Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Napkins are only for posh people

When I was first invited into a British home many years ago, it was not the food or wine that left an impression. It was that my hostess expected me to wipe my mouth with the lovely cloth napkin she had laid out.

This is posh, I thought. Having just arrived from Singapore I was more used to whipping out a tiny plastic packet of cheap paper tissue instead. (I was not using cloth hankies at that point either.)

When I later stayed with a British family, I realised -- to my horror -- these cloth napkins are not washed after every meal as I expected. They are simply rolled up and returned to napkin rings and they are used again at the next meal.

How odd, I thought. How unhygienic, I further thought.

Until recently, our cloth napkins (wedding gifts) only came out of the drawers on special occasions. Until I recognized how unnecessary the kitchen towels, which we've been using as a substitute for table napkins, were did it occur to me that cloth napkins are NOT only for posh people or posh occasions.

My husband and I now have different coloured napkins from the Hankettes range. Son is still happy with his large old muslin nappy. (See earlier blog.)

There are charming stories on how napkins feature in the lives of ordinary people. In 'Evidence of a Good Life' Barbara McCranie notes that her "worn table napkins validate a fine lifestyle. Not just great dining but a higher level of living."

She goes on to say, "It started when my husband suggested new napkins. The dozen white cotton dinner napkins are still good and proof of thousands of dinners for two. The same old couple dabbing and wiping until their napkins are threadbare. You can’t replace that."

I wonder if our napkins might survive thousands of dinners. Just think of the amount of paper saved.

Perhaps you would like to read the rest of the short piece here.

But the funniest story about napkins circulating on the Internet is by an unknown author. I reproduce it in full here (only because the author is unknown):


This is more embarrassing for my mother than for me because I wasn't quite four years old when it happened. My mother taught me to read when I was three years old (her first mistake).

One day I was in the bathroom and noticed one of the cabinet door was ajar. I read the box in the cabinet. I then asked my mother why she was keeping napkins in the bathroom. Didn't they belong in the kitchen? Not wanting to burden me with unnecessary facts she told me that those were for special occasions.

Now fast forward a few months. It's Thanksgiving Day, and my folks are leaving to pick up the pastor and his wife for Dinner. Mom had assignments for all of us while they were gone.... Mine was to set the table.

You guessed it! When they returned, the pastor came in first and immediately burst into laughter. Next came his wife who gasped, then began giggling. Next came my father, who roared with laughter. Then came mom, who almost died of embarrassment when she saw each place setting on the table with a "special occasion" napkin at each plate, with the fork carefully arranged on top. I had even tucked the little tails in so they didn't hang off the edge.

My mother asked me why I used these and, of course, my response sent the other adults into further fits of laughter. "But Mom, you SAID they were for special occasions!!"


So you see, one should avoid keeping table napkins for "special occasions" only, and especially not in the bathroom cabinet!

Other 'napkin sites' that might be of interest to you:

Dispose of Your Disposables

Simply Entertaining: Napkins' purpose goes beyond decorative

Folding napkins

Back to Organic-Ally where organic cotton table napkins are 12-15% cheaper this March.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Being diabetic

This last midweek I had the most awful feeling that I might have got diabetes.

Mum suffered from diabetes for many years before the side-effects of her drugs led to multiple organ failure. Her sister suffered from diabetes and had a leg amputated eventually.

I am paranoid about getting diabetes and avoid sweets and sugars where possible. But this last week my constant thirst (and therefore subsequent visits to the loo) caused me to fear the worst.

I've not been able to get to the GP to rule it out or rule it in. Thankfully those awful symptoms of constant thirst have subsided.

I put it down to the side-effects of some antibiotics I had to take, although I don't remember such an reaction in previous times.

Then it struck me that we, as a family, had been consuming more and more organic food, fruit and drink. When I leave husband to do the shopping, even the most ordinary food (say, jam, flour) is organic.

