Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wiping away ancient forests

For those who have not come to this blog via links I posted in other forums, this might be of interest:

Destroying the Boreal Forest

Back to Organic-Ally.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dragons' Den or Parasites' Puddle?

I've watched two or three Dragons' Den programme so far and I was really cross with what I saw in the last programme.

A Yorkshire man who invented a device that would save water when flushing toilets was slagged off for being an 'eco-warrior' and written off as uninvestible. He was deemed more interested in saving the world than succeeding in his business.

This inventor-entrepreneur was described as arrogant and questions were raised about whether he expected people to look at their own p-- before flushing. This requires a change in habit and the 'Dragons' were not convinced that the device would sell.

These 'Dragons' simply didn't get it, did they? The environment has come to such a state that people MUST change their habits and if there are gadgets and tools to help people to do so, then such are to be applauded. They have no idea how fast the market size for earth-friendly products is growing.

(As an aside, there is such a high incidence of colon cancer in this country that people of a certain age have been advised: Don't blush. Look before you flush. It is good to study one's p--. Mothers with young children do that all the time. Too light: not enough iron. Too hard: must drink more water. Floaters: not chewing food enough or bad digestion!)

This Yorkshire inventor was also viewed as being anti-capitalist. I didn't actually hear what he said (due to his accent) to warrant such a conclusion by one of the Dragons. If the inventor was anti-capitalist, would he have gone to these out-and-out capitalists to try to get some investment?

Then we saw a young man who claimed to have developed a puzzle cube. There were several 'Dragons' bidding for this product. They wanted to invest in his company or his product for high percentages of equity.

'Don't do it! Don't do it!' I kept shouting from the comforts of my sofa.

The Dragons' faces lit up when they were told that the puzzle cubes, manufactured in China, cost $2 (presumably US) to make. They are being retailed at above £15. Whoa! High profit margin. They want a slice of it. You can imagine them rubbing their hands together in glee, cerebrally.

No questions were asked about the working conditions of the worker-producers. No reservations were raised about the use of plastic AND wood in making the puzzles. What sort of plastic? Is it coated in harmful chemicals? From where does the wood come from? Where do you think a Chinese manufacturer would buy wood from?

A fellow PhD student conducted research amongst Chinese factory workers in Shenzhen and her thesis contains some really woeful tales of what these young girls have to endure while the big bosses and foreign investors soak up the profits.

Do these 'Dragons' care? No. They were each only keen to negotiate as big a slice of pie (cake?) as they could get from this young man. What is £100,000 to any of these when they have millions at their disposal? Yet you see them trying to claw away at as much equity as possible from this young man.

Publicity on this programme paints each of these 'Dragons' as being successful beyond measure. But look carefully. From selling ice-cream to owning a chain of nursing homes? Impressive. Who wouldn't make money out of nursing homes in this country when the government has to pay to support their aged?

Some of the 'Dragons' obviously came from privileged families where there was money to spare. Sure, they had done well buying and selling businesses. That is the name of the game and I do not have anything against it per se. But how much of success in life boils down to being at the right place at the right time? How many of these could profess to be whiter than white when it comes to (evading) tax matters, for example, especially when they were starting out in business?

I don't begrudge the hard work these 'Dragons' had put into their businesses to make them successful. Along the way they would have learned many skills and tricks to help other entrepreneurs, I'm sure. That is why I watch the programme.

But I cannot bear their arrogance. On another programme when another inventor decided not to accept their investment for a large percentage of equity he was not prepared to give away -- much to my relief -- one of the 'Dragons' described him as 'barking mad' and another said he could not have bought advice from one of them for the price he was willing to invest.

They are not so much interested in developing a product or person as such, they only want the profit at the end of the day. Just because they have come to a certain station in life where they have the money to invest, they are simply acting out their natural instincts as predators.

