On September, Suddenly

All of a sudden, it’s September. The end of summer is like that, slipping away before you’re quite sure that you’ve enjoyed every last bit of it. Even though it will still be warm for a while, the mornings are starting to have a certain crisp feel to them, scented with the coming frost.

This summer was magical. I didn’t get to do everything on my summer list, but I think that happens every year. I did some traveling (I love to travel – it’s one of my favorite things). I went to Chicago, Vegas, Rapid City. I am contemplating putting together an Albuquerque trip — I know, it’s the worst place. But my friend lives there, and they do have frozen yogurt, so for those two reasons alone, I would go again.

When I was a kid, we had a neighborhood group. We’d meet every night after dinner and we would play until well after it was dark. Those were a few of the best summers of my life, when we no longer felt like babies but weren’t old enough to try to pretend we were adults. Instead, we played hide-and-seek and roamed around until it was well past our bedtimes.

The other night, I heard the very same sounds coming from the backyard next door. Kids out past dark, giggling and playing. Those are the best sounds of summer, the sounds of people laughing.

I love the beginning of fall. As much as I am loath to admit that winter is coming, which means popsicle feet and more clothes (socks, ew), I love the way fall feels.. It’s the feeling of a new notebook, of neatly organized pencils and a brand new set of sharp crayons.

Fall is energizing.

 

On the Wedding Weekend, Happily

The road trip was a success. We left a little bit later than I had anticipated on Friday morning, but the drive went smoothly.

We stopped somewhere in Wyoming:

Rapid City is only about 7 hours from Denver – maybe I’ll have to start making the trip more often!

We grabbed some barbecue for dinner and then headed back to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep. I was exhausted.

This is the view from the Rapid City airport, where we rented a car. (Mom’s car is too old for road trips and Simon has a pending transmission issue, so we took my grandma’s car. It’s thirteen years old but only has 38,000 miles. I don’t think it had ever gone over 100 mph.) We needed to rent a car because the road up to the wedding was very rocky and nearly impassable by regular car.

This is a lovely picture but it doesn’t do the road justice. It was rocky. It was rough. I’d never really done off-roading before, so I threw the car into low gear and proceeded cautiously. I managed just fine.

The site of the wedding was about an hour and a half outside of Rapid City. Rural South Dakota is beautiful; it’s a lot like Colorado. After leaving the highway for a dirt road, we came up on the rocky road (just after I’d declared that we hadn’t needed to rent a car after all). Following the rocky road for probably the better part of a mile led us to another dirt road, which was the driveway.

We parked. We were the first ones there. They were still setting up for the traditional sweat, so we hung out for a while. It was hot! The couple on whose property the ceremony was held had an adorable granddaughter who was eager to help out.

The sweat was really cool. I was a little nervous going in because I’ve never participated in a sweat lodge before, but it was awesome. (This one was an abbreviated version, so that helped too.) We crawled in to the inipi (a dome-like structure) and then hot stones that had been cooking for several hours were added before the inipi was sealed and we were left in the pitch black.

As soon as the inipi was sealed, it got hot. I started sweating immediately. (The good kind of sweat, like two back-to-back hot yoga sessions.) They pour water on the stones, which are set into the earthen floor. That’s when it really gets steamy. We went around in a circle and said prayers for the bride and groom, and then we sat there for a little bit. Then it was over and it was the men’s turn!

I was bright red after the steamy sweat session, but i felt amazing. After changing clothes and putting on a much cooler dress, I waited for the men to be done with their sweat so we could have the ceremony.

The ceremony itself was beautiful – I’ve never seen a Lakota wedding before. The man who officiated was hilarious. He was half-German, half-Italian, but he had at some point come over here and become a Lakota. (His wife was the one who held our sweat session.) He told us all about what a Lakota wedding ceremony entails (flesh offerings!), and reminded us that this is a forever marriage. There is no option to divorce.

“What are you going to tell the Creator?” he asked us. “That you left your partner because it got hard?” He explained that in Lakota tradition, you go with your spouse to the Milky Way after you both die. He also reminded us that all that you can really own is your body. None of your possessions are really yours, because you can’t take them with you. Of course, your body doesn’t go with you, but it is your vessel for the time that you are here on Earth.

My birth mom, Lise, and her husband after the ceremony:

There is so much love between them and I’m absolutely thrilled for them to begin their lives together. (Well, continue their lives together.) He’s such a calming presence and they make a really wonderful couple. I’m thrilled to have just added more people to my family.

Speaking of family, I got to meet some of my blood relatives! My birth mom is one of twelve kids (so many!) and this weekend, I met four of my aunts and one uncle. They were very cool about it, and it was a no-pressure situation. It was awesome.

My birth mom gave me a ring that belonged to her mother! It’s an opal ring that her brother had made for their mother when he was in college. It’s so unique and absolutely beautiful. I am so overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

We made the trip back on Sunday after a somewhat disappointing trip to the Cosmos – it was exactly like Casa Bonita: go as an adult and it’s not the same at all. I kept expecting it to be longer, but it was so short! I hope that everyone who was with me had a good time – I’m worried that I wasted an hour of everyone’s time, but alas, it was great to get to hang out with everyone for a little bit longer.

