Setting up a business in a small town

We are currently setting up a business manufacturing small steel / wrought iron decor items as well as making awesome lights and other steel work like balustrades and gates.  It’s been a roller coaster ride so far because it’s really difficult to source items when you live out in the bush.  Slowly things are really starting to look good and we have quite a bit of interest in our products.

One of our big stores here in Hoedspruit, that stocks pretty much everything that we need, has such a difficult system to work with that I avoid it at all costs trying three or more stores before having to go there. The system is such that you are unable to walk in, pick up what you want and go to the till. One has to find a sales attendant to help you. They are all so busy packing stock and doing online quotes and helping clients over the phone that they do not have time to assist customers in the store so they avoid eye contact as much as possible. After hanging about for 30 mins one gets frustrated and starts begging for assistance. You are told they will come now but they don’t often come back and when they do the help with one item they then disappear again. Also, some prices are marked quite high and your sales assistant is allowed to give you quite large discounts. So one has to be all sweet and kind even when getting bad service otherwise you don’t get your discount. It seems to be at the salesman’s discretion whether you get discount or not. These are good folk – the system just sucks in my opinion. Yesterday after 45 mins in the store – I walked out in frustration and got everything I needed in 10 minutes at another store, one item in particular being 50% cheaper than the listed price in the big store. Guess where I am going next time?

Here are a few pictures of what we are making.

As soon as I have some pictures of our stunning outdoor wall lamps I will put them up for you to see.

I’m dreaming of a cool Tuscan patio….

Doesn’t it look lovely and inviting? Some cool relief from a hot summers day?

Around the back of my main cottage that houses the kitchen, dining room and lounge (or is it the front – not too sure) is a rather bland blank looking space that gets hot sun all day round.  This wall is also the first view of the cottages you get when you arrive at Jackal’s Den and it does not look at all inviting.  I have decided to build a patio along the same lines as a Tuscan patio – covered with something green and leafy.  I need to make it look a little more rugged than the one in the picture and make sure it blends in with the African bush theme. As funds are tight I have decided to do this myself with a little muscle help from an unemployed farm worker Warren.  We got started this week.

All the upright poles are now planted and tomorrow I start attaching the cross bars.  It is really tough working in 40 deg C heat without any shade.

After the main structure is up I will be building some small retaining walls out of stone to level off the floor area and will then pour my own cement slabs using leaves to imprint patterns on the cement. These will be laid out with some pebbles to make the floor.

I think the most difficult part will be waiting for the plants and creepers to grow over the top so that we can have a shaded area. The “growth period” will give me some time to save up for a small table and some chairs to put underneath it.

I can’t wait for it to be finished.

What should I grow over the top?  Initially I loved the idea of a grape-vine as it would then also provide me with some food but grape-vines are not evergreen and I do want it to be green in winter too.  Any suggestions?

(Just for fun here is a picture of me doing a pole dance 🙂  – Trust the Bean to snap a shot like this!)

Memories, learnings and a bit of shopping.

This week Belgian visitors arrived to stay at Jackal’s Den for Monday night.  They brought the Belgian weather with them and it rained for three days and three nights.  They were meant to stay just for Monday night but ended up staying till Thursday before leaving to visit the Kruger National Park – we had so much fun.

When I set up the B&B I made many lists and thought long and hard about what I would need to have available for my guests.  Each time I have visitors though, I find there is something I have forgotten to think about and have available for them.  I hope that these slip-ups have not detracted from their enjoyment.

Things I have remembered this week:

  • I remembered Belgium. Although I really love living here and would not change a thing, I do miss some things from Belgium, like the snow and the smell of their spaghetti bolognaise and the quaint little villages.
  • I remembered that Belgians, like most Europeans, look at instant coffee with disdain.
  • I remembered how much I love the Dutch language and accent.
Things I have learned this week:
  • When you hire a car make sure you get a set of spare keys to take with you on your journey.
  • I learned that it is possible to find a tiny lost set of keys on a 350 hectare game reserve even although it make take 20 hours. ( I think we were very lucky)
  • I learned how to make REAL filter coffee without any equipment (desperate Belgians are as creative as Afrikaans farmers :))  All you need is a pot, a sieve and a sheet of paper towel (and ground coffee of course)
Purchases made this week:
If all my guests turn out to be like this family, I am really going to love my new job.  What a lovely week!

Adventures of a handywoman (to be)

If you have been reading my blog for sometime, you will remember that a year ago we had an exchange student come to stay with us on the farm for a couple of months.  At the time I had to fix up our spare cottage for her to stay in.  After quite a few mishaps and attempts at learning how to drill holes and replace window panes, I got the cottage into a condition where one could live in it,  albeit not with any form of luxury at all.  Hannah seemed to manage although there were still quite few holes in the walls, a really ancient paint job, a rickety toilet with a half-broken cistern.  At least the wind wasn’t blowing in on her and the snakes could not get in.  It was still very basic.