They are capitalizing on the hard work of invention and product development put in by others. Others who have already done the legwork, established good working relationships with suppliers and manufacturers, researched their market, registered the patents, etc, etc. To accept their temporary injection of money and lose equity would be like inviting a parasite to make a home in oneself.

Which is why I'd rather view the programme as 'Parasites' Puddle'.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mustard Seed Conspiracy

A lay member of the congregation preached today and reminded us of what Jesus said about a mustard seed:


MT 13:31 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

I first read the book Mustard Seed Conspiracy by Tom Sine many years ago when I was asked to lead a three-session workshop at the Varsity Christian Fellowship Annual Conference on 'Living Simply'.

I didn't like the title of the workshop. It implies that we must 'simplify', reduce and do without. In other words, be poor. As I mingled incognito with the undergraduates, it was clear that many of those coming to my workshop were there only because they did not get their first three choices of workshops and had to come to mine. Poor things!

These are undergraduates, the elite of Singapore society, at the brink of starting a career that will make them far richer than the other 75% or so of the population. 'Living Simply'???

I changed the title of my workshop to 'Simply Live'. Having read the Mustard Seed Conspiracy and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider, I was convinced that 'living simply' is not a question of 'doing without', it is a challenge to do the most with what we have.

Simply live. Live it to the full. Await joy that overflows.

I cannot remember in which of these books I read (probably Sider's) that Christians were challenged not to be afraid of making money. God is looking for Christians who can make a million dollars in one day. Hang on, the writer did not stop there. He says God is looking for Christians who can make a million dollars in one day, AND give it all away the next.

That I found and still find very refreshing for my soul.

Why do I go on and on about the environment? What impact might my efforts on challenging others have on this earth? I don't know, and might never know. But it's a mustard seed idea and a mustard seed idea must lead to mustard seed action. I must start small, and this tiniest of little seeds might take root and grow into a big tree where birds could nest in and give shade to the weary.

Why do I want to start a business? Because I would like to give myself a chance to make a million dollars some day ... and give it away the next. I know I will never win the lottery because I don't ever play it. By the same reasoning, if I don't give myself a chance to make a million dollars/pounds (well, metaphorically at least), I won't have any to give away!

For all the criticisms that Bill Gates gets, I admire him for his philanthropy. Sure, the reasons behind his publicized generosity might be questionable, but the fact is he is putting his millions to work for the disadvantaged.

When one has all that money (see previous post), buying tangibles does not give pleasure any more. What is another aeroplane? What is another villa? It is far more blessed to give than to receive.

The worship leader today started with reading Psalm 24:

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it ...."

This earth does not belong to me. It belongs to God and that is why I feel I am personally responsible for stewarding its resources. When God said to Adam to 'have dominion over it', God meant that we are to look after it.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Home-made Gift Wr-pper

Or Killing Two Birds with One Stone

I think single-use p-per* wr-pper is such a waste of space. I shan't rehearse the arguments against it here. But you can read more about it here.

I've been presenting gifts to my son's classmates in my cloth gift bags. But I was stuck once when a gift didn't fit in any of the bags I have and I was still awaiting delivery of the new stock of organic cotton fabric I had ordered.

Solution?

It was the summer holiday and I needed to keep my son occupied. We did some potato printing.

We'd done this when he was much younger and he enjoyed it. You know the pap-r that comes in parcels as p-ck-ging? I smooth these pap-rs out for making (star) charts and for son to draw on. You can also use these for potato printing, kitchen-roll rolling (tie and tape jute string around the cardboard roll, brush over with paint and roll onto pap-r to make lovely patterns) or simply sponging.

We became a little 'factory' making pap-r wr-pper and used all of it wr-pp-ng birthday and Christmas presents. A friend thought that I should go into proper production with that idea. Obviously I hadn't.

It does not matter if this pap-r is slightly creased and there are tiny holes, really. When a child gets a present, all it wants to do is rip the pap-r off.