I was tired and ready to be home – I cut about an hour off of the drive back home by taking advantage of the quiet back highways. We got home late on Sunday and I went home and immediately crawled into bed (I’m never in bed before ten, but I was wiped out). A very grumpy Carlos was there to greet me – apparently he’s not a fan of me taking road trips and leaving him home alone. He’s been very loud ever since, reminding me that I do indeed have a cat son and that he demands attention and love. I’m not leaving any time soon, the yowling is super cute but gets annoying very quickly.

On Wedding Weekend, Spiritedly

I forgot how much I love to travel.

Love. The other morning, I had the urge to just throw things into the back of my car (including the cat – who doesn’t hate the car as much as you’d think), and run far away. I wanted to drive until there was no more road, until I’d come upon the glorious nirvana that is endless waterfalls and starry nights that never get too cold.

I love grabbing my “mountain backpack” (that’s what I call it, I bet it has a proper mountain term) from the closet and filling it to the brim with whatever I’m going to need for the next three to five days. I love the travel-sized toiletries. I love the bits of brightly colored fabric straps that have been tied to the zipper pulls for the past four years. I love the way I feel when I wear it.

I love shouldering the always too-full pack (always. I’m going to be the worst backpacker ever) and heading into the airport. In those moments, before the back aches set in and my feet start to hurt, I am filled with the possibility of adventure, with excitement, with a tingling in my fingertips as I hand over my boarding pass to the TSA agent.

I always try to make the exact awkward face I’m making in my driver’s license or even worse (better?), the face from my passport. I don’t know if they find that as hilarious as I do, but it’s worth it.

Chicago, gold coast, streelights,

The view from my friend’s apartment downtown. Oh Chicago, your cold spring winds caught me off-guard and were terrible. But the magic of the city is palpable. Its energy flows around you. It’s sublime.

This is where Katie and Eric got married. Between those two trees. I started tearing up when I saw her start walking down the aisle. I teared up again when her dad gave a speech, but it was her mom’s that put me over the edge. It was beautiful.

White wine. Photo booth. I kept calling it a “king hat.” It’s very obviously a crown. I’ve always been good with synonyms. Dancing. It was so wonderful to see my friends. I have missed them.

On Sunday, my friend Anne drove out to the burbs to pick me up and then we went back to her place and watched new episodes of Arrested Development and got frozen yogurt. I went with her to a birthday party before heading back to Denver.

I’ve been telling Evan that I want to go camping with him (athleticism and adventurous spirits are so sexy, but I’m nervous that I don’t have enough of that – maybe enthusiasm can make up for it?). My goal is to go to Conundrum Hot Springs, which is a very lovely 8.5 mile hike each way. While I was in Chicago, with my “mountain backpack,” I took the stairs as much as possible at the train stations to practice hiking. (Obviously this is a very flawed approach, but you have to work with what you’ve got.)

Sunday was great – I woke up early and went to REI with Evan. I’m really not having great luck with not losing Nalgene water bottles (I left yet another one in Spokane), so I thought I’d try yet again.  (80th time’s the charm, right?) We’re two days in and I’ve not lost them yet.

[Hah, I just have to insert a thought here that has nothing to do with anything, except losing stuff. My freshman year of college, while being young and dumb, I lost my camera at a bar. Shortly after, my mom sent me a care package with a package of cards with a note attached that said, “Maybe these will entertain you on those Friday nights when you don’t want to go out and lose something.” I love my mom.]

After REI, we went to brunch and then, faced with the prospect of an entire day off, I went to see Jacob. There was coffee, cleaning (I owed him – he’s helped me clean so many times), and then we met up with my brother and his friends for some grilling in the park.

Delicious.

Evan was at work, so I brought him dinner – tucked into an empty 6-pack was a cornucopia (ha, mostly) of delicious picnic foods: a brat with grilled onions and German mustard, chips, grapes, and cookies.  He loved it. (Relief. I was a bit nervous that it was going to be the worst thing.)

Summer is coming and I’m in full adventure mode. I want nothing more than to take road trips and to see things I’ve never seen before. Also, I’d love to actually get around to planting my garden (too late, but whatever), and doing yard work, and relaxing in my hammock. I’m filled with the same excited anticipation that I get waiting to get on the plane. It’s endless possibility and experience and it’s all in front of me. This is going to be the best thing.

On Growth as a Human, Gradually

Last night, I was in the bathtub, reading Good Housekeeping and drinking wine (because apparently I’m making the leap from my 20s straight to middle age), when I had one of those moments of sudden clarity. I realize that this is a conclusion that everyone eventually comes to, or in fact may be sheer common sense, but it hit me like a ton of bricks:

If you do something for long enough, you will eventually start to take on characteristics of that activity. 

I realized last night that I’d over-subscribed to magazines. This is much like my habit of signing up for Cousera.org classes thinking I can find the ten hours a week I’ll need for the class. “Of all the people I know, you’re the person with the least time. You should not be signing up for classes,” someone told me, laughing when I tried to rationalize my class-taking habit. “But I just want to learn!” I countered. “Even if I only do half the readings, or a third of them, I may learn something valuable.”

