Are you a mosquito?

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Mosquitos are small. But they have a big impact. Just ask anyone who has spent a sleepless night swotting at the darting midgets!

You and I are a bit like mosquitos. Far better looking and less annoying (let’s hope☺). But no less capable of making an impact.

Late last week I attended a presentation given by a previous member of the National Planning Commission in South Africa, Mr. Elias Masilela.

The presentation was to a group of unforgiving attorneys at a top law firm in South Africa. Its purpose was to talk about South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030 (https://nationalplanningcommission.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/ndp-2030-our-future-make-it-work_0.pdf) and how it is to be implemented. A plan that with its aim of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030, had a lot of us excited when it was first launched, but with the passing of time and seemingly limited action on the part of government, seems to have lost its lustre.

After all, a good plan is merely that. A good plan that only becomes a reality when action is taken to implement it.

At the presentation, Mr. Masilela, predictably faced questions about our governments’ intent (or lack thereof – depending on who you speak with) to implement the NDP. These questions are absolutely valid. After all, the South African government is a key stakeholder if the NDP is to be successfully implemented. And it is a favourite ‘bug bear’ of attorneys (myself included) to note that we have a myriad of world-class plans, policies and laws in South Africa, but that we seem to more often than not fall short in their implementation.

But Mr. Masilela replied with an answer that has stuck with me. Government is not the only party that must seek to understand and implement the NDP if it is to become a reality. Indeed, “[g]overnment begins in the home, grows into the community, expands towards the city, flares toward the province, and engulfs the entire land” (quote from the NDP).

If we are to achieve the future we want, it is up to each of us to be a mosquito. To:

– read and understand the NDP: what it seeks to achieve and how (even if just the executive summary which can be found here – http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/Executive%20Summary-NDP%202030%20-%20Our%20future%20-%20make%20it%20work.pdf);
– commit to the NDP (if you believe in what it sets out to achieve) and in so doing, in our personal and professional lives seek to ensure that we are part of the team working towards making the plan a reality; and
– hold ourselves, our government and all our institutions accountable for making the NDP 2030 happen.
“Be daring, be first, be different, be just. If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” – Anita Roddick, Founder & former CEO of The Body Shop International

I would love to hear back from you on your views regarding this post. Whether you agree or think I’m writing a whole lot of hogwash..

Best wishes until the next post (with further updates about our home project still to follow),
Aimée

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Follow up on a “Place to call home”

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So – I’ve gone ahead and started my project of everyday capturing something small in or about Joburg that has made me smile.

If you would like to be part of this project or follow the pictures, please take a look at https://instagram.com/aimsmg/ and/or https://www.pinterest.com/search/my_pins/?q=goodinjoburg. Please feel free to add other pictures of Joburg that have made you smile – or if you’re not a Joburger – maybe start something similar for the city in which you live?

Wishing you a lovely day!

A place to call home.

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I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been through a bit of a rough patch and it’s never easy to write about that, or to write about something different when that’s not really what’s on one’s mind.

After much thought, I’ve decided that this journey of blogging must be open and honest if my blog is to be what was intended at the start. A platform for us to think differently about the world in which we and our children live, and how we impact on the people around us – to strive for the world that we want for ourselves and our children.

South Africa is my home and it is home to my family. It is a crazy beautiful, vibrant place. A place of many cultures and languages. Stories and smiles. Natural beauty and dance. Music and innovation. Hope and ambition.

It is also a violent place. A society in turmoil. A society that is in need of leadership. So much better than it was before 1994 in so many ways; but also so very far off from the free, equal, happy and prosperous society that we had hoped for in 1994.

I came face to face with this dichotomy when I was recently held up in my home in an armed robbery by fellow South Africans. In my home. While my son was in a room close by with his grandfather and I feared for their safety. The robbers took what they wanted and eventually left. The police came to take statements and open a case number, but I hold no hope of anyone being held to account. And I’m sure that these people have freely gone on to commit other acts of a similar nature to other people.

Is this beautiful place where we and our family live, where we are soon to begin building our dream home and where we have set out to make our mark and our imaginings a reality – still the place that I want to call home?