So last summer we went back to doing potato printing. It meant son and I had something to do together -- and got a bit messy -- and we had pap-r to wr-p his friend's present in. Two birds, one stone. See picture below:




His friend's mummy might have thought we were a bit miserly, but that is up to her.

So, this Christmas, if you have large pieces of pa-kaging paper -- or better still, flipchart pap-r that has been used only on one side -- lying around, and you need to give your kids something creative to do, try making your own gift wr-pper.

* Apologies for having to leave letters out of words here. It's my lousy attempt at confusing the Robot crawler so that it does not put unsuitable ads on this site.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What do rich people do for a treat?

Son won the Junior School Shield this week. (Yay!) The Shield is awarded each week to a different boy for different achievements apart from showing 'the most consideration for others'.

The boys know that it is an honour and my son was delighted. When Husband came back and asked him what he wanted for a reward for that unexpected achievement, his answer was: eat in front of the TV.

He was watching his Children's Bedtime Hour and all he wanted was eat in front of the TV.

Obviously this is not something he is allowed to do. We make it a habit to sit down for dinner and the TV is always switched off at meals.

Husband came into the kitchen where I was and chuckled, 'That's all he wanted, eat in front of the TV.'

Which reminded me of a conversation we had in the run-up to our wedding. We were in Singapore with the friend who was going to give the 'exhortation' at our wedding, and his family. His wife worked with very rich children in an international school and was telling us about some of the excesses that these children and their families indulge in.

What do rich people do for a treat?

They fly first class to Japan for a shopping trip. Amongst other options beyond the likes of us.

That really set us thinking? If we were really, really rich -- I mean really, really fithy rich -- when there is nothing that our money cannot buy [pause there now to think about holidays, yachts, aeroplanes, villas, businesses, all the branded goods at the most obscene prices, et infinitum], what then can we give ourselves as a special treat?

'Eh, you won the Shield! Well done! I think you deserve a special treat. What would you like?'

'Eat in front of the TV.'

Back to Organic-Ally.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

How green is your competence?

I'd just sent off a courier who's driven up from Bristol to get my signature on an important form and now must get it back to Leeds.

It was a matter of urgency as we were haemorrhaging money with each passing hour. The root of this? Incompetence.

A simple thing like a document sent by registered post was signed for and then mysteriously disappeared meant that this courier needed to drive those miles with one piece of paper in one envelope to get to me, and drive many more miles even further away (to a third destination) to stop this haemorrhage.

Incompetence costs money, I've always known that. But it made me realise that incompetence, a lousy work ethos, a lack of initiative, ignorance, etc all contribute to unnecessary damage to this earth.

It's not only just a question of what we eat and drink, or wear, how we use water and power, etc.

Back to Organic-Ally.

How unethical would sir like his chicken?

So I ripped off the title from The Times writer Martin Samuel. This is his piece on how 'Our food is either cheap (yes, please) or organic (gosh, a bit pricey). Amazingly enough, you can't have both': http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,171-1872148,00.html

As I said before in my original website, BSE came about when people wanted to buy cheap. Cheap now often means a higher price further down the line. Changing the vegetarian diet of cattle led to disastrous results. The only people who did not get blamed for the BSE crisis were the consumers who wanted to buy cheap. There is a much higher price to buying cheap.

Chicken is now cheap. As Martin Samuel said, this is achieved by 'putting fowl together in wire cages, with a legal space requirement per chicken that equates to three-quarters of a sheet of A4 paper'. So these chicken live and sleep in their own p--p (being very wary of the AdNoSense effect).

Moral of the story: 'You can’t have cheap ethical chicken'.

And now bird flu that might jump species to infect human beings and cause a pandemic is on the horizon. Still believe in cheap?

As for organic food, much of the organic food in Britain is imported while our own farmers are being forced into bankruptcy because of the ludicrous outworkings of the EU's CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), employment and immigration policies, and the big supermarkets that squeeze them dry.