As a kid, I absorbed everything I could get my hands on. Now, with less time to spend absorbing knowledge, I’ve had to make conscientious efforts to maximize my exposure to valuable information. To be a fully conversational adult – and if you want to go even further and become a master of trivial knowledge – you need to be well-versed in most topics: money, politics, fashion, pop culture, business, science, etc.

Since I rather enjoy being right – one of my favorite aphorisms is “I’m not wrong” – I would prefer to be knowledgeable about a subject going into a conversation about it. It helps me to form arguments (not in the sense of altercations, but for debates), but more than that, if I’m unsure, it helps me ask good questions that will help me learn or clarify any confusion I may have about the subject.

But mostly, I just want to know everything about everything and be really good at everything. Right now. But holy shit, that’s harder than it looks. (That’s also a lesson I should have learned many times during the course of my childhood: climbing ropes, doing pull-ups, overhand serves at volleyball, piano playing, running….)

A few months ago, I was thinking about all of the changes I wanted to make, and instead of leaping directly into them, I wanted to slowly expose myself over time, hoping that certain things would rub off on me. Then, seemingly fortuitously, there was a magazine sale. $5 for each subscription? Sign me up! (My bank account cringed and rolled its eyes when it saw $30 in silly purchases.)

As a result, in addition to my regularly scheduled Economist, Esquire, and Elle, I now receive: Popular Mechanics, Town & Country, Redbook, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan (just to be clear, I’m well aware that this is nothing more than a good mental break), Good Housekeeping, and Elle Home. It might be Elle Design, Elle Decor, whatever, I don’t know. But it’s not important.

Obviously you can see that I intend to do: get better at knowing how to differentiate between whiskeys and how to wear a men’s suit, housekeeping and maintenance, decorating, science, cars, world affairs and politics, and girl stuff: fashion, accessorizing, food, makeup, etc.

The girl world is far more terrifying to me than politics. I will always choose to talk Benghazi before Burberry. But….there are moments when you can see that movement has occurred, that you are further down the path that you set yourself on. On Tuesday night, I had a dinner thing. I had found a dress that I liked at the Nord Rack (seriously, their selection of $20 – $25 dresses is unmatched) so I knew I wanted to wear that. I accessorized it without even thinking. I added a belt, something I never would have done in the past. I wore different colored accessories. Mindful of the fact that it might rain, I wore my blue trench coat. I looked fabulous.

Not my best picture, and I wish you could see the whole thing — my point is sort of moot without a full picture, I guess — but here’s me and my partner in crime for sushi devouring. We’re adorable:

It’s happening. Without realizing it, I’m starting to take on the characteristics of the media I’m taking in (for both better and worse). I consciously hoped that exposure would start to produce results, and it has. Granted, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, but these baby steps are the steps that move us forward without us even realizing how far we have come.

Study something (like the news) for ten minutes a day, every day, and after a year, you’ve ended up studying it for about 61 hours (if my math is correct). 61 hours! Imagine how much time you spend doing negative things or engaging in bad habits. Granted, this is an overly simplistic and optimistic view of productivity – but after reading about a dude who spends just 15 minutes per day cleaning, I was inspired to spend 15 minutes a day thinking about spending 15 minutes a day cleaning, which may eventually translate into actual cleaning.

The other night, I spent two hours cleaning. Not rushed, hurried, “they’ll be here in ten minutes for the party!” cleaning, but slow, careful cleaning. It was magic. It was amazing how much better I felt and how much I wanted to continue – just for the sake of continuing the progress. Baby steps.

Baby steps for everything. This weekend, I’m baby-stepping into gardening. Keep your fingers crossed. This will be a disaster, but hopefully the kind that comes with the “I’ll do better next year” conclusions.

Now I realize that it seems simple. And it is. “You are what you eat.” “Kindness is as kindness does.” It’s all exposure – who and what you are exposed to shapes you.

But it’s interesting, because I argue that that’s not always entirely the case. My grandfather always says that you are who you associate with (which mostly likely means I’m a gay hipster), and to a certain extent, he’s not wrong. It’s like people who start to look alike after years together, or people who start to look like their pets. 

I hung out with a certain group of people in high school. I took on certain characteristics and behaviors, but I was never fully absorbed. I think I do the same things now, even though my groups of friends are vastly different, I fit in with them due my ability to adapt to them or perhaps it’s how my characteristics fit into different groups.

My friends now are super into electronic music. I like it; I’ll dance to it; it’s not my life. I still prefer hip hop. It’s funny how that works as we grow into adulthood – we don’t know everything about our friends anymore. But that’s cool, because what they’re into exposes us to such different experiences and we get to have adventures that we’d never otherwise have.

I always joke that when I got diagnosed with ADHD, I imagined that the medication would turn me into Monica from Friends – she’s obsessive about neatness and order. (That’s actually not a joke. I was crushed when I realized that wasn’t how it worked.) Apparently, organization did not come pre-programmed with my particular model. Damn. Even when I make conscious choices to be neater, I can’t. So perhaps I’ll have to spend some time around super neat people in an attempt to gain neatness through osmosis. Either that, or I’ll have to spend 15 minutes a day cleaning until it’s just part of my routine.