Could my unfamiliar side-effect be due to a body that has been 'de-toxed' from a diet that is usually pumped full of antibiotics? Who knows?

Any way, yesterday at toddlers group, I went and told the ladies at the kitchen. Sweet old Peggy, 70-something and diabetic, 'O, darling, you know I was size 18 when they told me I was diabetic.'

She was convinced that a skeletal size 8 cannot be diabetic. 'But, darling, if you're really worried would you like me to bring in my ...'

'... dip-stick?'

Peggy laughed, 'She knows what I'm talking about.'

O yes, Peggy. Mum had dip-sticks, colour charts, syringes, insulin, cataract, etc. You name it, I've seen it, and that is why I hope Peggy is right about size 8's and diabetes.

Meanwhile, if those symptoms return again, it will be straight to Peggy to borrow her dip-sticks to test for glucose in my urine.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Value, time, Valentine

Just catching up as I was too ill to post earlier this week.

Husband came back from work 14th February and came into the kitchen where I was getting him a 'welcome home coffee' and a simple meal ready (some tasks still need to be done even when one is ill).

He stuck two £10 notes under my nose. 'For you.'

Me: 'Whatever for?'

Husband: 'Your Valentine's Day present.'

Me: 'You're joking.'

Husband: 'It's money I did not spend on overpriced roses.'

Me: 'Take it away.'

I continued cooking.

Valentine's Day is one day in the calendar that we do NOT celebrate. Wedding anniversary we make a big deal of. VD (Would you celebrate a day that's short for 'Venereal Disease'? I ask you.) We are as anti-Valentine's Day as we could be.

No, we are not unromantic. But romance should not be dictated by the card-makers, florists and restarateurs. It should be inspired by feelings of love and care for each other, unique to your very personal circumstances, that is beyond an ostentatious display of gift (or favour?) buying.

And it certainly should not be restricted to one day a year.

Would I love him less for not buying me roses on VD? Would I love him more had he bought me over-priced roses? No, and no.

My husband became my best friend long before we decided to marry each other. He really wormed his way into my affections by doing little acts of kindness way before romance set in.

For example when I was renting a tiny room in a little flat and was ill, he phoned to say if I'd like him to come round to cook me a meal. It was a simple meal, but it was the gesture of taking the effort and the trouble that indicated that he valued our relationship.

He has probably forgotten that episode -- until he reads this -- but the point is it is little acts of kindness like this that 'add value' to any relationship.

We became very good friends partly because he did not register on my marriage radar at all. Apart from the fact that we were both well past the normal age range for first marriages, I was, and still am, a committed Christian. He, on the other hand, was an out-and-out 'money-theist' (but thankfully he has seen the Light!). He felt completely comfortable in my presence knowing that I was not keen to 'trap' him in a marriage that would mean sharing all the material trappings in his life.

Any way, wining and dining your loved one in the most expensive restaurant when you are filthy rich is not as valuable to me as, let's say, offering to clean the toilet when you're just not up to it. (I own up, cleaning the toilets is not 'my' duty in our household.)

Giving each other time to do the things one wishes to do most, either on one's own ('space') or together ('couple time') is important for a relationship to thrive.

I often feel guilty that I spend too much time working on my business or school fund-raising matters when husband is home. So it takes effort to just pull myself away to spend some 'couple time' with him. Even if it means staring mindlessly at some TV programme, simply because he needs to unwind, and it's just nice to sit next to each other.

On the other hand, both of us need 'space' from each other as well. In my case, letting him watch 'Top Gear' in peace is important, too.

Anyway, after our simple meal, husband thanked me, 'Considering the fact that you were at the doctor's today, I expected to have only cheese and biscuits. This is really nice. Thank you.'

Now that speaks volumes more/louder than roses I do not need. Don't you agree?

By some coincidence, that meal was almost exactly as the one he cooked for me when I was single and ill. Only this time we shared it with our young son.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Murder on the Safari

Husband took time off in lieu yesterday and today. Rather uncharacteristically, if I may say.

