More Animals for the Family

Since the new house that The Boobook and I moved into is much larger than my little apartment and has a spacious garden, we decided to add a little to our family by getting a pair of rabbits!

It’s best to get rabbits in a pair so that they can keep each other company.  As prey animals, rabbits tend towards having a little bit of a protective warren mentality.  A single rabbit on its own might get a little lonely.

12115590_10153238423282337_417323767397965535_n

Our new rabbits, Bonnie and Clyde!

It just so happened that a friend of mine happened to have some spare baby rabbits.  See, she’d gotten a pair of rabbits from a neighbour who swore up and down that they were desexed.

Well, they weren’t.  So within a week of her getting the little animals, they did what rabbits did and she was inundated with lots of little mini-lop rabbits.

Bonnie and Clyde (or Bonbon and Clydie, as we call them) were the last pair left of the first litter and she’d kept them aside for me just so that I could have them.  They’re sweet rabbits, both female and extremely well bonded!

12509316_10153406154207337_783951429571021435_n

Chillin’ after a good grooming.

Bonnie, the blue rabbit, is more human-friendly.  She loves her cuddles, pats and scritches, especially behind the ears!  She’s always looking out for Clyde and loves to lick and groom her friends (even her human friends!)

Clyde, the brown rabbit, is more temperamental.  She’s got an opinion and she’s not afraid to show it!  She’ll tolerate patting, but absolutely hates to be picked up.  She’s much more adventurous than Bonnie is, and absolutely loves her food!  She’s often face-first in the hay loft as soon as it’s filled.

Either way, I’m happy to have them.  They’re a happy addition to our family.  If they’re well cared for, rabbits can live up to 12 years, so J, Little E and Thumper will have plenty of chances to meet them when you come up to visit!

Now, all this writing has tuckered me out.  I think I’ll have a nap.

12342586_10206949195781072_7266275623945071137_n

Is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) an illness?

Debs G’s note: This post was originally published in Sunlight Follows Me (my old medical blog) on 20 Sept 2005, and has been revised and updated for publication on Owls Well.

Now, I totally agree that some people, after being diagnosed with an illness, will automatically attribute all their life’s tribulations to the workings of the disease. So many times, I have had patients coming in to see me, expecting to see their social problems disappear with the treatment of their physical problems.

Now, I personally believe that everybody has a brain that is wired in a totally unique way, and that we all have our little insanities. We all perceive the world in a different way from the next person. We all have our personal problems and struggles.

Illness, namely illness resulting from issues in the cognitive, social or psychological realm, results only when the thoughts or beliefs of a person interferes with their lifestyle and from performing very basic functions like eating, sleeping or interacting with other people. That is, these personal problems are only an illness when the person in question isn’t able to manage in society, and may even pose a danger to themselves or to the people around them.

I think there is a case for identifying people who need assistance from a professional outside of one’s own family, and sometimes it helps to have a diagnosis, a label, because that gives an answer to the question “What is wrong with me or my child?”. Knowing the answer to that question is often the first step to recovery. People who come to see doctors often don’t have an adequate social network that has the strength, knowledge or the resources to cope with their afflictions.

ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, and its variant, ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) is one of these medical diagnoses that draws a lot of negative publicity. As awareness for this disorder grows, we are currently seeing a lot more children being labelled as having ADD/ADHD.

I actually have a very deep personal interest in children with ADD, having had the opportunity to followup several children with this disorder over a minimum period of 5 years, as well as having grown up with a little sister who was formally identified as an ADHD child at the age of 10.

ADD defined as a triad of hyperactivity, impulsivity and distractability. It is only diagnosed in children of school-going age (ie. after the age of 5), which is why most teachers tend to view this disorder with rather a jaundiced eye. There are still alot of people out there who are very skeptical about the existence of ADD – but I can assure you that ADD is very real and children who have it do need help.

ADD is a developmental disorder, much like autism. Unlike autism and other developmental disorders like dyslexia, ADD is still not widely understood. Autism when reduced to bare bones, is a failure of development of emotional centres – which is why children with autism often are unable to socially interact. ADD, however, is the failure of development of concentration.