This country is not working, is it?

Back to Organic-Ally.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fathers and Discipline

During our 'weekend away', the speaker also dwelt on discipline as we continued our study of the Book of Hebrews:

HEB 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.

The speaker shared of her knowledge of Chinese families where parents give no encouragement at all to their children. If they came back with 95% on a test, they are asked what happened to the five per cent they did not attain instead of commending their children for doing well.

I understood what she said. Mother was the encourager. She was the one who checked my homework and made sure I had all my sums right. She expected me to go to university. I worried about not being able to pay tuition fees. She said, 'You just continue to work as you do. If you are really good, you'd get a scholarship.'

Father was 'somewhere else'. His normal day started at 3am. Mum always made him a hot drink and he would go to the abbatoir to pick his pig(s). Then he was at the market where he tried to sell as much as he could. At 12 noon precisely he would be knocking at the door.

He was at home most of the day, sorting out his accounts with his fingers flying over the abacus, sending mum to the bank to deposit his takings and prepare the 'float' for the next day, reading the Chinese newspapers, having his lunch, shower, sleep, as if by clockwork. But he was not actually 'there' for us children.

Till school report time. Top of the class (42 pupils), top of the form (84 pupils), 'not good enough'. 100% in this subject, 100% in that subject. 'Not good enough'. Why did you not get 100% in those other subjects? You cannot imagine the wrath I had to bear when one day, in secondary three in the formidable Raffles Girls School, I came in nearly bottom of the class. The fact that I averaged above most of the other girls in the form (400 girls) did not matter.

I used to play in the school band and sometimes brought home my instrument to practise. 'What was that? That grates on my ears.'

Sometimes I experimented with cooking. 'This is awful! It does not taste like anything.'

I write this for my nephew who said his own father (my brother) does not tell him much about his grandparents. That's perhaps because my brother did not really know my father except the 'not good enough'.

For twenty-odd years I lived with this feeling that whatever I did was 'not good enough' for my father.

Then one day while Mum was in hospital (again), and I was a research scholar at university, I bought some fish on my way home. There used to be a couple of shops along Pasir Panjang Road selling fish which have just been landed that same afternoon. I walked there from my nearby office at the university, bought a couple of fish and took them home.

Father took the fish and cooked the meal. By then he had stopped working and was happy to do the cooking especially when Mum was ill. We sat down to dinner, in silence as usual. Out of the blue he said, 'This is good fish. You chose well.'

Let's just say I quickly bent over and continued to shovel rice into my mouth with my chopsticks, tears welling up in my eyes. 'Good fish'! My father said 'Good fish', I had 'chosen well'!!!!

That must have been the first compliment he paid me for as long as I could remember.

Our relationship changed after this. One afternoon I found him in tears telling me about how he always felt he had this big, big chip on his shoulder.

In so many ways Mum had married 'down'. Grandma came from a well-to-do family and always had servants. Father was her only son-in-law who could not speak English, or had a comfortable government/office job. He always felt the other relatives looked down on him, which explains why he never joined us in visiting Grandma at Chinese New Year, until that year my brother was graduating university.

All the 'not good enough' was to spur us on to better things in life.

Would I prefer him to have been different? Sure, but as much as I remember the pain of being 'not good enough' for Father, I cannot imagine what pain he felt for all those years thinking that he was 'not good enough' for the family his wife was born into.

Still, uneducated as he was (he taught himself much of the Chinese he knew) he raised a family of six children on the strength of his own tenacity, struggled to give us a good education, and in the end made us people and professionals that any parent would be proud of.

All the best to Victor as he sits his A levels!! Aren't we blessed to have a Father in Heaven who does not think that we are 'not good enough'? And it is because we are true sons (and daughters) and not illegitimate ones that our Father chooses to discipline us.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Running the marathon

I've just come back from a lovely church 'weekend away'. The speakers were missionaries out in Asia. We were looking in Hebrews 12 and how we are to 'run the race'. This was compared with running a marathon. There were also many references to Eric Liddell made famous in the film 'Chariots of Fire'.