Do we get to make conscious choices about the habits that we pick up? Or is it luck of the draw? Are our proclivities merely the products of our cumulative experiences or are they more than that, innate but dormant until we happen upon them circumstantially? Do the attributes that we grow into stem from our intentions?

I’m still left with questions, and a stack of magazines I need to read. But at the end of the day, I’m confident that all of this exploration will lead me in the right direction – and eventually, gradually, I’ll be the person I set out to become. Not that the person I am now is all that bad, of course. It’s just that she can’t manage to hang her clothes up or remember to pick up all the lip gloss  — but on the plus side, her brother now knows the difference between lipstick and lip gloss, a very important distinction. See, he’s learning new things, too! Just think – some day I’ll be in my backyard, reading magazines in my hammock, drinking a mojito made with mint that I grew. Ah, life will be just as beautiful then as it is now.

 

 

On Pictures, Belatedly

I look very serious. If I were Virginia Woolf, this is how I would pose for pictures. Jacob and I grabbed dinner with a friend of his one night last week.

Cold feet by the fire.

Jacob and Moses. That squished cat face is the cutest thing, but the striped socks are a close second.

Katie and I went out on Friday. We tried to take a picture on a rooftop with the moon and the city in the background, but that turned out to be far too challenging. I think this picture is adorable. We explored her new neighborhood and had a blast.

We ended up grabbing our last drinks at Linger, a bar/restaurant that used to be a mortuary. We got fancy cocktails, which was a mistake, because I was treated to a seriously pretentious overview of the various “herbacious” liquors the made up the drink.

I’m down for a learning experience, and do in fact welcome them, but there’s nothing worse than feeling patronized while suffering through a cocktail that tastes spicy and sour and like root vegetables simultaneously. (The bartender’s mistake was that he insulted girly drinks. I may be a gin and tonic girl, but Katie is a lover of all things girly drink. She’s unabashed about her love of them, and I respect her for it.)

I’d rather drink a “flirtini” than have to go through the rigmarole of having to hear the ingredient list to a fancy hipster cocktail, which is surprisingly parallel to the ingredient list of the flirtini. Not really, but if you add “vintage” or “rare” or “small-batch” to the ingredients in a flirtini, you might get pretty damn close.

It did get me drunk. So you win, Linger bartender. You did good. But the next time I hear a bartender say “herbacious,” I’m bolting. (I do sort of think it’s cool that the monks haven’t changed the recipe. I just wasn’t in the mood.)

Saturday morning, I went with my brother and his friend to buy my birthday present. It’s a hammock! All I’ve been talking about for months is a hammock, and so Mike surprised me by telling me what my birthday present was. Mike brought it home and set it up, hanging the hammock from the tree in our backyard. I am so ridiculously excited for this. This might be the best birthday present ever. It’s soft and comfortable and deep – you can fall into it and it will hold you.

I’m so happy.

After we got the hammock, Katie came and met us at REI. The lure of sunshine was too much, so we went to play frisbee in the park. I’m terrible a it, and everyone made fun of me because my frisbee-throwing dance is very much like a ballerina. There’s a lot of leg extension.

Then we walked around, exploring Katie’s new neighborhood, which is slowly succumbing to gentrification. It’s a beautiful old neighborhood with stunning houses, but it’s quickly being overshadowed by the new builds. I don’t know what it is, but I much prefer an older house. One of the reasons that I love the house we live in now is because of the older features, like rounded archways and built-in shelving (in the walls). That’s the kind of stuff that you don’t find in new builds. They’re sleek, but that lack that comfortable, lived-in feeling.

She has a pool! I’m a sucker for bodies of water. They draw me in.

On Earth Day 2013, Sandily

Happy Earth Day 2013!

When we were little, Earth Day was a big deal. We did projects, and papers, and dioramas about Earth Day. Maybe I’m making that up, but I remember loving Earth Day. I looked forward to it. I think I imagined that my future self (which would equate to present me) would be this great planter of trees every year on Earth Day. To date, I have planted zero trees.

I did, however, rake my entire garden last weekend and plan on planting some things this year, so I feel like that’s a baby step in the right direction. Some day, we may be eating vegetables that I grew. I’m thinking tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, mint, and so on. In reality, it will most likely be a sad plot that starts out magnificent but ends up overgrown with weeds. But everyone does that at least once, right?

I may have no idea what I’m doing, but I have friends who know how to do this, so I imagine I can call on them to help assist me with planning, planting, and harvesting.

In the meantime, let’s focus on current ecological issues (of which there about ten billion). I was reading this article about building structures out of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are great (not really – they’re terrible for the environment, but they’re ubiquitous), and they’ve been used in a ton of very ingenious ways such as providing light to homes and being used to help grow gardens inside.

However, reading about building structures out of plastic, all I could think about were the drawbacks. What about weather? What about security? How is the building going to hold up and be a strong structure going forward?

