hypnotherapy and Reiki training (this is also where she was ordained as a priest into the Order of Melchizedek, enabling her to register as a marriage officer and officiate at our wedding). Mila tried balloons to the branches which are covered with little buds which we eagerly await.

The day after the burial would have been her 60th birthday and our beloved Earth Mother blessed us with rain as soft, consistent and penetrating as a mother’s hug. So I was able to have a luxurious and relaxing hot bath as a birthday present on her behalf which we both enjoyed thoroughly.

All is fine at work, the kids are happy at school – Mila loves her horse riding and Luke recently discovered boxing (which he practices on all of us). We are looking into getting a dog/s and/or horse/s once we are on the farm, but in the meantime our hamster is happy being the sole family pet. Kevin’s work is also going well – he got a bit of city buzz on a recent trip to Johannesburg and might soon be off to the Seychelles for a week to photograph a fancy hotel…I am green with envy! But then I am a "greeny"...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Update after the silence...

I turned 36 today. After the shock of my mother’s death in March and the demise of my childhood idol Michael Jackson this past week, it feels as if I’m turning 106! My birthday surprise this morning was running out of solar power (luckily the lights were on long enough for me to find my clothes in the dark), so we’ll be having some romantic candlelit evenings for the next few days while the sun charges the batteries.

We have been blessed with some decent rain in the last week (which somehow only managed to fill our rain tanks to ¼ full), and too many DVDs on cloudy days have drained the batteries…

Kevin has also been dealing with some electricity woes on the farm. Our solar installation was designed for domestic use (since we had originally planned to build a house) but then ended up moving the office to the farm. He’s been quite busy printing orders and preparing for an exhibition and so he’s had to run the generator almost every day. We’ve been considering moving to town – back to the comforts of “civilization” like Eskom and municipal water…but then he found a possible solution to the energy crisis: a gadget that enables the batteries to be charged by the generator in a short time.

In the meantime construction on a little bathroom starts today. This will herald in a new era of modern sanitation and Tom Pott’s dry toilet will become a mere tourist attraction. Now that’s a decent birthday present!

With a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of electricity and sanitation, we’ve been toying with the idea of converting the double car port into a living area and squeezing ourselves (and the 2 kids) into a cosy 40 sq.m. This means we’ll finally be living on the farm where we can have dogs and horses and the kids can run amok on 1.7 hectares of pristine beauty…farm vs. "civilization"...decisions, decisions.

It is a true exercise in trusting in the Universal flow and surrendering to the bigger Perfect Plan.

***

An interesting phenomenal has been the constant emails we receive from “woofers” wanting to come and volunteer their services on the farm. (“woofers” are “workers on organic farms” who work in exchange for accommodation and meals.) I listed our farm on the website months ago and there has been a constant stream of idealistic, energetic young people who believe in building a different future and are fascinated /inspired by the off-the-grid, self-sustaining lifestyle. Although no woofers have actually reported for duty (possibly put off by the lack of sanitation) it has been very encouraging.

***

There are a few reasons for the lack of email communication over the past few weeks:

(a) the daily routine of work, kids, meals, cleaning, laundry, washing mud off boots, caring for plants, chopping wood, carrying water (remember, we have no more domestic help)

(b) regularly shaving my hair - thankfully I’ve eliminated “washing hair” from the list with my lovely new #3 hairstyle

(c) having a series of emotional “wobbles” and breakdowns in the process of mourning my mother (I’ve finally succumbed to getting “happy pills” from the doctor – but now that Michael Jackson wiped himself out with all the medication, I’m very cautious)

(d) focusing my communications on learning to listen and connect to the other side. I’ve really felt my mom with me very strongly and am in almost constant communication with her. Although it is sometimes hard to know where my own projections end and true communications begin. Maybe someone has some experience to share?

(e) spending some wonderful quality time with our delightful neighbours and new friends

(f) having a fantastic weekend break with my beloved soul mate Kevin at a romantic spot in Nature’s Valley. (The kids spent the night with Luke’s loving teacher). I eventually gave in to Kevin’s suggestions of paddling down the river in a canoe and thoroughly enjoyed it (much to my surprise!)

(g) enjoying my kids and Kevin and being conscious of the immense gift of life we all share.