I first met the speaker many years ago in Bangkok on a mission trip. He later came to speak at my university and impressed on me the need to 'travel light' for those who are preparing to go into missionary service. I have taken that advice very literally. I left Singapore in 1991 with one suitcase to go into full-time Christian ministry.

We sang the song 'Majesty' (Worship his majesty, unto Jesus be all glory, power and praise ....) and immediately it took me back to a Varsity Christian Fellowship camp on the beach back in Singapore, O, so many years ago.

The question heavy on my mind was 'Where are all my mates from the Christian Fellowship all those years ago belting out the 'glory and power of God'? Are they still in this long marathon we run? How many have done a 'Paula Radcliffe' and given up on that kerb in Athens? How many more had returned to run even when the going has got so very, very tough?

Where are those friends who have risked discipline from school principals (head teachers) and parents (to the point of being thrown out of their homes) in order to practise their faith?

There have been many ups and downs in my own life too. There have also been many temptations to stray along the way. I have been very blessed that there have been friends and teachers along the way to sustain me. I don't think I have been 'stronger' than most, but I've learned that I am allowed to be angry.

There have been many times when I had been 'angry with God', just pouring out my pain in tears. Most recently it was over my husband's debilitating illness that had caused so much uncertainty in our lives. It was impossible to make plans when we knew that husband could go to bed one evening and finds it impossible to get out of bed the following morning.

I was angry, SO VERY ANGRY, and fearful, yes, that too. But I was angry with a God who also said that He will be my Rock.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. Let all that is in me praise His Name!

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

"He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

"Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."

Isaiah 40:28-31

Help me, Lord, to keep running this race.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Exams for under-threes

From which planet do our government ministers come from?

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,172-1864565,00.html

In a new Bill being proposed, under-threes in the care of nurseries and childminders will be legally required to be taught a National Curriculum. To be policed by Ofsted, this is to ensure that children are taught mathematics, reading and writing.

Why? Because three-year-olds have been found to enter PLAYschool (NB emphasis on PLAY) without the necessary basic knowledge.

Yet three-year-olds are known to be excluded from playschools for their ability to swear.

How do you square this? Who teaches young children to swear? Who teaches young children to count?

Is the government now saying that mothers cannot be trusted to teach their own children? Or are they waking up to the fact that too many children are left in the care of institutions and now these institutions must step up on their surrogate parent roles?

In either case, the reasoning is flawed. The government is treating the symptoms of a problem and not the root of the problem.

One category of children not learning are children left in the care of childminders. Childminders provide a safe environment for children while parents work, but they are not obliged (till this Bill becomes law) to provide intellectual stimulation. That is why I chose to stay at home to look after my own kid.

'[Beverley Hughes] argued that research showed that earlier education helped children to develop faster both socially and intellectually.' Us real parents know that.

'The children will be expected to have mastered skills such as comparing, categorising and recognising symbols and marks.' Us real parents do that when we take children on walks, talk about the different shapes and colours of leaves on the ground (comparing), as we read car number plates and road signs (recognizing symbols and marks), sort out the cutlery, clothes and toys before putting away (categorizing).

Solution: Parents (either father or mother) be helped to remain at home when children are nought to three to give them their best attention during their most formative years. There are related issues like mothers (especially) returning to work, having to re-train, etc, but these are to do with employment practices and cultures that legislation alone cannot resolve.

Another category of children are those whose parents do not have the resources to teach them, mainly children of immigrant parents with limited English and those who have little education themselves. The mothers of these children are not likely to be able to earn enough money to make it worthwhile to work and so won't benefit from this scheme.

They are best helped through themselves being better educated. They need classes where they can learn English and other skills (parenting, playing with children, doing craft with children) ALONGSIDE THEIR CHILDREN.