The failure to develop adequate concentration skills means that the ADD child has learning difficulties. This does not only apply to learning from books, but also learning from observation and deduction. ‘Behavioural influences’ will not teach this child anything because they won’t be able to pick up the subtle cues. Thus, the ADD child does not learn important and very basic social skills, and this leads to inappropriate behaviour.

Now, one of the differences between the ADD child and the ‘ill-behaved’ child is that no amount of good parenting or discipline will change the ADD child. This is a key problem that many parents and teachers fail to understand.

An ‘ill-behaved’ child will eventually respond to a change in social environment or consistent and firm discipline. For example, if an ‘ill-behaved child’ is placed in a structured and orderly environment with positive reinforcement for good behaviour, he or she will fall in line by the sheer force of peer pressure and the desire to be rewarded.

The ADD child does not understand when they have done a bad thing (common example: Repeatedly getting up and walking around the class whilst the teacher is still talking and everyone else is still seated) because they have not learned what is considered socially appropriate. They simply have not observed that nobody else behaves the same way they do because it is unacceptable to do so. Disciplining an ADD child often has little or no effect, because they have not fully understood why they have been naughty – so instead of feeling sorry or guilty, they feel incredibly maligned. Worst of all, because they still haven’t learned what they did wrong, they are likely to repeat the ‘bad’ behaviours time and again.

The ADD child is an exasperating child. They fiddle and fidget. They often do incredibly stupid things for no reason. They are easily provoked. They get into trouble. They don’t know the difference between ‘silly’ and ‘irritating’. Exasperated parents will say “Grow up!” or “When will you ever learn?”, exasperated teachers will say “Apply yourself!”, exasperated peers will say “I hate you, go away!”.

The ADD child often does poorly in school and has no friends to speak of (it’s difficult to tolerate their inept and awkward behaviour – especially their lack of respect for personal space, and their bizarre multi-conversations about several topics at once). Everyone around them appears to dislike them and yell at them alot. You can understand how the ADD child will have really low self-esteem. It’s a pretty sad situation to be in for a small kid.

The second difference between the ADD child and the ‘incorrigible’ child is the effect of pharmaceutical treatment. The drugs used to treat ADD will only work on ADD children – in a normal person, the medication (which is similar to amphetamines or ‘speed’) will only worsen hyperactivity and impede concentration, but paradoxically, it works to calm down a person with ADD.

In calming the child, it gives them a greater ability to focus their minds so that learning can take place. I am always amazed at the efficacy of ADD treatment – results can be seen in less than a month (Fewer phone calls from angry teachers, fewer accidents in the household, grades at school seem to be picking up, child actually seems to be absorbing what you say).

This, of course, does not mean that all the changes can be solely credited to the effects of medication. It is up to parents and teachers to encourage the child’s newfound focus in the right direction. It is totally up to the child to motivate themselves to work hard in order to change. The medication is used to ‘buy time’ whilst the child’s concentration ability develops to a more age appropriate level.  

It is probably true that ADD kids, if left to their own devices, may eventually develop enough concentration skills to be able to cope socially. Indeed, there are many who have managed to get by with ADD, only for the issues to surface during their working adult life, when they are required to focus during long boardroom meetings or spend many hours beavering at a desk.

However, naturally developing the strategies to cope with ADD could take years, and a kid with a poor school record will be greatly disadvantaged – especially in an unforgiving society like Singapore, where performance first few years of schooling has a great impact on the sort of educational opportunity a child will have in the future. Additionally, the social isolation that is associated with ADD children can be psychologically damaging.

The idea of medical treatment for ADD is that it is used as a stepping stone, to bring a person to a level when they can begin to deal with the difficulties that they are facing. The medical profession is often used as a resource to access other services – counselling, behavioural therapy, support groups, social workers and health visitors – that can be helpful to the patients. But it is the patient who is ultimately responsible for their own personal trials. Doctors are only helpers; it is the patient who must battle their own demons.

It is also useful for a person to be able to name their afflictions. Naming it means that you have power over it. Having a diagnosis gives the person something more tangible that they can deal with. It gives a family hope that there is something that can be done and shows them what sort of special needs a person may have, and how to manage them. It also brings awareness to other people who can in turn respond with understanding, and maybe even a little forgiveness.