I’ve often tried to remember what we’re doing here (on the planet as well as on the farm!), but then I hear the call of the fish eagle or see the sun setting over the snow capped mountains in a pastel coloured sky and my soul rejoices. Nature constantly finds ways to sooth my soul and put things in perspective and for that I am very grateful.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Here's an article for the upcoming edition of Share Earth magazine:




Follow Tanya Factor and her family’s off-the-grid journey as they learn about food security in baboon territory…

After a year and half of county living we have eventually settled onto our land – in the form of a solar-powered photographic and printing studio. Construction ended up being a timber and corrugated iron structure built around 2 converted shipping containers. A rather interesting looking building with a host of insulation, ventilation and water-proofing challenges which we are discovering as the seasons change.

The next phase will involve the construction of a bath house and somewhere warm and dry to sleep and then we’ll make the big move to actually living on the land.

Being avid gardeners and keen to grow our own food, we were not going to have our green fingers inhibited by the fact that we were not yet living on our farm. We initially set up a temporary greenhouse in an old shed, in which we lovingly planted trays of wheatgrass. We soon experienced the brute force and general rudeness of the resident baboons when they ripped the roof off the shed, destroyed the wheatgrass crop and defalcated in our newly erected water tank! Then they did it again. They meant serious business.

So we decided to bring the crop closer to home, but with no greenhouse our wheatgrass was quickly tackled by birds. I covered the trays with clear plastic which encouraged the healthy growth of fungus. Piercing holes big enough for sufficient airflow meant that the birds were back in the game. After much deliberation I spent an entire afternoon concocting a temporary greenhouse from recycled water bottles, flowerpots and polycarbonate sheeting only to have the trays attacked by rats! We have since decided to abandon the wheatgrass project temporarily and focus our attention elsewhere. Like the 100 tomato seedlings we ended up with just before winter after I sowed a packet of seeds at the wrong time of the year…

I managed to nurture 4 tomato plants through the frosty period in the indoor nursery/plant hospital I set up in my bedroom. I was utterly delighted when I spotted the first firm little green fruits of my care. The largest and healthiest tomato plant found a lovely sunny little spot in the garden of our rented farmhouse and on a warm day in early October we had some visitors…contrary to their previous brutish behaviour, the baboons gently plucked each small tomato off without any damage to the plant. Needless to say, I’m still buying all my tomatoes from the Pick and Pay.

We have learned that cows and horses can also not be trusted in the quest for food security. My initial herb and succulent garden was completely demolished by cows and the horses got most of my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings. Ironically, we ate more fresh produce from our garden in Sandton than we do from our farm yard!

In the spring we excavated a small swimming dam and fenced the area from the grazing cows. Finally, I could start planting on the farm. For a passionate gardener who had only ever read about “well-rotted cow manure” in gardening books, having a hectare of land littered with cow dung was liking striking gold. In my enthusiasm I completely overfed my poor young plants, burning their roots and sending them into a state of shock. The extreme drought we’ve experienced throughout the summer season also didn’t help.

But our food production soap opera is not all tragic. I am deeply heartened by the recovery of my Moringa trees. I ordered 5 small trees from a nearby town after reading about their nutritive properties. They arrived yellowing in a box after being neglected by the couriers, and then lost most of their leaves after which they were hit by frost. Despite looking completely dead, I nurtured them in my bedroom for a few months. My 5 year old daughter sang to them and my mom placed crystals and Reiki symbols around them…and with the advent of spring, they miraculously all returned to life. One of them was subsequently eaten by a horse, but the others are starting to supply us with their wonderfully delicious leaves.

However, sprouts have so far been the greatest success story on our path to food security and self-sufficiency. Ironically, we grow them all on the window sill in the kitchen! We have large helpings of alfalfa, broccoli, onion, radish and bean sprouts while we contemplate whether or not to erect an electric fence and dream of our geodesic growing dome…

***

One of the great discoveries of my life has been the Anastasia books, which I have been reading avidly for the last year. One of her many wonderful suggestions is the planting of a family tree.

This has now become a matter of priority as my mother passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Her ashes will be planted under the family tree on our new homestead where I trust our young family will find its roots.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pesach pests

In keeping with our Jewish roots, we had our own pests to deal with this Pesach: head lice (apparently quite a plague in town at the moment). This recurring infestation which has caused a great deal of anguish to the children (especially Mila with her mass of thick, curly hair). So when they phoned me again on Friday to tell me that the children are infected, I decided to take some drastic action…we all shaved our heads!

I look quite funky, Luke looks naughtier than he is & Mila is sporting a new boyish charm. I’m sure we’ll be able to make a statement at the upcoming Gay Pride Pink Loerie parade if we all go in drag!

And we’ve had 30 mm of rain in the 2 days since we became a family of skin heads…interesting things happen when you shave your head.