We had been totally unsuccessful in trying to get son to visit the London Zoo. We think it would be educational for him. After all, that's what all parents do during school holidays, isn't it? (No?)

Son refuses to go saying that he does not like seeing animals in cages. He must have seen images of London Zoo on TV to come to such a conclusion.

Next best thing we thought was travel a short distance up the M1 to a safari park. There, we assured son, animals are allowed to roam free and not kept in cages.

He agreed to go. We got there, queued up to pay to get in. Soon frustration set in.

After spotting the North American Bison, the Chapman's Zebra, Common Eland, Kafue Lechwe (antelope), Asian Elephant, etc, we were stuck in queue behind a long line of cars, stuck behind an MPV that refused to move.

'Look at her! husband exploded, 'And I bet it's a her. Totally oblivious to everyone else stuck behind her.'

There were easily 30 cars behind her, and she would have been able to see this if only she looked. No, she didn't, until some other irate visitors decided to pass the waiting line of traffic to try to catch a glimpse of the Ankole Cattle she was planted in front of.

She finally moved on a very short distance.

It finally came to our turn to glimpse the Ankole Cattle, and we moved on. She? She was stopped texting someone on her phone. About 50 cars behind her by then.

We moved on uninhibited for a while, but I was amazed at the number of visitors and cars, each and every one spewing greenhouse gases into this beautiful tract of land.

The worst was yet to come. Believe me.

Into the lions' enclosure. Lovely view of the Afican Lion here. Very tame. But as we came to the top of a hill we could see traffic stopped up, winding its way to nearly where we were. We soon joined this non-moving line.

From our vantage point we could see how visitors were stopped on the road for long periods. Sometime this was due to a lionness sitting in the middle of the road. More often we had people who just set there for ten minutes or so (ten minutes, yes!) not budging, not batting an eyelid on the two tight lines of cars waiting to get through.

There was no room for manoeuvre. Though there were two lines of cars, somehow the drivers at the front refused to move on without stopping for a good few minutes to gawp at the big cats and their little cubs.

If it was off-season and the park is fairly empty, that would not be a problem. But on this day there were hundreds of cars queueing up. Yet people at the front didn't think it was only polite to move on. (They had stewards to move you on when you view the Crown Jewels in London, you know. You're not allowed to loiter.)

Like I said, there were visitors stopped for full ten minutes there. Why? Does it matter whether one's children catch a glimpse of these animals for 20 seconds or stare for 20 minutes? They are not going to be zoologists overnight by gaping at these animals for longer.

Meanwhile we took about half an hour to wend our way down that slope of perhaps 150 metres.

Carbon emissions from all these idling cars? I dread to think.

O! And of course there was all the excitement of these big cats feeding. Huge animal carcasses being torn apart in front of us.


'The veggies are not going to like this,' I said, rightly or wrongly.

I think it is wonderful that visitors can get so close to the animals. But I think the park has to rethink the car(bon) emission problem. These animals are being slowly poisoned by the sheer amount of noxious fumes being pumped into their faces.

Sure, there are lots of greenery around which absorb the carbon dioxide, but what about the sulphur and the rest? It is also a matter of principle that greener methods of being 'on safari' should be possible.

I get very blasé about this, I must admit, because I come from Singapore. We have a wonderful zoological garden there where my son enjoyed watching lions, rhinoceros, zebra, etc roaming in huge enclosures, and not a cage in sight (except for the birds in massive walk-in cages).

It is also possible to go on a 'Night Safari' when the animals are most active and 'safe' animals are left to wander around. Visitors are conducted round the park on electric trams. I am just not used to cars being driven slowly -- and ob/noxiously -- in an environment which is supposed to be kind to animals.

This safari park and others in the UK should consider a 'tram system' where visitors can be conducted around in a greener manner. Or at least something should be done to prevent cars left/forced to idle for extended periods because of one or more selfish, unthinking visitor.