If three-year-olds can learn to swear from their parents, they can also learn good habits, maths, reading and writing. If parents are not equipped to do this when their children are under-three, these same children will not get the necessary support when they become five, eleven, thirteen, and so on.

Isn't it strange that a government that does not believe that babies born to single teenage mothers (who are themselves children) should be encouraged to put them up for adoption to give these babies a headstart should now consider giving carers outside the home the responsibility of teaching these babies?

Why have a baby in the first place? Why let a fifteen-year-old mother keep her baby when she should be given a chance to move on to make something of her own life? What chance have such babies got to get out of this vicious circle of unplanned parenthood?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Garbage in, garbage out

I just thought it might be a bit of fun to sign up for Google AdSense to see what ads they might place on this blog spot. Before you sign up, they tell you that you can filter out undesirable ads.

So imagine my shock when I checked the site early Monday morning and found that they have listed pl--t-c b-gs and pap-r stuff like that, on a site that is trying to get people to STOP using p-as-i- ba-s and p-p-r.

I'm not spelling those words out in full in the (vain) hope that the Robot crawler that scans the site might be confused and not place any more of those offending ads on the site.

In my simple mind, one should be able to write instructions to tell a machine/software to 'exclude', 'negate', 'ignore' etc so that it does not do what it is doing to my site.

Imagine a site extolling the virtues of vegetarianism. We live in world of binary opposition. When we talk of vegetables, we often do so as in opposition to me-t (muscle from animals). The Robot, it appears to me, would see 'm-at' and goes, 'Ah, 'me-t'. Put 'm-at' ads on that site!'

By the same logic, if I were to launch a site promoting my Christian belief, and at some point mention 'Sat-n', the Robot would then pick up on 'S-tan' and list a whole bunch of ads on 'S--anism'.

I can't believe the technical team cannot do something about this. But they insist that they cannot, at least for now. Meanwhile I spend much of time filtering out pla-t-c ads. Very frustrating.

So if this experiment does not work and the AdSense become AdNoSense, then every ad will be removed. It's not as if I'm being paid lots of dosh for this. For whatever reason, my account stands at a remarkable $0.00. But every penny/cent earned, I thought, could be given to charity.

My charity would have to wait a long while, I'm afraid.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NO MORE PL_ST_C!

For those of you (yes, all eight of you!!) who do read this blog, you would know where my stand on plastic is. So why are there GoogleAds on p_a_stic on this site?

I don't understand either. But I am getting the technical people to sort it out. Meanwhile, just ignore the 'pl_st_c' ads.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bag it!

I'm delighted that the silk wine gift bags I ordered some four months ago will be available for sale later this week on the Organic-Ally website. Here are some pictures:



These bags are made from silk, locally sourced and woven, by women of Tabitha in Cambodia. This organization has been helping the poorest of the poor in this country for the past ten years. Tabitha provides a regular income for widowed mothers, land mine victims, displaced war and famine victims, etc. Every item of craft they produce is unique and beautiful.

I had some of these bags for sale at an event promoting 'fair trade' at Milton Keynes last week. The lovely customers there tell me that I was selling these bags too cheaply. Organic-Ally will also be returning all post-tax profits to Tabitha.

It is a rare phenomenon these days when the purchase of a lovely object would mean that (1) the producer is genuinely helped, (2) the recipient of this gift would be delighted, and (3) the environment will also benefit through a reduction of paper use.

Check out the 'wrapper that does not eat paper' at Organic-Ally.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lazy parent or vindicated?

My son's headmaster drew parents' attention to this report in the Daily Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/29/nclasses29.xml

The gist of it is that middle-class parents who try to give their children a headstart by filling their children's days with all sorts of 'enhancement' activities (French, dance, piano, violin, swimming, computer, etc) might be stunting their children's development. Children need to develop at their own pace. Filling their days with structured activities does not always guarantee desirable results.