I don’t know. Fear and danger are not things that I want for my family. And they make it difficult to feel content and to be happy. Of course, this is all so very complex and I am not the only person in the family to consider! And another country or city cannot just be made to feel like home because we wish it to be so.

In the mean time, I have decided on a new project for myself. Everyday, to focus on the little things about my home that make me smile. That make Joburg special, and sometimes even wonderful.

So, I’m going to aim, everyday, to capture in a picture something (other than a picture of Fynn who never fails to make me smile even when he makes me mad☺) to do with Joburg that has made me happy. This will require me, everyday, to take notice of and be grateful for all of the wonderful things and good that surround me.

And who knows, they may even trigger the same thoughts for someone else? It is for this reason that I will share these pics on my instagram and pinterest account. And just maybe you will decide to do the same? And we will have started a whole new project focusing not just on what needs to be fixed in our world, but also on what is good. And that good is often made up of or by the people who live around us, and the natural beauty of the place in which we live.

So, this is the first picture that I will post….

Samuel at BP in Hyde Park

A picture of Samuel (taken and posted here with his permission) who works at the BP garage on Jan Smuts in Hyde Park. I took this picture because Samuel has a fantastic sense of humour and took the time to chat and laugh with me. It was a privilege to meet him.

Not only that. The BP garage in Hyde Park is also known for the daily messages that are written on the chalk boards displayed for passers-by in the street. Thought provoking and inspiring, I know of people who make a point of driving past each day even if they don’t need fuel – to see the message of the day. I often do the same.

After telling Samuel how much I appreciate these messages, he was telling me of the lady, Alison, who writes them. And how often people stop to tell her and the team at BP how much they have meant to them in their daily lives. What an amazing thing for Alison and her team to do. Also not a bad way of getting people to fill up at their garage☺

And do you know what Samuel has offered to do?

To take a picture of the daily message everyday and whatsapp it to me! How lovely is that! He doesn’t know me from a bar of soap. I have already received 18 messages (today’s message and some previous one’s that he thinks are particularly inspiring). Even if he were never to send me another message – I find this act of generosity and kindness astounding. Something truly wonderful about living in Joburg and calling it home.

And what was today’s message? “Wherever you are, be all there”.

Updates on the new home project to follow in my next post…

So, what’s the deal with the new house?…

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Hmmm… as much as it pains me to tell you this – we have done so much work since I last wrote, but are no closer to breaking ground – let alone moving in!

So what have we been up to?

– We have been busy with the heritage process (taken us some 2 months so far). The heritage committee have met twice to discuss the changes that we would like to make to our home, and visited our home once with our architect and landscaper present for them to explain the heritage report, the changes that we would like to make, and answer any questions.

What has been interesting is to learn that the heritage committee are not overly keen on an indigenous garden (as has been proposed by the landscaper, an idea which Graham is quite keen on) because they would like to see the exotic nature of the gardens in our area preserved for historical value. I’m thrilled (because I love roses, hydrangeas, camellia’s and most other flowers that are not indigenous) – but what we will seek to do is to maintain and build on our current garden making decisions with water usage and the avoidance of alien species in mind.

We understand that the committee is very happy with how we propose to preserve the integrity of the old building, and hope to hear early this week whether or not our plans are approved. We need this in order to receive our municipal approval!….

– We have been working hard on the plans together with our architect and my fabulous interior-designer sister (who can translate and interpret ‘architect language’ (thank goodness)) to come to a point where we can say with relative certainty that we can allow ourselves to be excited about the fact that the plans are broadly reflective of our vision (set out in my last post). Getting to this point has not been easy. Our architect tells us that we have now ‘tamed the beast’, I’m thinking that the devil is in the detail – and we have lots more work to do in this regard before getting contractors to tender to limit cost overruns…

Graham and I need to sign the latest plans off this weekend so that we can go ahead and get quotes from an electrical engineer and lighting expert. We need input and detailed drawings from these experts for our municipal submission. In order to get municipal approval, one of the things that we need to do is include in our submission calculations on what we believe our energy usage and energy savings (as a result of efficiencies that we intend to implement) will be once our renovations are completed, and we are living in our home. We would also like these experts to bring to life the plans we have for energy efficiency and alternative energy generation (glazing, insulation, window screen for cooling the front of the house, heat pump and cooling room, solar panels on the flat portion of our roof and vents in the roof to allow excess to escape).