When I was in South Africa, one of the biggest problems in the townships (informal settlements) was the fact that the houses were built out of essentially reclaimed materials. The houses (some more shack than house) were built out of wood, sheet metal, plastic, anything and everything. The floors were often dirt, or dirt covered in carpeting. It’s hard to keep a place like that clean, but more than that, it’s hard to protect that sort of structure from the elements.

When a fire breaks out in a township, it’s often inside one of the homes. However, it’s nearly impossible to contain the fire based on a number of factors, including the lack of accessibility to running water, proximity to the other homes, and the materials from which the houses are constructed. When one house burns, it’s likely that the others around it are going to burn too, causing unnecessary damage and threatening human life.

The building project I visited was creating a house out of sandbags. These sandbags are laid down in a concrete foundation and eventually plastered or covered in concrete, creating a structure that is nearly impermeable, providing a safer structure that can withstand the elements.

This sandbag house is such a wonderful idea because it makes use of the ubiquitous sand that’s found in and around the Cape Flats where many of these townships are located. It’s cheap to buy the concrete mix and the bags for the sand, and with some community involvement and a little planning, a building can be built relatively quickly and very cheaply. Even better? It’s not flammable like the other houses, offering protection in case of a rapidly spreading fire.

Below is the article that I wrote while I was there, that was published in the Cape Chameleon, the publication of the Projects Abroad journalism project. I think it’s important to highlight sustainable building because it can help draw attention to solutions for problems that badly need solving.

Houses of Sand

THE FUTURE OF ECO-BUILDING

Issue No.52010

Words: Katherine Barry

A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.

The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.

Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.

‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’

Government response

According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.

Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty-one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.

While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?

Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.

Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.

20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.

Benefits of sand building

This cost-effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.

Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.

This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.

Structural soundness

Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.

They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Spreading the word

The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.

Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.

Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.

Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.

The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.

Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.

On Spring, Expectantly

What is it about the first hints of spring that incite a need for motion? I feel as though the minute the scent of the forthcoming growth stings the nostrils I have the urge for adventure, for chasing the dawn, for stars and night frisbee. (Night frisbee is my weakness. It gets me every time.)

This weekend brought warmth and the promise of summer heat – that first day that makes you shed your shoes and run outside, only to find that the ground is still cold and damp. Those are the days when you don’t care, you let the mud seep up between your toes and you relish it, knowing that soon enough, you won’t be cold.

Last night, as I left the restaurant where I was having second dinner with a couple of friends, I smelled summer. In my mind, I was no longer walking down a dark street in early March. I was suddenly walking down a dark street in June. It’s that smell that transports you, that reminds you of soft streetlights and sangria shared with friends. It’s the smell that calls you to the park, to sit on blankets, to listen to jazz. Oh, it’s the best.

When I was little, there was always that first really warm day before spring. I’d open all of my bedroom windows and run out to the backyard, where I’d begin to dig around in the still-frozen garden. My toes would be freezing because I was (still am) always barefoot and too stubborn to put on real shoes.

I had a dream last night about that garden, and about the wild green onions that used to grow there, and how I’d pull them, and chop them, and put them into pretend stews that I’d create using mud and sticks. My hands would reek of onion for days, but it was always so worth it. In my dream, they were there, growing sooner than ever, their green tops sticking out of the earth. They were wonderful. I smelled the spring and I woke content.

***

Speaking of things from the earth (what? totally legitimate seque, I swear), Katie and I juiced yesterday. She’s into making juices and I am into drinking juices, so this was bound to happen eventually. We ended up at the grocery store, loading up on fruits and veggies, before heading back to her house and breaking out the juicer. It’s quite the ordeal, with all the cutting and washing and juicer setup taken into account.

I had so much fun and I only cut myself once – great success. We made two different kinds – one green, one beet/orange. (I have such a thing for beet juice, but have never tried to do it myself since I’m intimidated by fresh beets. – That’s not weird at all, either.)  I think it’s something I may have to look into getting into. It could be fun. Or alternately, a piece of kitchen equipment that hangs out in my cabinets, collecting dust.

On the Road Trip to Albuquerque, Excitedly

We set off to spend a weekend geeking out over “Breaking Bad” in Albuquerque, the trip we’d planned on our first date. This was officially our tenth date, but it was so much more than that. It’s been so much more than that.

If you’ve never seen it, “Breaking Bad” is a show on AMC about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth because he’s been diagnosed with cancer and he wants to provide for his family. It’s an incredibly well-done show. It really asks a lot of “what if” questions that you’d never think to ask yourself and brings morality into focus. It’s well-written and it pulls at my heart in ways I never thought television could. (But then again, I cry at Google commercials, so it’s a given that I’m going to cry at this.)

I-25 to Albuquerque

I was so excited to spend a weekend away. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with work and the impending home purchase, so the promise of a relaxing weekend (three whole days off!) was almost more than I could bear. Matt and I have been communicating constantly since we met, but our dates are relegated to the weekends due to our jobs and the distance between us, so the thought of spending 72 hours with him was both thrilling and nerve-wracking.

