Friday, January 3, 2014

Newly Motivated

Last year for Christmas, I received a book from my mother in law about an urban farmer in Oakland, California.  For some reason, I slipped this book into my bookshelves and promptly forgot about it.  About a month ago, glancing through spine after spine of titles in my bookcase I saw the title, Farm City, and pulled it out.  Was I really in the mood to read about farming now that I lived in this concrete city?  I started reading it and was instantly pulled in by the author's humor and mishaps.

Spurred on by her persistence to get close to the earth in the ghettos of Oakland, I am once again motivated to grow things in Singapore.  When we first moved here, I was excited about growing, seeing how lush everything can be.  But, the more time I've spent  here, it seems the farther I've gotten from my roots.  It's hard to stay close to the ground when the buildings are so tall, so concrete, so full of artificial goods.
I've spent the past few months halfheartedly making laundry soap and cleaning enzymes, and feeling accomplishment at lowering our power bill from $1,000 to $400.

After our first power bill, it become my sole mission to slash power usage in our household.  Each of our power outlets have an on and off switch which can easily be forgotten about when you've switched off a lamp.  Each bathroom has it's own power-switched hot water heater as well.  Heating water and cooling air is expensive.  And though I feel a great accomplishment in reducing such an enormous amount of energy consumption, I think the number one action that really turned the tide of overuse was our bodies' acclimation to our new environment.  When, before, we would try and see how long we could last before turning on the air conditioning units, we now don't even notice the temperature of the air - it feels fine to us.

This first accomplishment of lowering our energy consumption does not feel like much of an accomplishment as it's success is mostly due to time, rather than effort.  But growing, growing is going to be a different task altogether.  Growing is going to take time, energy, and I'm sure some heartache.

See how natural we are?  We line-dry our cloth napkins!

So today, armed with my motivational book, the girls and I headed out to start our new adventure in growing food in Singapore.  Our first step in this process was hopping in our van to drive to the market just up the street.  Yes, silly.  I never drive to the market.  Ever.  It seems like a great waste of two perfectly healthy legs to drive when you can walk.  I walk, take the bus, or take the train when I need to get somewhere in Singapore.  Our van is reserved for special occasions such as going to church, or Malaysia, or picking up large amounts of soil.  Our little grocery hand-cart just wasn't going to cut it in transporting the amount of soil we needed, so our large van would do the transporting.

We came home with six bags of soil and three decorative plants that the girls were eager to plant.  I had been gathering local seed packets over the past few months and had also accumulated some spindly rosemary and basil plants bought at the grocery store.

Oh, little basil, won't you please perk up?
Sad.  Just, sad.

I eagerly ripped open the bags of soil and was quickly dismayed at the fact that just one flower box welcomed five of those bags on its own.  Lesson number one: you need a LOT more soil.  So, into this flower box I transplanted our sad, sad emaciated-looking rosemary plants and keeling, wilted basil.  I'm hoping that in this nourishing, moist, open soil space these first few plants will find the freedom to grow big and strong.

A tiny little adventure into growing.

Then, into the small seedling pots I poked the tiny coriander, oregano, basil, sage, and mint seeds into moist soil and set them out to do what they were intended to do.  Our job now, is to wait, water, and have faith.  In a few weeks, a bit of green sprout should pop out of the damp brown soil, feeding our hopes in our urban farming abilities.  With this faith in our abilities to grow food for our family, I am now devouring heritage seed catalogs and dreaming up what I can plant in which space of our tiled yard.

Perky little flags to show us what we hope to sprout soon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Potential Space

In Singapore, space is something of which there is plenty...if you go upward.  On an island that hosts 5, 312, 400 people in an area of 274 square miles, I am living in the third most densely populated country on earth.  That doesn't bode well for those of us wishing to take over plots of land for growing food instead of housing people.  But in countries that are heavy with humans yet meager with ground, the ability to adapt can be surprising. 

Prior to the Asian Bird Flu epidemic, many families kept chickens in their apartment bathrooms, relying on the eggs they provided.  In 2005, to prevent the spread of the bird flu, chickens in Singapore were culled. (I'm looking in to whether or not you can currently keep chickens here - on my list of potential endeavors).  On nearly every balcony around here you see things growing in pots.  Singapore does not have gardens in it's city.  It is a city in a garden.  The entire island, if left alone, would retake it's land, enveloping the concrete in vines and greenery of all sorts.  Things just grow here, no matter what.  But I do not see many people growing edibles.  And it seems strange to me that in such a rich environment, people would not take advantage of the rain and the sun to grow their own foods (as little or as much as they can).

So, I have a little bit of space.  Mostly what I'm looking at for growing potential right now are the walls that surround our lot.  I think vertical gardening might be our best bet in this place, and right now this is my blank canvas.

Our back wall, butting up to the American School.

Our side yard.
You see those indented areas on the back wall that get so much daylight sun?  I think building boxes to fit in those indents and having various plants growing out of the wall would be wonderful.  The problem is resources.  There are no Lowe's or Home Depots here.  You do not go out and build something yourself.  So, this will take a lot more thought and planning.

The side yard, with the open railing is the one I want to take most advantage of.  Being able to see directly into my neighbor's yard and windows, and knowing they can do the same, is something this privacy-loving American has a hard time with!  So, I'm thinking to either have pots along the base with vining plants growing up and into the railing, or boxes that hang from the top of the railing and trail down to the ground. 

Well, it is a lot to consider.