Kevin is in Jo'burg on business for a few days, but will certainly take a picture of us when he returns.

Trudy passes

Our recent weekend trip to Cape Town was interrupted by the devastating news that my mother (Trudy) passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 59. Needless to say, this has been a shock of such gigantic proportions that I am still experiencing waves of disbelief two weeks later. It feels as though my previously volatile life has become completely unhinged.

We had to make a quick departure from Cape Town to Pretoria in order to settle her affairs, pack up and vacate the little cottage she was renting and organise a memorial service (all done in less than a week and wearing only the clothes we packed for the Cape Town weekend). Thankfully our friends and family rallied around and provided immeasurable amounts of love and support for which I am eternally grateful. We then flew back to Cape Town (to fetch our car) and then drove back home to Knysna after spending a few days in the mother city. Having visited 3 cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town & Pretoria) and returning home to Knysna and the farm, I can honestly say that no place feels like home anymore. This is quite an alarming realisation for a Cancerian – but I find that watering my plants keeps me sane and grounded.

I have had the occasional “inter-dimensional” communication with my mom, interspersed by times of extreme loneliness, turmoil and chaos – I suppose all normal parts of the grieving process. Kevin has been an absolute rock and my kids have given me a reason to get out of bed. I even had what I thought was either a nervous breakdown or a stroke: a 24 hour period during which I could not open my eyes or communicate except for nodding my head. I could hear everyone around me but was completely incapacitated – apparently an attempt of my soul to find equilibrium. I did feel rather rested after that.

After a week of adjusting on the farm, I am back at work. Taking it one step at a time. We are planning to build a basic structure on the farm so that we can get onto the land – we are aiming for end of June. Even if we decide to return to the city after that, we would have at least lived on our own land for a while. Our budget is down to the bone (at around R150,000) and we have finally decided on the dry toilet (using the basic but effective bucket system!). This means bucket changing duty for Kevin once a week or so…if anything will drive him back to the city, this may do the trick!

We await Trudy’s ashes which will be buried on the farm & a family tree planted in her honour. She will finally find a resting place with us and her grandchildren whom she adored so much. Her wisdom will hopefully be transferred to the tree in years to come and will provide something to hug once again.

Here's a picture of her with the kids on her last visit in December, followed by some recent ones us and the office complex on the farm.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bright city lights...

We are off to Cape Town for the weekend where we'll be visiting friends in Camp's Bay - the prospect of having unlimited electricity and hot water has me more excited than I'd like to admit! Living off the grid has really made me appreciate the simple things in life. Viva Eskom!

Camping forever?

Breaking news is that our full-time maid-nanny-painter-cook-laundry-cleaning-angel, Bongani, has decided that it’s time for her to return to the bright lights of big city Jozi. This will provide me with ample opportunity to practice the art of patience, cleanliness, etc. as we take over all the domestic duties with 2 little people in the household. We are open to all good advice on how to get them involved without conflict/bribery/corruption…Maybe I can also make a more focused practice of my telepathic capabilities while I wash the dishes every day – I sadly admit that my new year’s resolution of intuitive communication has been severely neglected. And if you live in Johannesburg & need a fantastic live-in housekeeper/nanny, please let me know. 

Having the office on the farm is becoming more bearable everyday. Or so I hear from Kevin, who has been enduring baking hot days in the steel container complex, ravished by flies amongst the incessant mooing of cows. He has been rather lonely since I’ve started working in town (in a comfortable air-conditioned accounting office). Luckily, he has upcoming trips planned to Cape Town & Jo’burg, so some city buzz will do him good. The office now has a north-facing covered porch and the temperature control has been improved substantially…the construction is still very much a work-in-progress.

We are still trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way of getting ourselves onto the farm (as we are still living the rented farmhouse down the road). The current plan involves turning the maid’s room into a sleeping room for the entire family (we mostly sleep in the same bed anyway) & creating a shade-netted environment in the adjacent double carport which would serve as a living/dining area. The kitchen will fit very neatly into the original container (which is somewhat of a chameleon space – changing constantly in function and purpose). 

Sanitation will be taken care of in a timber “bathhouse” containing – bath, basin, outside shower, & separate toilet (flush or dry is still an area of great discussion and difficult decision-making). I’m a bit overwhelmed by the plumbing & septic tank undertakings as we experienced the results of malfunctioning septic tanks too often in the recent past. 