So we moved on to the Monkey enclosure and ... yes, once again, visitors parked in the middle of the road blocking both lines of traffic. Why?

Because there were monkeys on her car. She was either too excited or too petrified (or both) to just inch her car out of the way so that others could pass, even when it was clear that people were trying to pass.

Meanwhile we had a car full of hungry people who also desperately needed the toilet. We found our way to the car park and made a scramble for the loos just in time to then dash to the restaurant before the rain came thrashing down.

What do you expect? We're on safari.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Cold (2)

It wasn't cold I felt. I had the chills and other symptoms of a recurring health problem.

Dragged myself to the GP, son in tow.

Tiredness persisted, but still life has to go on. Including making sure customers get the orders they made.

Very thankful that son is usually cooperative.

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Monday, February 13, 2006


It's half-term. Kid at home. Husband at work. Me? Full of cold.

This sneezing business is really tiring. I feel cold all the time too.

Thankfully son is well able to entertain himself (but not exclusively in front of the TV).

Back to Organic-Ally.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Parenting an Only

It's been a rather busy week. Two visits to the optometrist and two mornings at work.

'Work'? What's that?

I can't remember the last time I was actually paid to work. It must have been nearly ten years ago. Since then I've been a full-time mum, occasional academic, regular parent volunteer at school, community groups, etc, mainly in services for women and children, and only recently added 'eco-entrepreneur' to the list.

The nursery my son attended needed a 'helper' two mornings this week and I was asked to do that.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, it was great helping the children do things like put on their coats, encouraging them to complete play activities, and I don't even mind the mundane tasks like cutting out shapes from old cereal boxes for their glueing activites, washing up milk bottles, even cleaning the toilets (which is not my job at home).

But would I do this on a regular basis?



It has however given me opportunities to compare my son with other children.

For a few weeks now I have been fretting over the issues of parenting an only child and had even borrowed a book from the library on this topic.

The nursery context helped me to compare the behaviour of my child with these other children. (I had avoided making any comparison with my son's peers while he was that age. It would only have stressed me out!)

Are only children more pampered, for example?

Well, there was this middle child (MC) from a family I know. When it came to tidying up time, all the children helped. MC, however, simply refused to lend a hand.

I asked him nicely several times. 'No' was one answer he gave. The other was 'I can't hear you'.

The other teachers tell me that he does not ever help. The other children had also noticed this behaviour and told me in not so many words.

But MC is one of five children. How can his parents afford not to make him help tidy up at home?

Well, refusing to tidy up at school does not imply he does not tidy up at home, that is not the point.

The point is with one child, I have had the time to make him do things (tidy up, sort his toys, etc). If I had five, it would be far easier for me to do those chores rather than allow my child time to perform these tasks.

Tidying up and putting things away in a certain way is not an issue of making the house look nice. As a social anthropologist and going back to the basic issues of separating the 'sacred' from 'profane' in the area of religion (courtesy of French sociologist Emile Durkheim), I believe that knowledge comes from an ability to classify.

We classify Mummy from Daddy, darkness from light, cat from dog, and in making a child put things away in a certain order, we are actually teaching the child the technique of classification.

Books belong in one box, musical instruments in another, art and craft materials somewhere else. Then as the little one's territorial empire grows, it is building toys in this box, cars in that, science things in this and animals in that.

Next, the dishwasher. I used to put the cutlery basket (having first removed all the sharp cutting knives) on the counter and my son would, standing on a stool, put away the knives, forks, big spoons, little spoons, etc, accordingly back in the drawer.

One can even extend this to clothes that have been folded: Mummy's, Daddy's and child's.

I am no psychologist but I believe that by so doing, the neural networks (brains) of the young toddler get stimulated and the 'connections' multiply, enabling them to store (and hopefully retreive) more information in the long run.

Do note: Scientists classify all the time: solids from liquids, soluble from insoluble, metals from non-metals, organic from inorganic, the different animal and plant phyllum, family, genus, etc.