I am very eager to get started, though.  The girls and I walked to the store last night to get some rosemary for our soup.  I came back with two rosemary plants and a gardenia.  They smell so good!  I can just see in my mind a wonderfully lush herb garden out my back door.  So, it's time to get cracking!

For now, I have figured out the laundry situation.

I made homemade laundry detergent last week, which is seriously amazing stuff.  It cleans well, smells good, costs pennies, and is simple to make!  Along with the washing comes the drying.  I bought this hanging rack, and for now it works.  I really, really miss my retractable lines!  This single rack is not nearly enough to handle my family's wash load.  I think 15 more racks are needed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Air Out Here

After three weeks of living in a serviced apartment, we are finally in our new home way out in an area of Singapore named The Woodlands.  Sounds country-ish, doesn't it?  But "country" is all relative.  In Singapore, that means less high-rise businesses around. 

A Blank Slate

Our household goods have yet to arrive at our new home, so we are currently making due with the minimal amount of loaner furniture that my husband's work has provided.  I don't know if this makes life easier or harder.  But, it does make it feel as if we are still hovering between visiting here and living here. 
Right now, I'm mainly just putting together ideas and plans as to what I would love to do with my space here in Singapore and how I'd like for my family to live.  Pinterest is amazing for that type of thing!
So, here's our new place.  The blank slate:
Our house is the end unit
This is our yard - all slate tile

 Dealing With Air

The air in Singapore tends to be real warm and moist for the most part.  This makes it difficult to get cool without help.  I'm trying hard to not rely on air conditioning units, but it gets unbearable at times. 
Each room has it's own A/C wall unit

Right now we are turning them on at bedtime in the bedrooms, and turning them off upon waking up.  The main unit downstairs has been on and off each day as I try to figure out cooling our common living areas.  I've been experimenting with opening different windows, trying to figure out the best way to create cross breezes and venting hot air out while sucking cooler air in.
I was able to sleep well the other night without having the air turned on in our bedroom, but with the windows open.  The issue with opening windows, though, is that there are no screens to prevent bugs from flying in.  And in a country that has epidemics of mosquito-bourn diseases, that is a concern. I keep the light curtains closed at all times and have been experimenting also with which heavy, black-out shades to keep closed and which to open in order to figure out the best way to utilize natural lighting while also trying to keep out the sun's warming rays.


While we have a washer and dryer on our back porch, it is quite noticeable that hardly anyone uses clothes dryers in this area.  There are a wide array of creative ways of hanging out clothes to dry, but none are the backyard drying lines that I am used to.  Many people use drying racks and long wooden or metal poles and hang clothes on hangers off of them.  I really, really, really want the retractable clothes lines that I used back home!  But my husband doesn't want to be drilling into the concrete walls to install them, so I'm trying to figure out something else that suits my drying needs. 
It's hard for me to also to change my perception of "dry".  In a climate that is this humid, how do clothes dry while hanging outside in moist air?  I think that the clothes here are mostly hung on hangers in closets and perhaps the remainder of the drying occurs there?  And clothes tend to return to a quite moist state once you put them on your body anyway, so I'm not sure there truly is a good reason to get them absolutely dry in the first place.
Right now, while playing with the air flow of the house, I've decided to use the long railings that we have on the 2nd and 3rd story landings/hallways.  Since heat rises, the air will flow up to the clothes.  And with windows open on either side of these hallways, there's hopefully air flowing cross-ways as well.  So far, it takes about 16 hours for the heavier cotton clothes to dry this way, while thinner clothes dry more quickly.  Laundry seems to have become an all-consuming thing for me, since I have nothing else to focus on without my household stuff!
Hubby's work shirts tend to dry quickly since they are thin, and since they will be ironed anyway, I'm not too concerned about the wrinkles.

In the beginning...

The word hippie is an interesting term.  In my mind it conjures up images of people dancing in fields with flowers in their hair, carefree and very free with their love.  The dictionary definition does not stray far from this image.


a person, especially of the late 1960s, who rejected established institutions and values and sought spontaneity, direct personal relations expressing love, and expanded consciousness, often expressed externally in the wearing of casual, folksy clothing and of beads, headbands, used garments, etc.
I don't really identify with this definition.  In fact, I don't ever refer to myself as a hippie.  It is a term my husband has lovingly bestowed on me for all of the things I do which he finds weird.
What I do identify with is a person who is seeking to live naturally, treading lightly on the planet, doing more good than harm to those around me, spreading love to those I meet, and being in charge of my own health.  It did not start out with big, thought out plans.  In fact, this lifestyle began out of a lack of money.  When we first were married, we had very, very little.  To stretch our meager funds, we learned to cook from scratch, try re-usable things.  And then the little ones came along, and I become a natural birth junkie, and a natural parenting junkie.  And it all sort of spiraled from there!

Apparently, in order to be in the natural birth world, one must be considered a "hippie", so I believe this is from where my husband's pet name for me stems.  But, really, there are MUCH more deeply hippie people that I know out there.  I don't even come close to the outer reaches of their circles!

So, here we are many, many years down the road from where we first began.  And I've been uprooted from my comfortable "natural" space in Washington State, U.S. and plunked down in the island city-state of Singapore.  You can imagine the culture shock here.

My goal, while here in Singapore, is to honor the Singapore lifestyle, while also staying true to my own beliefs and convictions.  In so doing, I will be attempting to live as naturally and peacefully as I am able to.  Wish me luck!

We are not in Kansas any more, Toto!