The kitchen, bathhouse and living quarters will be loose-standing structures, maybe connected via shade-netted greenhouse walkways… 

Before we can get to that however, we have the rather fearsome task of sorting out the entrance gate and driveway. The digger loader dug a 1 m deep trench all along the fence in an effort to capture the run-off from the road to fill our new dam. But the ditch had to cut through the entrance and now runs much too close to the driveway…This caused the moving truck to drive into the gate which turned a previously badly hung gate into something pretty defunct. The driveway requires some form of gravel or covering to prevent getting stuck in the mud (which happened the last time we had little more than a light drizzle). Such an uninviting entrance must surely be bad Feng Sui. 

We definitely had no idea whatsoever of what we were getting ourselves into when we bought the farm in such an “open canvas” state! So much of our budget has been spent on infrastructure which we never considered, that we will probably end up living in a camping-style reality for the foreseeable future. But with a functional kitchen, a luxurious bathhouse, a dry cosy place to sleep and a star-gazing deck, what more does one really need? Oh yes, the electric fence… 

The act of contemplating our living arrangements from the ground up, has brought up many mirrors and realisations about how we construct our reality (especially when it comes to ablutions!). I aim to be constantly vigilant about my assumptions and keep an open mind…

Adjusting to the working world has been a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated with many unforeseen positives. The job has become somewhat of a stable element in this current free-fall we find our lives in. And I am guessing that we are not the only ones feeling as if someone forgot us in the washing machine on the “spin” cycle.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Solar power - the rude awakening...

It's been a week or so since we've moved into our new office on the farm & already we've run out of electricity (and all the days have been sunny!). Kevin has quickly realised that his machines use quite a bit more electricity than anticipated & so he's been running the generator to download his emails.... until he ran out of petrol!

Otherwise all is well - we are contemplating how we will be able to move onto the farm without a house. It seems that wendy houses and shade netting structures may be the order of the day - a permanent camping-type of situation. We've even thought of buying the neighbour's caravan which is on offer for R500!

More news soon...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Boxes & karma...

Just a quick "hello" from amongst the boxes. We are packing to vacate the old barn which has served as our office/home-away-from-home/source-of-Eskom/DSTV zone for the past 18 months. We'll be moving into our new container complex on our farm tomorrow, which means that we will finally land on "the property". (Maybe we'll stop referring to it as "the property" soon.)

The new building looks amazing! I've had some serious doubts about the containers & recycled materials, but it's come together in a very weird, but utterly enjoyable way! Chunky has really delivered and the building process has been beautiful & utterly enjoyable. Looking forward to a little roof wetting as soon as the deck has a roof - pictures to follow soon.

Kevin has been dealing with the entire move by himself, as I have been busy with my new job. He's having to repay some karma, since he packed very little on our exodus our of Johannesburg. In the meanwhile, I've been working on my employment karma. It's been quite an experience to get back into the working reality, but I'm starting to get into the vibe.

My next report will be from Farm 119!

(My cousin who visited recently referred to it as: "The opposite of 9-11!")

Thursday, February 5, 2009

“Off-the-gridder” finds a job

I’d like to clarify the concept of “off-the-grid” in order to give a clearer picture of our experience. There’s the off-the-grid reality of our esteemed neighbour Mr R (who is fast becoming our guru of self-sufficiency). His setup includes 40 water tanks with a storage capacity of 230,000 litres, 62 solar panels capable of operating a small factory, 4 wind turbines, large dams containing thousands of tilapia fish, fruit and nut orchards, worm farms producing litres of liquid fertilizer per day and more vegetables than his household (of 2) can consume. Not to mention the hundreds of quails, ducks and fowl which produce protein rich eggs and “waste” which in turn feed the fish. (Needless to say, his property is surrounded by a serious electric fence).

Our current living situation on the other hand:

12,500 litres of water storage for a household of 5 (the current level which is about 2%, equating to enough water for 3 days), 5 solar panels, one tomato plant (which got raided by baboons last week), 3 very small moringa trees and 2 avocado tree shoots (grown from pips). Although our sprout yield is almost enough to survive on and I harvested a handful of green beans yesterday, we clearly have a long way to go!

And don’t think we are immune from any of the economic fall out affecting the rest of the world’s population. The fine art photography market (which constituted at least half of our income) has taking a knock and our commercial clients are applying the expenditure brakes. In an effort to get onto the land, we are building (tiny and modest) and excavating a dam which in turn leads to an ever-increasing bond. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: I’ve finally found a full-time accounting job in town!