Living with Adult ADHD: A Becky Lee’s Top Tips to Coping with ADHD

It is no secret that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  I was diagnosed when I was about 10 years old and was on Ritalin from 14 years old until I started attending University.

After starting University, I gradually stopped taking medication, as I had developed enough coping strategies to get by.

A few weeks ago, Debs G put me in contact with a woman who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and wanted to know more about living with it. Since we at Owls Well believe in sharing information, I’ve decided to share with everyone what I told her about how I manage my ADHD behaviour as an adult.

That being said, while the tips below work extremely well for myself, they may not necessarily apply to everyone with ADHD.  What I do works well for me because of various factors including personality, learning style and what I can get away with at the office.

I would recommend using these tips as a vague guide for a starting baseline.  How you eventually manage your ADHD will evolve over time and depends strongly on what you feel comfortable with.

Debs G’s Note: The tips below are not a guide to behaving “normally”, they are methods used in order to focus the mind and function at an optimal level in order to improve work performance. If you do not have ADHD, these tips will not help you in the slightest.

1. Practise Careful Medication Management

If you are taking medication, I would strongly urge you to take it regularly as per your prescription and NOT as and when it is needed.  It takes a while for your body to get used to the medicine, so taking it randomly tends to leave you with weird moodswings and periods of highs and lows.  Set an alarm on your phone or a reminder in your Outlook or fancy gadget watch to make sure that you take it on time everyday.

On the flip side, if you miss ONE dose, don’t be tempted to “make it up” by taking it outside of the normal time you would take it, especially if it’s afternoon or evening.  I once took a Ritalin pill in the afternoon instead of the morning and became unable to sleep for the whole night!

Also, don’t cut the pills, even if you have a fancy pill cutter.  The ADHD medications often have slow-release coatings that prevent your body from metabolising the medicine too quickly.  When I was in boarding school, I had difficulty swallowing one of my Ritalin pills due to a sore throat.  The nurse cut the pill in half to help me get it down.  I then spent the rest of the day in the sick bay high as a kite, with a splitting migrane as my body processed 20mg of Ritalin in one go.  I could have ended up in the hospital.

2. If Your Mind Wanders, Do Something with Your Hands

Let’s face it, meetings are the bane of people with ADHD.  The very thought of having to sit still for more than 5 minutes is enough to drive me up the wall.  Unfortunately, Meetings are a necessary part of the corporate world and there aren’t many workplaces that won’t have some.

If you find your mind wandering during a meeting, give your hands something to do.  I find that if you’ve got something tactile to deal with, you’ll often focus a little better.  I live in Australia, where strange behaviour at meetings is pretty much the norm, so my boss doesn’t care if I’m knitting during meetings.  However, if you have a stricter boss, consider bringing a notepad to doodle on, or one of those squishy stress ball things to squeeze (and possibly destroy).

3.  Whistle While You Work

Okay, don’t literally whistle while you work.  I used to whistle during Secondary School when I did Math.  It disrupted everyone else’s work, but helped me focus on the task at hand.

That being said, Snow White is correct in one aspect.  Having a song helps you set the pace, especially when you’re doing something mundane or boring.  I find that listening to something like a podcast, audio book or even some good music helps to engage any extra mental energy I have and helps distract me from the mundanity of what I’m doing.

4.  Post-it Notes and Stickers are Your Best Friend

I have post-it notes EVERYWHERE in my office.  They’re on my desk, on my drawers, on my paperwork and on my monitors.  I use bright coloured notes to help me keep track of what I have and don’t have to do.  And when tasks are done, I simply toss them into the wastepaper basket.  Easy peasy.

Little animal stickers work well for me to.  I put them on things that need daily attention, like my toothbrush.

5.  E-Numbers are NOT your Friend

I once wrote about how red cordial makes you crazy.  Well, it does and so will all sorts of artificial food colourings.  This goes double if you’re on medication.  I don’t know why this is, but every time I ate or drank something that had food colouring in it, I became crazy hyperactive.  Don’t do it.  Don’t drink the cordial.