Tee-hee! I thought, rubbing my hands together (mentally). Vindicated once again.

In Singapore for our first holiday since son's arrival I was trying to get books in Chinese to get him started on a second language. A former professor said, 'Books? Who reads books these days? Get him CD-ROMs. Teach him how to use a computer.'

It echoed friends' and neighbours' comments that I should invest in software and a children's keyboard that goes over a standard computer keyboard to help my son learn numbers and colours. My reply to friends and this professor was the same: I prefer to sit son on my knees and teach him those basics. (And besides my son had already mastered the colours and 1 to 10 with coloured wooden blocks, but I didn't want to say this to my well-meaning friends.)

Teach him to use a computer? My belief is using a computer to this generation of children is like using a telephone. They learn through 'modelling', just as boys in some cultures learn to hunt or fish for a living. They learn to do what their fathers and mothers do. There is no need to sit my son in front of a computer to explain 'CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse'. The computer is part of his habitus and he would soon learn how to use it.

Which was exactly what happened. My son watched husband and I use the computer. He asked questions. We supplied the answers. He observed over weeks. One day he asked to try using the computer. We let him. Mouse - click on left button. And away he went.

He couldn't read very well then, but he discovered an e-card site and kept going back to it (on 'Favourites') so that he could click on a card and watch the animation. Soon he had learned how to navigate around the various children's sites he had asked us to bookmark for him. Scroll down a list of 'Favourites' to find a certain site? No problems.

My son thrives on structured activities. He is a creature of habit to a great extent. Even at a few weeks old when we had friends over for dinner, I nursed him at the dining table instead of my usual chair. That night he could not get to sleep. As he grew however, he also learned to use his unstructured time profitably. Construction toys and marble runs can keep him busy for hours. And now he could read for hours on end if we let him.

Unstructured time also means he has to learn to make choices and live with the consequences.

As for tennis, football, piano, etc, and even Chinese, we go on the principle that he learns best when he is ready and happy to learn. So we speak some Chinese, or French or Latin (which I am trying to learn, occasionally) when he shows interest and learning remains fun (especially when Mummy makes mistakes too). We let him play on the piano, guitar, violin, etc, when he wants to play and he tries to get sensible sounds out of those instruments. But we don't push. We don't expect him to pass his Grade Eight exams before he turns ten.

Maybe he won't be a good musician at all. It does not matter. Maybe his spoken French will never be fluent. But so what? He won't ever win at Wimbledon. O! we are devastated -- not!

But we sincerely hope and pray that son will be happy, and he would be able to look back at his childhood and say to his own children, he enjoyed growing up with Mummy and Daddy around him. He is now keen to go on to university if only to take part in University Challenge. If he decides NOT to go to university at all, I am not going to force him. (Husband has different ideas.)

He is probably going to be more useful to society if he became a really good hairdresser, as far as I am concerned. It is his life, he has to live it. My only desire is that he lives it to the glory of God. Then everything else will fall into place.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Save Water, Cut Hair

Those readers in the UK who have been following avidly Penney Poyser's series on No Waste Like Home might remember the scene where she shows us how to shower.

Yes, wet, soap and rinse. No problem there. But when it comes to hair, her advice was wet, turn off shower, shampoo, and then rinse. We saw footage of her shampooing her beautiful long black hair.

My toes froze.

The idea is that we do not waste water by leaving the shower on while we shampoo. Easy to do that in the summer, but in the freezing weather, we tend to leave the shower on (I do, I'm afraid), face away from the shower and shampoo while the warm water keeps me, well, warm.

This is a far cry from being in Singapore where typically we turn off the shower to soap and shampoo. But it's constantly 33 degrees C out there.

In fact I remember when we had droughts and the daily national water consumption and (lack of) rainfall were closely monitored.