The time has now come where I have to up the ante.  I need to start earning some money and will be letting out the guest cottage as a B&B.  It will never be a designer place – that’s not what I want anyway.  I would like to offer couples a little piece of paradise – still rustic, but with a few home comforts.  A place to unwind and relax for a few days.

I have been quite busy in the cottage over the last month. I have put in a little fridge, a kettle, and hung some bamboo blinds in the bathroom, hung a mirror, installed a new toilet cistern (all by myself – so chuffed with myself for managing that), descaled the tiles in the shower, filled holes in the walls, replaced electric point covers, bought new linen and curtains.  This week a friend of ours, Rodney, installed a cupboard to cover the ugly spot next to the shower.

Before:

After:

All that’s left now is to paint the walls and sand and paint the window frames.  I am trying to get some nice chairs or a couch for the little veranda although the ones I like are just way too expensive for me to get right now.  I am getting a quote from Rodney for a sleeper bench.  Let’s hope its affordable.  I would also like to eventually replace the shower door, but it’s just going to have to do for now.

As you can see, although I have not been blogging, I have been rather busy.  I am  also getting ready to start up my own small business which I hope to tell you about soon.

Finding balance

Lately I find myself focussing on balance in all areas of my life.  At home its a see-sawing of time between cleaning, cooking  and relaxation. Socially its all about time spent with friends and at classes versus alone time with the Bean. At work I find I am battling the most with the amount of work done balanced against the pay I receive – at work too, its about how much time I spend at work against spending it at home. How much is the time I sell to my employer worth? This is not only measured in monetary terms but also in satisfaction and a sense of well-being at work. Am I getting value? Finally it all boils down to happiness I guess – good balance will create a feeling of achievement and happiness.

In my life before moving here I know my balances were very unstable with over emphasis on things that did not count in the end. I thought they did count though – till I found out they didn’t. That’s the way we learn. Trial and error most of the time.  Now that I have begun a new life with focus on balance, I am finding it quite hard to get right.  I like to think that because balance is now one of my main focus points in this slow life, that I catch imbalances early and take time out to sort, reshuffle and balance again before the scale tips too drastically.

All-in-all I feel I am doing reasonably well and am really happy in most areas of my life.  I only need to sort out some things with regards to my work and work time.  My plans are to eventually work for myself – a few projects which I will initiate over time will hopefully build up to something big enough to keep us going financially, but until then I will have to work for someone else. Let’s hope that the reshuffling I find I need to make in this area works out. What I do know is that it can’t keep going on as it is now.

Time is the one thing that we give away or sell that we can never get back again.  We need to make sure it’s not stolen or that we are not underpaid for this precious commodity. Even if we give it away for free, there should be a gain for us in terms of happiness, satisfaction and achievement. If you feel you are not rewarded sufficiently for your time and efforts it’s time to rework and reshuffle things to regain balance in your life.

What do you do to ensure balance in your life?

Mango mania

As many of you know, I work on a farm in a fruit packhouse.  Because I manage quality control, I am constantly running up and down the warehouse – controlling and checking.  In citrus season (winter) this is very invigorating because one is constantly surrounded by the zingy aroma of citrus oils.  In summer we pack mangoes. It gets rather hot in the packhouse and after days and days of spending time with zillions of mangoes you get a little icky.  The sweet cloying smell permeates your skin and clothes – it is really intense, especially when it is hot and humid.

At the beginning of the season we all used to eat a mango at tea time – yum.  This morning when I got my mango I didn’t want to eat it – yesterday I only ate half.  It’s the smell of them that gets to me now. I wonder if I will ever eat one again?

Mango time

Today we start packing mangoes at the packhouse (where I work).  I was dreading it because we have been very quiet between citrus and mango season. As the buzz started this morning, and I started running around again, I realised that I really like that part of my job.

I may not be posting as regularly as I have been, but will be here as often as I can.

Have a wonderful 2011 – it’s going to be  a great year.

Baby blues..

Last Monday morning, on my way to work, I found a little baby girl walking alone on a sandy farm road in the middle of the bush.  She was crying and scared – dirty and only had a shirt on.

I stopped my car and called out to her – she was terrified. I got out and opened my arms and she came to me.  I called out to see if there was anyone around in the bush but no one answered. She was probably about 18 months old.  I put her in my car and took her with me to work.  We cleaned her up and borrowed some pants from one of the labourers on our farm.  She seemed well fed and was not too interested in eating anything. Our foreman told me that there was a farm compound reasonably near to where I had found the baby so we went in search of the mother.

We eventually found her picking mangoes about one and a half kilometers away. She was young and could not speak English or Afrikaans. Luckily I had our foreman with me so she translated.  The baby was left in a house like this one – all alone while her mom went out to try to earn some money.

Photo: http://www.trespassmag.com

We managed to find someone to baby sit for the day, but there are no guarantees that this little one is not home alone today.  Unfortunately this lady seems to be an illegal immigrant so for now, we can’t even get the baby into a nearby crèche as they need proof of residence etc. to be able to take the baby on.  We are waiting to hear about another place of safety for her during the day.