Given the unusually heavy storms that we have been having in Jozi, as well as the water scarcity issues that we face – we are trying to design a low impact building – that will allow water to be carried away from our roof to spread and soak into the garden. We understand that the roof has been designed in a manner that will allow this to effectively happen. We are also about to start exploring rain water storage, and whether this is an option that will be worth investing in for us.

Well, that’s it for now!

We plan to finalise the plans for municipal approval within the next 6 weeks, so that we can then get a firm idea of what this is all going to cost us – and whether we will be able to afford to do put in place all the energy and water saving measures that we would like to. And then we need to go out to tender and find some contractors who can do the work for us!…

Will keep you posted…A

Our Brobdingnagian venture!….

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What is Brobdingnagian?

Good question! I myself had no idea until a short while ago when I was searching the web for some more exciting sounding synonyms for the word ‘big’ (http://www.synonym.com/synonyms/big/). I’m trying to use more eye-catching terminology to lure you into reading further (i.e. to get you to read my blog people!:)…

Apparently ‘Brobdingnagian’ is a synonym for a fictional land in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and has “come to describe anything of colossal size” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brobdingnag). As unpronounceable as the term might be (to me anyway) – the link to the name of a fictional land is certainly apt in this case as you shall see…

So what colossally humongous venture have Graham, Fynn and I embarked on?

Well, if you are reading this and you are a fellow Mst student @ Cambridge – you might recall me somewhat prematurely (it turned out) celebrating at our workshop in March about the fact that Graham’s and my offer on a new home had been accepted! Fast forward some 8 months, and we can now say that the property is indeed ours, but we are not yet living in it – despite having moved out of our (much much smaller but completely lovely) townhouse in July (a couple of days before our August workshop!)…

Why are we not yet living in it?

Well, because we bought what you might term a ‘project’ (read ‘a very big fixer-upper endeavour’). Being parents in South Africa we (read: ‘I’) worry a lot about a lot of things that I won’t get into here, but what we do have is the privilege of offering Fynn the opportunity to grow up in a home with space, a garden to play in (as a teenager to throw parties in, and as a ‘young adult’ to have his own ‘space’ in:)) and our own swimming pool – just down the road from the primary school that we hope Fynn will attend (and in close distance of some good senior schools).

Our new home is a fictional land in the sense that we hope it will be a magical place for Fynn to grow and for us to spend time together in as a family. It is also fictional in the sense that (as you may have gathered already) it will still be quite a while before Fynn and our muppets (of the canine variety – Buddy and Gabby) will be playing ‘hide and seek’ in between the plants.

So, what’s the hold-up, why is it ‘brobdingnagian’ and how does this at all relate to sustainability?

The hold-up is that the home is (very) old for Johannesburg having been built around 1910 (which we love), but having suffered a series of mutilations (very bad renovations), it does require some substantial ‘re-work’ before we can move in. These renovations (and the time it will take to plan, get approval for and execute them) is what makes the venture ‘brobdingnagian’. And the sustainability angle? Our bank balance after the renovations are done (gulp)? Our soundness of mind?

Well… that too. But also issues around the sustainability of the build portion of the project, and the operation and maintenance of our home thereafter.

Questions like:

– how are we going to respect and integrate the historical portion of the house
– what kind of finishings are we going to use in the house and where are we going to source these from and how are we going to care for them?
– how are we going to light, heat and cool the house, and provide energy for household usage generally?
– how are we going to deal with issues of water usage given our growing family and the garden that also needs to be cared for. What kinds of plants are we going to have in the garden and what water demands will they make? Are they indigenous? What about all the non-indigenous plants that we already have (and which I quite like)?
-what service providers are we going to use to do the renovations and how sustainable are their operations?

These are not all easy issues to deal with. Particularly with a financial budget, and a need to respect the oldness of the house while making it a space that we will be happy to live in, and that takes account of concerns relevant to today (such as rising water and energy costs and concerns around insecurity of electricity supply from the grid).

But we are going to do our best. And here starts a chronicle of this journey.

We have selected an architect that we believe is skilled in working with old homes, and one that has worked on other ‘green projects’.