We stayed at the Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque (great AAA rate!). It was lovely – the hotel used to be a hospital, but was redone a few years ago. It’s clean, bright, and gorgeous. The hot tub is open 24 hours a day! We made sure to get as much hot tub time as possible in. The first night, they had a party at the rooftop bar, which got to be annoying. The guy working the front desk said that one guest had called to complain, saying that he would come down in his underwear and start yelling. That thought made me laugh.  Our room was a corner room in a separate building, so we had tons of windows and a huge bathroom.

But seriously, who throws a Halloween party on November 2nd? Albuquerque does. Apparently, they don’t let go of Halloween there – we were at a diner on Saturday and the waitress asked us if we had enjoyed Halloween. Very strange.

Saturday morning, we started our adventure. Matt was adorable and made us the sweetest map ever – he pinned all of the filming locations that we wanted to visit (I found the locations on a blog and sent him the link) and then added pictures and the physical addresses of each.

The first stop was the Crossroads Motel, which actually wasn’t on our map. We happened to drive by it on our first night in Albuquerque. (Oh, there was also an incident in which we attempted to get slices of pizza and were treated horribly by the manager after waiting more than 20 minutes only to be asked “Are you waiting for something?” by the girl who took our order. When we finally got a refund, the man snapped “I’m not refunding the Dr. Pepper!” Jeez, dude, chill. I didn’t ask for that. At that point, I just wanted like $5 in cash and I wanted to bail.)

We were standing in the parking lot of the motel when a man approached us, opened his wallet, and said, “DEA, what are you doing here?” Of course, he wasn’t from the DEA, but he was at the motel with his wife doing the same thing we were doing – taking pictures of filming locations. They were from Albuquerque, so we traded maps and chatted for a few minutes before moving on to the next stop: Jesse and Jane’s apartments.

One of the main characters is named Jesse Pinkman. He’s a small-time meth cook before he joins Walter White (the chemistry teacher) and their business expands. I love him, and one of my favorite story lines of the show is his star-crossed love affair with a recovering addict named Jane. They live side-by-side in a duplex, they fall in love, then (spoiler alert) she dies. It’s sad. But it’s beautiful. They are adorable together.

I knew that this was going to be my favorite spot, and it absolutely was. This was the site where I felt the most connected, not necessarily to the show, but to all of the emotions that I felt while watching it and all of the emotions that I felt while standing there with Matt. (We have some adorable couple pictures all over this property that you’ll see once they’re edited and ready for viewing.)

Jesse Pinkman's apartment, Breaking Bad, Jane Margolis,

(Jesse ends a lot of his sentences in the word “bitch.” It’s his way of emphasizing something. When I originally posted these, I posted them with the caption, “Jesse Pinkman’s apartment, bitch!” just because it felt like the right thing to do.)

Jesse Pinkman, apartment, Breaking Bad, Jane Margolis,

When we got to Walter’s house, we walked around the block, holding hands and chatting. (The curbs are seriously high in that neighborhood. I would destroy Simon. I’m very glad I don’t live there – I was driving Matt’s car, and when I parked, I purposefully parked about a foot off the curb so I wouldn’t take any chances of hitting the curb with his car!)

It was surreal.

There’s a scene in the show where the teacher, Walt, gets angry and throws a pizza on his roof, so apparently at one point, the family who lives in the house had to put out a sign that said “Please don’t throw pizzas on our roof.” Imagine going outside every day and having to get pizzas off your roof. I bet they clog the gutters and get annoying pretty quickly. (Still not the worst thing that could happen to your house after it’s been used as a filming location, though.)

Walter White's house, Breaking Bad, meth, Albuquerque

This is us posing in front of Walter’s house, but you can’t tell.

Hank and Marie (the chemistry teacher’s DEA agent brother-in-law and his wife) live in this insanely gorgeous neighborhood. Better than their house was the park nearby – we got out and hiked around and I got to climb on some rocks!

We also got to go to the Chicken Man’s restaurant! (In the show, there’s a super awesome meth dealer named Gus who owns a chain of chicken restaurants, so I call him the Chicken Man. In real life, the chicken restaurant is a real restaurant. We went and I got a soda.) It was amazing. We also went to the Octopus car wash – I’ll post pictures as soon as I get them from Matt.

Leaving was such sweet sorrow. We woke up, fully intending to go take more pictures near this gorgeous wooded area we’d seen the day before, but ran out of time and instead headed to Santa Fe. We had lunch there, walked around the Cathedral, stopped at Trader Joe’s (wine! chocolate covered cherries! chocolate covered pretzels! tea! pumpkin yogurt!) then headed back to Denver so that I could be home at a reasonable hour to be ready for work today.

On the whole, I would not return to Albuquerque willingly, unless you promised me that we could stop at Olo Yogurt Bar – where I had red velvet frozen yogurt topped with strawberries, mangoes, kiwi, gummy bears, and chocolate sprinkles. The city itself is stuck in the past – they have Furr’s cafes and lots of old neon. We didn’t really see much revitalization, but the neighborhoods that we found ourselves in were absolutely lovely. So perhaps there’s still a bunch of Albuquerque that we’re missing.