As we do not have large porcelain/enamel/whatever bath tubs in our little flats, children are usually bathed in plastic bowls ('basins' as we call them in Singapore) serving as bath tubs. Adults use a large sturdy plastic bowl to hold warm water (boiled in a kettle and mixed with the cold) for a 'splash bath'. Only in more recent years did electric showers with instant hot water become a feature of new homes.

In a drought, my practice was to shower standing in one of these plastic basins. After the standard wet-soap-rinse, the water collected is then reused, usually to flush the toilet.

Although we had a flush toilet in our flat, for years Mum would keep water from her laundry (all done by hand) in huge buckets by the toilet and we then used this water to flush the toilet. Even after illness took a toll on her health and we bought her a washing machine, she still piped the waste water from the washing machine into as many buckets and basins as she could find to save this water for flushing the toilet.

Saving water, or rather not wasting it, is not something we did only in droughts. It was a standard practice in our household. But if you thought using water twice was primitive, think about using water three times.

I made two visits to rural North Thailand villages in my undergraduate days on 'mission trips'. In the first the five of us in the group didn't realize that the trough of water in a little shed with a squat toilet was for flushing the toilet. We used that water to brush our teeth. O, and we prayed really hard.

On my second visit, this time on my own, I learned that in this particular set-up (an orphanage), they keep drinking water (rain water or water from a well) in a trough outside the kitchen. Typically, water used to clean food (vegetables eg) or to wash our hands was retained to be used again for washing up after meals. Water that had been used twice and now a bit murkier was then put into the trough in the toilet (from which my friends and I had been using water for teeth-cleaning two years earlier).

Imagine my shock when I saw my husband leaving the tap running while brushing his teeth. (He's been set right since.)

For those who can't, like Penney, bear to turn off the shower while we shampoo, my solution is simple: keep your hair short. We use less shampoo, we clean it quicker and therefore use less clean water.

Ta-da!

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Forming Good H-A-B-I-T-S

In a previous post I noted the need for people to form a habit for recycling and caring for the environment.

Here's a lesson I learned from my Art teacher at 13, and I have never forgotten it.

The word HABIT.

Take away 'H', and you still have A-BIT.

Take away 'A', you are left with BIT

Take away 'B', you are still left with IT.

You see, HABITS are rather difficult to get rid of. So, let's make sure that we only try to form good habits instead of bad.

This is a serious lesson for us parents, I think.

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No more paper kitchen towels (almost)


I am showing you a picture of my forlorn looking empty kitchen towel roll languishing on its stand.

Why? It is testimony to what happens when one switches to cloth table napkins.

When this roll was full I didn't think anything of tearing off a sheet or two to clean the table, wipe my mouth, etc. Since reverting to cloth table napkins, we don't actually miss the paper.

The down-side is we often get our napkins (in natural unbleached organic cotton) mixed up*. No, to say that we use a clean napkin at every meal would be telling a lie. But if they are used only once at the end of a meal to clean some greasy lips, there is no real need to wash them after each use.

*Solution: I'm buying different coloured organic cotton napkins from the Hankettes range so that each member of the family has a different colour napkin. Well, until I am able to find eco-friendly napkin rings that could be personalized.

As for cleaning the table, well, I've learned to be less lazy. Because our dining room cannot be further from the kitchen (it takes a full three seconds to get there!), we used to resort to the kitchen towel to clean up spills, wipe down the table, place mats, etc. Now I make it a point to use a cleaning cloth instead.

Let's be honest now: Don't we ever use paper serviettes and kitchen towels?

Yes, we do, when we eat with our fingers in which case we might need two or three cloth napkins, or when we entertain a large number of people and we simply do not have enough cloth to go round.

Since we normally do use proper cutlery and we are a small family, cloth napkins are usually adequate.

If you are keen to do your part in cutting the use of paper, consider using cloth napkins again. Try it with any old bits of fabric you might have or recovered from old shirts and stuff and see how it goes.

When you choose to go down the organic cotton route, you know where to find me.

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