This is an extract of the brief that we gave him at the outset:

“Dear …

What follows is a our vision for our place in the sun. Some of the points are repeated and they are not in any particular order of importance but we hope that they will give you a guide as to what it is we want our new home to be.

We are a young family that love to entertain and be at home, and as our family grows – we would like our children, their friends and our friends and family to spend lots of time at our home…

It is also very important to us that our home must be as energy and water efficient as possible. This is both because of our wanting to minimize our negative impact on the environment, and us recognizing that the costs of electricity and water will likely escalate greatly in the coming years…

Some thoughts on what we want our new home to be:
– …bringing back to life and enhancing the grandeur of an old dame – while also being our home – warm, light and happy environment for us to be in…
– …
– lots of windows…
– open up and simplify the house while not making it a cold place…
– easy to clean and maintain
– rooms for the children that are light and as spacious as possible – spaces that will be appropriate for them as babies and children but that will also be comfortable for a teenager and young adult
– …
– …
– …
– child friendly…”

So where are we at the moment? We have just submitted initial plans for heritage approval (a requirement before we can get municipal building approval and go out to tender for contractors for the build).

These initial plans take account of the following:

– how we intend to respect and restore the historical portion of the home and integrate this with our requirements as a family;
– lots of windows for natural light and warmth in winter;
– an area where we would like to put heat pumps and fans to heat and cool the house, with an outlet in the roof for excess heat;
– a proposed screen in front of windows to keep the house from overheating in summer (this will require more exploration – not sure I like the look of this at the moment);
– an overview of the plants and trees in the garden – those that we will seek to protect, and those that we will seek to remove (2 palm trees and some other trees which have now been classified as alien species in South Africa).

We do need to spend some more time considering how we are going to provide for the energy requirements. We will need to consult an expert regarding the heat pumps, cooling fans and alternative energy supply generally before we finalise the plans. We do have access to gas, but would like to explore how we might make use of alternative energy (such as solar) that can further reduce our need for electricity from the grid (currently mainly generated by coal-fired power stations) while securing our energy supply.

Well, that’s it! My fingers are hurting from typing and I’m sure (if you’re still awake) that your eyes have gone all dry from staring at the screen for so long. Will sign off now and keep you posted as to our progress….

A

Follow up on follow up of the fish moth ambush…

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The cleaning out of cupboards and spraying with lavender water continues. All food is in tightly sealed containers. Damp ‘newspaper traps’ are set in the bath @ night. And still the fish moths have not opted for alternative accommodation…

Fynn is teething quite badly at the moment – which means that I frequently wonder the house in the nocturnal hours – where I come across fish moths (night time being their preferred period of the day). In the carpet in our room, on a kitchen counter (!!!???!!!!) and a couple on the kitchen floor.

That’s it people!

I know fish moths are not easily dissuaded from sharing their home with you – and I will continue with the natural means that I have mentioned, but I have also decided to go ahead with the biocide that I referred to in my last post.

Have limited time with work, Fynn, Gray, masters etc to do extensive research on the ingredients, so am relying on the company’s word that the biocide will work (inasmuch as it can with fish moths), and on their interpretation for me of the EU directive and WHO standards I referred to in my last blog – which were just beyond me in terms of my technical understanding and capabilities:).

Essentially how it’s been explained to me (I now tell them its ‘crazy Aimée’ when I call – because I think they think that I am slightly off-balance – maybe because I’m actually asking questions about why these products are eco-smart?:)) is that once sprayed (and the product takes 10 minutes or so to dry), the product creates a thin layer that inhibits the transfer of oxygen – so not good to spray on a body of water, and if fish eat the contaminated fish moths (or other insects in the house subject to the spray) – then they will accumulate the toxins in their body. Contamination of ground water I am told is therefore not a problem – but rather the spraying of the biocide on to the top of a body of water.

We do have a pond on the property (with no fish – but frogs) – but this is situated quite a distance from the house so I think we will be ok here. The biocide will be sprayed a good distance from them.

Apparently the people who apply the spray are not even required to wear a mask while spraying (because the levels of toxicity are so low to humans and other mammals) – and this includes the gentlemen who owns the company who will also be spraying. Though will still keep Fynn far away while they apply the spray as a precaution!!!.

Will let you know how things go…