The hotel was amazing. The continental breakfast was Matt’s least favorite part, but I found it to be par for the course (they had me at Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Earl Grey tea). The shampoo was his favorite part. My favorite part? Hot tub. Sheets. Quarantine signs when you wanted privacy (a nod to the hotel’s beginnings as a hospital). We laughed when they talked about the “nurse’s quarters” because the building had a smokestack next to it…obviously not nurse’s quarters.

It was the best tenth date ever.

Denver, Albuquerque, I-25

 

I’ll post more pictures soon!

And note to everyone: VOTE! Tomorrow is election day and if you want the right to bitch for the next four years, you absolutely must vote tomorrow so you can at least say you did your part.

obama 2012, i voted, sticker, colorado,

I, of course, voted for Obama last week. Here’s hoping I won’t have to spend the next four years bitching. (According to Nate Silver’s newest forecast, I should breathe easy because it looks like Obama’s going to take the election easily. You can find Nate Silver and his election forecast on the Five Thirty Eight blog at http://www.nytimes.com.)

Nate Silver election forecast

But seriously – I care more about you voting than who you vote for. (I mean, that’s totally a lie, but I will find it even harder to respect you if you don’t vote than if you voted for someone I think you should in no way logically support.)

On All Intents and Purposes, Intensively

Last Friday, anticipation of our second date sang through my blood, mingling with the terror of an upcoming professional experience: my first trade show appearance. It’s simple: you go, you haul a booth, you set up said booth, then you stand in front of it (or off the side, angled close enough to be attached yet far enough away that you’re not blocking the text that you’ve so carefully crafted) and smile and answer questions about your software.

So I went. I struggled over what to wear, but decided on a loose tweed skirt, black tights, black cardigan, black flats. (Black flats were the best choice. I’m tall to begin with, and wasn’t in the mood to have my double-jointed ankles falling all over the conference.) It was perfect. I looked professional, appropriate, and blended in exactly as I wanted to.

We set up our booth. The attendees wandered through the hall. I smiled. I networked. I talked about legal software and more legal software, and I was happy. I was comfortable, the nerves were gone. At one point, an attendee came over to my table and told me that she wasn’t interested in legal software, but she thought that I was absolutely beautiful. I glowed with pleasure at the unexpected compliment. I love that legal administrators are the friendly grandmother type. It eased the nerves. Now I am one hundred percent sure I can take on lawyers, which I’m surprisingly not intimidated by at all. (That may or may not be a lie.)

It was a good day.

***

But date night was even better! Second date nerves had me throwing things all over my room, unsure of what to wear. I googled it, and one of the results said that I should have worn jeans and a cute top on the first date then upped it to a dress on the second. I rolled my eyes. In the end, I was cold, so I decided on skinny jeans, combat boots, and a gray sweater.

It was cold, dark, and snowing. I was late, but only because he was early. We ate sushi at the place by my house, and I found myself chattering nervously. After dinner, lulled into our first real extended silence, I swirled my water around in my glass and looked up at him. “Can I tell you something?” he asked. Then he told me that I terrify him, but in the best way. He compared me to a t-rex. I raised my eyebrows. Smart man that he is, he quickly assuaged my fears that I somehow resemble a lizard-like – worse, prehistoric – predator. The opposite, in fact. He is under the impression that I am radiant, intelligent, and wonderful. I’m not going to complain.

I told him about my errand-rule: you can tell a lot about a potential relationship by running errands. If doing lame but necessary things together is enjoyable and positive, then the relationship has a better chance of surviving. As it so happened, he needed to run some errands in preparation for Halloween. I was overjoyed, of course, since I find the idea utterly romantic. (Yeah, I get that it’s weird. Whatever.)

Our third date was on Sunday – a day date complete with errands, pure heaven – and it started off with bagels. Then it was off to Target in search of Halloween decorations. Since he commutes for our dates, I drove. Oh god, my car! He saw my car and didn’t leave me right then and there, so that’s got to be a good sign. We drove, and when he didn’t say anything. I started to breathe again.

Pulling into the Target parking lot, he asked me, “Have you ever seen 50/50″? I said no, but I knew what he was going to say. The car scene. Long story short: The guy gets into the girl’s car and it’s got stuff all over the floor. She’s talking and he’s like, “Pull over,” and she does, expecting him to get sick, but then he grabs stuff off her floor and goes to throw it away. She stops him and retrieves her dinner from the pile. It’s cute. When Katie first told me about the car scene in the movie, she ended the story with, “There’s still hope for us!” meaning that someone would still love us even though our cars are messy. She was right.

After two different Targets (when you need a furry spider with orange lights for your wall, you NEED a furry spider with orange lights for your wall), plenty of Halloween decorations and a pair of socks, and a viewing of the movie “Frankenweenie” – during which I cried twice because dogs and kids get me every time – we found ourselves in City Park, wandering.

City Park fall

Autumn in the park is beautiful. He gets credit for this photo, since I am nowhere near that talented a photographer. I wish he’d gotten one with my actual smile instead of my satisfied-but-haven’t-yet-broken-into-a-smile smile. But alas, the more I look at this picture, the more I like it.