The thought of having a boss after 8 years of being self-employed is quite bizarre, but strangely comforting. I’ll have to ditch the hippie wardrobe, get up early and adopt the lifestyle of “fine upstanding citizen” (whatever that means!). My intention is to bend like a willow tree and embrace the change with gratitude and joy.

Are we survivalists?

I’ve been coming across the term “survivalist” recently in my (limited) exposure to the media. The concept has intrigued me enough to investigate its meaning. According to Wikipedia, it is a term used for “the preparedness strategy and subculture of individuals or groups anticipating and making preparations for future possible disruptions in local, regional or worldwide social or political order”. Some of the most common scenarios being natural disasters, weather changes, economic collapse and/or worldwide depression and a general collapse of society, resulting from the unavailability of electricity, fuel, food, and water. Survivalists often prepare for this anticipated disruption by stockpiling food and water, preparing for self-defense and self-sufficiency, and/or building structures that will help them to survive.

We are in the midst of a severe drought with the world’s economy dangling by a thread and food security on everyone’s mind. We’ve moved to a small farm with the view to becoming self-sufficient and are already off-the-grid (in terms of water, electricity, sewage and services). I think we may well fit the description….

I feel reassured by this quote I read today:

“A great deal of what makes us unique is rooted in the variety of ways we choose to deviate from social and cultural norms.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wall raising

Our office walls went up with much excitement on Sunday. Or so I am told, as I spent the day with the toilet, getting acquainted with the stomach bug that had invaded my intestines. I was extremely grateful for the fact that our toilet is currently in working order & that we have just about enough water in the tanks to flush with (though not quite enough to have a decent bath with). Luckily, Kevin was there in full swing, video camera in hand. Check it out:

video

The fact that so many of our friends and neighbours took up the invitation to “raise our walls” is a shining example of neighbourly love in such a mad world!
To all who came:
THANK YOU! I feel privileged and honoured to have our walls imbued with your loving energy & good intentions!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I begin by reporting that we are being eaten alive.... by sand fleas! Poor Luke has been bitten worse of all. We almost cancelled his birthday party as we initially thought he had chickenpox (and in the time it took me to write this paragraph I’ve had to stop and catch 3 fleas in my bed!) We did the eco-aware citronella-spray thing for about 3 weeks (while more and more of our beloved friends and family also got munched) and finally succumbed to calling in the fumigators (horror upon horror!). Excuse me while I catch another one…

Anyway, the evening after the pest control guys were here, we managed to catch about 20 live ones. Now the owner of the company is coming to check it out…in the meantime I’m have a bottle of DYFLEA next to my bed! Oh my, how easily this “greeny” has succumbed…

Luckily all of this infestation only happened after the episode with the septic tank which left us without a flushing toilet from Christmas till new year! And of course we are still praying for rain.

Of course, our “season” was not all drought, insects and sanitation woes. We spent some beautiful quality time with a magnitude of wonderful friends and family. One of the greatest benefits of living in the Garden Route is that we get to see our loved ones while on holiday from their lives, which affords us the chance to relax as well.

I can proudly report that we now have solar power on Farm 119, thanks to our trusty neighbour and alternative energy specialist, Mr R (not his real name). He’s been developing his own fairly self-sufficient off-the-grid farm for the past 2 decades & has lots of interesting ideas on how to survive the “end of days”. He was amused by the fact that we buy bananas since one of the trees in his orchard (growing in a specially dug trench fed by his septic effluent) produced 700 bananas in one season.

Our container-office-complex is coming along nicely (on schedule for a Friday 13 Feb completion). I’ve spent days restoring the reclaimed Oregon front door of the office. The floors are in and the timber frame panels of the outer walls have been built and clad - I look forward to experiencing the space once the walls are up. We’ve invited some of our strong friends to a “wall-raising” party on Sunday at which time the walls will be raised and attached to one another. (A kind of Amish alternative to cheap labour!)

I don’t really go for new year’s resolutions, but this year I thought it would be great to start mastering the fine are of telepathy. I remember hearing years ago that this is the next evolutionary step for human kind and it’s a lot more convenient than email. With no knowledge of the subject, I’m hoping to find the ability stored somewhere in a dormant DNA strand. If you have any advice or experience to share, please send it along (in whichever way you wish).

This aerial view of our farm was taken by Kevin while dangling from a microlight....his guardian angels were active in full force as the engine seized while in midair. Luckily they were close to the landing site & were able to glide down to a smooth landing.

I’ll sign off with this quote from the DailyOM which resonated with me today:

“Personal growth always results when you let yourself expand beyond the farthest borders of what your life has been so far.”