6.  Eat What You Want, but Live Healthy

That being said, there’s a lot of dietary guides out there claiming that one food or another can help with your ADHD.  With the exception of artificial food colourings (as documented above), I’ve found that my attention span is the same whether I eat chocolates, sweets, fatty or fried foods, or anything classified as junk, or whether I eat healthy salads and low-fat foods.

It’s the same with fish oils.  People used to give me all sorts of fish oil or vitamin supplements to help me with my “concentration issues” and honestly, I didn’t see any difference between my behaviour when I was taking them regularly and when I didn’t.  The only vitamin supplement that I do take regularly is Vitamin D, which is for reasons entirely unrelated to my ADHD.  But hey, if you feel that there’s a difference, by all means, go ahead and take them, it’s unlikely to do any harm.

One thing I do highly recommend is regular exercise, though.  Keeping healthy is always important and exercising works off extra energy.  If you have difficulty concentrating at the gym, I find that doing unconventional exercises and sports like pole dancing, yoga, trapeze, ballroom dancing or fencing tends to be more interesting!

7.  You do You!  Confidence is Key!

One of the most important things to remember with ADHD is not to let yourself feel shame for anything that’s unimportant to the overall quality of your work.  I used to feel super-bad about my messy desk at work, which caused me no end of distress.

However, over time, I’ve realised that having a messy desk is more useful to me than having a neat one, since everything I need is within arm’s reach.  As long as my desk never gets unhygenic and the overall quality of my work is good, then I’m fine.

Don’t sweat the small things.  When you make mistakes, look into how you can deal with the mistake immediately, and prevent it in the future.  If you beat yourself up over every careless mistake, you’ll end up so distracted looking for mistakes that you’ll overcompensate for them and end up in a worse situation than the one you began with.  Go easy on yourself.  Everyone makes mistakes.

Be proud of who you are.  ADHD is not a failure on your part.  It’s just a part of you.

8.  If You’re Good at What You Do, You can Get Away with ANYTHING.

A lot of things in ADHD come down to discipline and feeling comfortable in your own skin.  In many ways, it’s easier once you have your diagnosis because knowing that you have ADHD allows you can build tools to deal with your problems.  I’ve found that the most irritating aspects of the condition lessened a lot as I became more confident and comfortable with myself.

At the end of the day, if you consistently produce good work at work, you’ll find that your managers and coworkers will give you more space to practise your coping mechanisms.  Heck, when I was doing my Masters, my lecturers and tutors turned a blind eye to the fact that I was constantly playing video games during class because I was always well prepared and actively participated in discussions!

A Conversation About Challenges

A Becky Lee:  Debs G, I have put a post.  Can you look at it and see if it is ok for challenge?

Debs G:  I’m scared of the challenge.

A Becky Lee:  Well, for the “Entertain a Guest” challenge, you don’t have to bake the drinks to serve your guests.

Debs G:  Why would I bake drinks?!  That would taste awful.  Not to mention, it would be stupid.  I just scared of the challenge.

A Becky Lee: Then why are you scared of the challenge?!  Is there any challenge you can’t do?

Debs G: I think I can do the things. As long as it doesn’t require a rolling pin, it’s do-able.

A Becky Lee:  Pie can be pot pie, so that does not need a rolling pin. You can just stick pastry sheet on a ramekin.

Debs G: Ok.  Ok.  I will do it.  I will be brave.

A Becky Lee:   I will be on hand to help you with recipes if you really stuck. But I’d rather you figured them on your own.

Debs G:  I WILL BE BRAVE OF OVEN BAKING!

A Becky Lee: BE BRAVE OF OVEN BAKING! GO FORTH AND BE AWESOME!

Debs G:  *Cries*

(Pause)

Debs G:  NO!  I WILL NOT CRY!  I WILL BE AWESOME INSTEAD!!!

Sometimes, a little encouragement can go a long way.  XD

Challenge Accepted!

Challenge-Accepted-Barney-Stinson-06

I accept your challenge and raise you a new challenge!