This feels different, but in a good way. It’s intense and familiar. I know that I’m prone to leaping into things with both feet, but this is something I’m simultaneously leaping into and dipping just one big toe into. I want to make sure it’s right before going any further, except the more we discuss, the more I find we share. I am examining our motives for seeking out the companionship of another, questioning everything, basking in the newness of it all, and glowing, for no reason other than sometimes you just need to let the light through. The only way to know if it’s right is to forge on and build fierce memories. Fierce, like a t-rex.

On the Weekend Adventure to the Grand Canyon, Impressively

I didn’t think he was serious. I think we were watching Donnie Darko when it came up that I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. “Let’s go,” he said. (For the record, they all say that. We make tentative plans and then we don’t go.)

Friday night, I left work, went to babysit, and then flew home to shower and pack. By 10pm, we were on the road, headed west. He drove until Vail – where we encountered the full force of the law, so I drove until Moab, where we switched again, and then I promptly fell asleep. When I woke up, it was 7am and we were somewhere in Arizona.

We got to the gates of the park at 8:30. After a quick change of clothes in the parking lot, we went. And for the first time, I saw the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful.

We climbed around on rocks. Neither of us had brought an insane amount of hiking gear, so we stayed near the top and just looked around. Wandered through some ruins. (Not really ruins, more like signs pointing out trees and what things might have been. Underwhelming.)

(We were staring into the sun. Terrible idea. Both of us are squinty and look miserable.)

By noon, the awe surrounding the immensity of the canyon was wearing off and the annoyance caused by fellow tourists was beginning to wear on us, so we decided to bail on the park (and the already purchased camping reservation I’d purchased).

We had lunch. (I’ve been eating salami, cheese, and bread for weeks on end and it still tastes just as good every time.) 

I asked that we find water, and he pointed to Lake Powell on the map. So off we went. Driving past the North Rim area of the Grand Canyon as you head toward Page, Arizona is like viewing the Wall in Game of Thrones. It’s amazing. It looms over everything.

We got into the park, wandered around looking for a spot to swim, and landed at a very sandy beach. We crossed a very nasty looking inlet and then hiked through some spiky bushes to an empty sandy beach area. It was empty, and so it became ours.

We decided to camp there, so we hiked back across the muck and got our stuff. And hiked back across the muck and back through the spiky bushes and down to our beach spot.

Swimming and a sunset walk rounded out our evening. We finished off the meat and cheese by the lake and fell asleep just after the sun went down. (I am a little bummed about that – I was looking forward to night swimming.)

I usually don’t fall asleep very well when I’m camping. I’m too jumpy and nervous. As 1:00 am rolled around and I was awake for the fourth time, I finally pulled out Mike’s sleeping bag and threw it over me. Snuggled into that, I fell asleep and stayed asleep. I woke up to an empty tent and a beautiful sunrise (ish).

Britt swam out to that giant rock you saw above, and I nearly had seven heart attacks once I stopped being able to see his head above the water. (I used to be a strong swimmer, but am really out of shape now and couldn’t have gotten out there even if I’d had to.) My consolation was a boat floating near the side of the big rock. In my mind, they’d give him a ride back, and that’s exactly what ended up happening. The boat came directly at me, someone yelled “Man overboard!” and he jumped to swim back to me. I waved, yelled, “Thank you!” and felt my heart start to beat again.

We packed up camp and headed home, but not before getting the car stuck in the deep sand and being towed out by a shirtless man with a cigarette dangling from his lips. “You kids have fun,” he said before climbing back into this truck and heading back to the beach. There was even a shower involved! It was outdoors with no warm water, but it may have been one of the best showers I’ve ever taken. I was so happy to stand in the spray and feel the soap slide down me and drain away into the sand.

The redness of the rock and the blue of the sky reminded me of our road trip through South Africa and made me miss the country. The Native American land that we drove through made my heart ache. Handwritten signs spelling out “Tire Shop” looked just like the ones in the South African townships. If you could replace the tract housing with metal sheets, it could have just as easily been Capricorn or Vryground. Even the roadside markets, with their handmade stalls and hand-painted signs were similar. I could sense the rawness of the whole thing, and I felt simultaneously moved and unmoved. It was interesting. It was the same mix of emotions I felt in Cape Town. Respect for the situation but understanding of the complexities that have made it so. Realization that there can be no swift change, and that the emotions that haunt those involved will not fade for generations to come, if at all.

I drove while he slept. I threw my phone on shuffle and listened to music and just let the road take me. I was happy. Once I started to ache, I pulled over, got food and gas, and then switched spots with him. I didn’t sleep on the way home – he’d brought me his Kindle to read since I mentioned that I wanted to read The Hunger Games. I got engrossed in the book while we still had daylight.

We landed in front of my apartment before 10. I hauled my stuff in and made noodles while Carlos yowled and rubbed against me, apparently surprised to see me return home. Instead of falling asleep immediately, I read a few more chapters of the book and then finally turned out my light.

The weekend was fun. I’m surprised that we traveled so well together and I genuinely enjoyed myself. I was stressed before we left because of my natural pre-trip stress and the fact that I felt like we weren’t communicating well, but as soon as we were on the road that all melted away. This continues to unfold in an interesting way, and I am quite curious to see where it leads.