If I had m0re than one kid, it would be much quicker to do those things myself, thus depriving my child this opportunity to learn.

I will say more about parenting an only after I've finished reading this book. I would appreciate readers adding their comments on this issue because it is really close to my heart at the moment.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Going organic -- slowly

I was 'in conversation' with another happy customer.

He tells me that "when things need replacing we try and replace them with an organic/fairtrade option". I think that is just such a sensible way to go.

Like him, we are slowly switching over to organic bedding. Although the definition for 'need replacing' is slightly modified in my case. My son and I both have sensitive skin and some things have been making us itch. I wonder if it is the cheap cotton sheets we've been using.

Up till now we've been buying bedding on the basis of whether they look good. For example, son was into anything to do with space/exploration, so we went and got him bedding with a 'space' theme on it. At that time I had no idea what harm conventional cotton was doing and the effect of conventional cotton on the skin.

Some places offer such 'cheap' options that we -- I, really -- had succumbed to the temptation and had bought what I thought would suit us and our son solely on the basis of design.

However when one starts itching as soon as one climbs under the covers, something is not right. It is hard to believe that chemicals from either cultivation or manufacture could still have unpleasant side-effects so long after a product has left the factory. The itch might have absolutely nothing to do with conventional cotton. The truth is: I don't know what causes it, and neither does the doctor.

Still, it does the world no harm if/when as soon as we can afford to make the change, or as soon as things need replacing, we are doing so "with an organic/fairtrade option". That is a good principle which I would recommend to any one.

No use throwing all our current clothes and sheets and tea towels away immediately. It is not going to undo the harm that the growing of conventional cotton, sweat-shop production or harmful manufacture methods (leading to pollution of waterways, etc).

However, choosing wisely what to buy, buying less (frequently) and therefore allowing us to afford fair trade and organic the next time around is the way to go.

Thanks, Ade, for your email.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rant: Buses

It took me an hour (ONE HOUR) to travel that one mile or so to get from my house to the local hospital.

A dear friend of ours had a stroke (minor one, thank God) and I had to go visit him.

It is no distance at all to drive to the hospital. But taking into consideration the parking charges, carbon emission and the supposed convenience of a particular bus service, I thought, surely the bus is preferred.

Standing for more than half an hour in the freezing weather wasn't any fun. The bus time-table declares the bus frequency as 'every 8 to 11 minutes'. The young man in front of me -- he was waiting when I got there -- had had enough and walked off to the main bus station.

I was rehearsing in my head what I would say to the bus driver. I was not going to pay as I should, legally, have my money back if the service was late.

There was no need for that. When the bus came, it was full. The guy who (jumped queue and) went ahead of me couldn't get to pay and was told to hop in the back. I waved my card and the driver told me the same. We tried very hard to re-organize ourselves on the bus to make sure the doors could close.

Then an older lady got on, with some difficulty.

A young mother and her push-chair was wedged at the door. She was positioned to get off. But that also meant no one else could get past her.

At the next stop I had to get off the bus and helped a couple of push-chairs off. Then I saw that there was another push-chair -- empty -- taking up space in the bus. I was furious. Why didn't the mother fold it up? It could have made all the difference.

Next stop: the bus station. More passengers got off, but, wait for this: even the remaining passengers were told to get off. Another bus was waiting.

I was fuming now. There was another bus right behind this one, empty. We had to get on this one. (The young man who walked off earlier got on this bus here.)

Two stops later we were all safely deposited at the hospital.

That short distance has taken me an hour. Is this that kind of bus service that would encourage people to choose (as against 'use') public transport?

Most of those passengers on that bus did not have choice. They depended on the buses. I had the choice, but chose the bus on account of environmental prinicples.

A journey of not more than ten minutes, or 21 even if you added that maximum of 11 minutes waiting time, should not take an hour.

If only walking or biking does not require crossing a very complicated and major round-about, I would have walked. Even walking would have got me there quicker.

Would I choose the bus again?

Watch this space.

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