Since I’ve been watching waaay too much Masterchef, I have decided that you will have to make delicious things.  Also, you have an oven, and mine is broken.  So, for your challenge, I want you to bake all of the things so that I can live vicariously through you!

Since you had 5 challenges, I will challenge you to bake the following:

  • A pie of some description.
  • Something savoury that isn’t a pie (you’ve already made a pie!)
  • A traditional dessert (this one doesn’t have to be baked, it can be steamed)
  • A bread
  • Entertain a dinner guest using ONLY food that has been in the oven at some point (a baked dinner!)

Sounds fair?

To start the challenges off, here’s something I prepared earlier!

FullSizeRender (1)

A shawl for the Aged P!

Since I had a whole bunch of lace yarn, I decided to make a pretty yellow shawl for the Aged P to wear on her many cruises.  It should match most of her wardrobe.  The pattern for this shawl comes out of Jane Sowerby’s Victorian Lace Today and is notorious for being one of the most difficult to complete, but I think that it’s quite flattering.

IMG_2830

Upper Lace Honeycomb Pattern

And it combines two different lace patterns too!

IMG_2831

Lower lace Butterfly Pattern

So, booyeah!

Since this was something I prepared earlier, you can decide if it counts towards the challenge.  If not, I know that the Aged P likes tea cosies, and might make one as well.

Author Showcase: Chris Haughton – Children’s Book author and illustrator

Last year, we were very fortunate to have been able to attend a workshop at the Singapore Writer’s Festival led by one of our favourite authors, Chris Haughton.

J and Little E were ecstatic when I told them that we were going to meet the author of one of their favourite books A Bit Lost – a charming story of a sleepy little owl looking for it’s mummy with some help from a friendly but confused squirrel.

DSC05382

At the Closetful of Books pop-up store, holding their precious copy of ‘A Bit Lost’

We got to the workshop early so I had some time to browse some of Chris Haughton’s other award-winning books at the pop-up bookstore run by Closetful of Books.

Oh No, George! is a funny story about a well-meaning but unfortunate dog who is always getting into scrapes. I love the colours in this one, and I think kids can really relate to George’s many difficulties.

Shh! We Have a Plan is about a group of unsuccessful hunters who keep running into all sorts of trouble whilst attempting to capture a brightly coloured bird. This one is particularly good for reading aloud, and the kids find it absolutely hilarious.

Chris-Haughton-Books-Kids-Children-Picture

J reading ‘Shh! We Have a Plan’ to Little E and Thumper

When Chris Haughton arrived, he was utterly captivating from the start, managing to hold both J and Little E’s attention for nearly a whole hour. He talked about the different ways in which he planned and created each book, and the inspiration behind some of his character designs. It was enlightening, listening to him talk about his creative process and watching him engage with the children.

Mr Haughton showed us some pictures that he drew when he was a very young boy. He told us how he loved drawing and would draw all the time, everywhere. This was something that resonated with J especially, who owns a small sketchbook that he takes around with him.

Chris-haughton-singapore-writers-workshop-2015

Dancing, puppetry and general awesomeness

Towards the end of the workshop, Chris Haughton demonstrated how he would use a single picture to tell a complete story. He got children in the audience to shout out ideas for a ridiculous and unlikely method of capturing squirrels, finally settling on the most outlandish idea of all (which you can see in the picture below).

The kids and I stayed until the very end of the workshop, and Mr Haughton was kind enough to autograph our books. He even gave J the picture that he drew during the session! J was so thrilled.

chris-haughton-sketch-author-illustrator-app

Drawing with Chris Haughton

Chris Haughton, is first and foremost, an artist. It just so happens that his work as an artist includes creating children’s books using different mediums.

One of his other works is an app for children called ‘Hat Monkey‘. The app is an interactive story about a little Monkey who needs a lot of help, and kids can feed, sing, dance with and even talk to the little Monkey. Isn’t that cool?

Chris Haughton’s awesomeness doesn’t end there, by the way.

Before Mr Haughton started publishing children’s books, he worked as a volunteer designer for fair-trade organisations for over 10 years. After he published his first book, he went to Nepal and India to work with various fair-trade projects who now produce handmade toys and other products related to his books. These are sold on his personal website (where you can also get signed art prints), and all the profits from each sale goes right back into making more fair-trade projects.