These are the harsh realities of living in Africa.  This little girl is one of thousands of children in similar situations. I really wish I could do more for her.  I was so tempted to just take her home and keep her – but then I would be in a similar situation as I have to work and would not be able to look after her during the day. She would also not be with her mom who she needs and loves and she would lose out on learning her language and culture. If we hand over money to the mother, there is no guarantee that it will be used for the baby.  I am going to help out with baby food and clothes where I can.  I just hope she stays around long enough for us to help – I am scared the mom may take off in fear of being reported.  If they get taken in by the authorities, they may even be worse off than they are now. It’s a tricky and very sad situation.

I thought I had invented a little happiness trick….

A while after moving away from the city and my go-getter lifestyle I noticed that I was just so much more content and happy.  In trying to analyse why this was so as I have a tendency to do I decided to mentally plot my happiness scale on a daily basis.

I came to an answer rather rapidly when I discovered that the days where I did something with my hands (besides typing on a keyboard) were the days when, at the end of the day, were my most satisfying.  I believe it may have something to do with the creative process as producing something from the manual labour was a little more satisfying than when I was doing cleaning for instance, although, I must say, much to my surprise,  I get satisfaction and happiness from doing menial cleaning chores too (shock-horror!)

This discovery was a huge eye-opener to me and just when I was ready to start writing a thesis on it – my path to instant fame and fortune, I discovered much to my chagrin, that everyone already knows this. People have been saying this for years, I have probably been told this exact thing and blocked it out of my brain because I am was a physically lazy person.  I used to love thinking jobs – stuff where I used my brain extensively but didn’t have to lift a finger work up a sweat.  I still love thinking and I consider my brain my favorite asset, however, finding quiet spaces in my days where I can just look and see and be, are becoming really special to me.

To summarise:

Past:        BUSY MIND – LAZY BODY = SEARCHING FOR HAPPINESS

Now:       SLOWER MIND – BUSY BODY = A CONTENTED HAPPINESS

What stuns me about this whole issue is that I was so sure that the masses of information I have acquired over the years, and all the wonderful and marvelous things my brain could do, was my saving grace – I was/am proud of my knowledge and perceived wisdom.  I saw myself as dynamic and bright (most days) and ready to go out and conquer the world.  I felt sorry for people who lived slow simple lives.

I now realise how fickle I was and I am embarrassed about how I bulldozed across the planet thinking the world was waiting for me.

I am still exploring gentle living. I am slowing myself down. I am getting rid of stuff. I am trying to make less impact on our planet. I am trying to listen more and say less.  I “do” and “be” more and think less. I am hopefully becoming more humble. I am spending as much time as possible in nature as it gives me peace. I am trying to live a slow simple life.

I still mess up everyday – my motor mouth lets me down all the time. But I will persevere. Because it makes me so very happy.

Priorities vs time

I recently read an article on “Time versus Priority”.  Here is an excerpt:

The argument goes like this: “I spend most of my time at work, so it must be the highest priority in my life, right?”

Wrong!

Your work may very well be the highest priority in your life, but don’t assume that it is just because you spend a lot of time there.

It’s a fact of life that, in a modern society, we must work in order to earn the money we need to pay for the rest of our life. But, if our work does not satisfy our values, then it is clearly not the highest priority in our life.

Don’t make the mistake of equating time with priority.

While I fully accept the above argument – the last line still has me arguing a bit.  I would like to express the inverse.  Priority vs time.

If something is really a priority in your life,  if it involves something or someone who is very important to you, – you will find the time to spend.

To me, if someone uses the argument ” I just don’t have the time”  I immediately have the assumption that it was just not a priority for them. Am I wrong?  I don’t think so…..

To me it’s all about living deliberately – not accidentally.  It’s about knowing where you want to go, what you want to do, and why you want to do it.  It takes time, experience and maturity to get to this point. It’s about spending time with the people you want to be with, doing projects that are important to you and your family, and not wasting time and energy on things that are not important to you.  It sounds easy, but initially, it is a difficult balancing act. Once you get the hang of it though, it is one of the most liberating feelings and your life changes.  You learn to be happy from the inside and you spend much more time in the moment.

The people you spend your time with don’t have to have the same priorities as you do, but they must, in some way, be synchronizable. (Is there such a word?)

There will always be times where we  have to do things that are not a priority to us, things that may interfere with our priority listing.  At times like these we need to communicate with the important people in our lives and let them know sincerely that they are still important.

In matters of love and relationships, this is a very important point.  If someone wants to spend time with you and is really interested in you – no matter how busy they are, they will make the time to be with you, and if they can’t, they will communicate with you to ensure that you don’t get the wrong idea.  They will take time to get to know you.  They will be interested in what you think and feel. If they don’t – walk away because they “are just not that into you

Remember –

  • it takes less than a minute to send a text message.
  • it takes seconds to say “I love you.”
  • a smile says a thousand words.
  • a well-timed phone call of a few minutes can save the world.

If you are a priority in someone else’s life, they will find the time to be with you, communicate with you, and get to know you.

That’s just how it is.