Mr Haughton also set up aother fair-trade project called NODE, which works with a Nepalese non-profit technical school for disadvantaged adults. The employees are all given an education and apart from receiving fair wages, they also support a school and orphanage. The school now produces gorgeous hand woven rugs designed by Mr Haughton (and many other designers who collaborate with NODE to produce custom-made rugs).

I felt really privileged to have had the opportunity to meet with such a lovely person, who is using his skills for good and for awesome!

DSC05524_Fotor

Chris Haughton and the Owls Well fan club

Find Chris Haughton’s books here.

Download Hat Monkey here.

Support Chris Haughton’s Fair Trade projects here.

Find out more about NODE handwoven rugs here.

Baby-friendly recipe: Chicken and squash risotto (with a twist)

Okay, so most babies in Singapore will begin their weaning journey with iron-enriched rice cereal and proceed on towards rice porridge.

I like to switch things up a little and introduce my weaning baby to a variety of different cereals like barley, oats and quinoa. This is partially because rice – even in its baby cereal form –  is a natural source of arsenic (and I want to avoid too much of it), but mostly because I like my children to become accustomed to a wide variety of tastes and textures in their diet.

baby-weaning-oats-quaker-cereal-breakfast

J at 15 months old enjoying some breakfast oats

As soon as my weaning tots are well established on an iron-rich diet1, with plenty of meat and green leafy veggies, I like to start them on wholegrain cereals which are higher in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their refined counterparts.

Now, I normally associate oat cereal with a hearty breakfast porridge, but another way to include some wholegrain goodness in the diet is to add it to the rice cooker!

Here’s a great recipe that my entire family has enjoyed – and it’s suitable for weaning babies from 9-12 months of age too!

quaker-oats-for-rice-recipe-pumpkin-weaning-baby

Debs G’s Chicken and Squash Risotto (with a twist)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • one brown onion – diced
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets – diced
  • 500g pumpkin or butternut squash – diced
  • 200g courgette – diced
  • 2 cups washed rice
  • 2/3 cup wholegrain rolled oats (I used Quaker Oats For Rice)
  • 800mls water or unsalted stock (I used homemade chicken and vegetable stock)
  • Optional: grated parmesan or cheddar cheese

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat
  2. Add chicken, pumpkin and onion. Cover the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent.
  3. Pour into a rice cooker, adding the courgette, rice and oats as well as the water or stock
  4. Cook for 20 minutes (or until rice is done)
  5. Fluff up and serve (with grated cheese topping) for the family or blend to the desired consistency for your weaning tot!
  6. Enjoy!

Update: For those of you with a Thermomix, here’s how to do it

  1. Place onion in Themomix, chop 3 seconds on speed 5
  2. Scrape down bowl, add olive oil and saute onion 3 minutes/varoma/speed 2
  3. Scrape down bowl, add diced chicken and pumpkin/squash, sauté 3 minutes on 100C/reverse/speed soft
  4. Insert butterfly attachment (optional)
  5. Add stock/water, courgette, rice and oats, cook 20 minutes/100C/reverse/speed soft
  6. Pour all into thermoserver and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes to allow risotto to thicken
  7. Blend to the desired consistency for baby or serve with parmesan cheese

(This post is sponsored by Quaker Oats, which has been a staple in the Owls Well household for 10 years and has been favoured by our families for generations. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Owls Well.)

P.S. Quaker is having a promotion at NTUC Fairprice supermarkets till 12 Mar 2016. Stand a chance to with a Tiger Induction Ricer Cooker worth more than $700 with every $5 worth of Quaker products purchased.  Check in stores for details. T&C applies.


1. Wholegrain cereals are high in phytates, naturally found chemicals in the bran of the cereal, which bind to iron during digestion and inhibit absorption. If your baby is not receiving iron from other sources, and you are counting on cereals as the main source of iron, either choose refined cereals to improve iron-absorption from the gut or consider using home-processing methods (such as soaking) to reduce the phytate levels in your chosen wholegrain cereal.