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Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all - H.D. Thoreau

>> 30 October 2007

  • Do you love reading?
  • Do you think that the books you read say a lot about the person you are?
  • Do you rush to the end of the book to find out how it finishes?
  • Or do you slow down towards the end of a good book because you don't want it to finish?
  • Do you love choosing a new book to read?
  • Or does it stress you out to have to pick one for a trip because you might not like it and have nothing else to read?
  • Do you think there is a moment when you are ready for a certain book?
  • Do you wish you'd read certain books because they are classics and have thus become 'must-reads'?
  • Do you feel bad because you haven't read certain books and feel that as a booklover you should have?
Are you able to name your 3 favorite books?
The 'love currently' and/or 'all-time-favorites'?
Go on then... Post them in comments for me.


Life is a zoo in a jungle - Peter de Vries

>> 29 October 2007

Recently I read about a charity which I thought was a very worthy cause. It helps single parents with a lifesthreatening disease. Single parents already have a tough time getting by when things are rosy. A lifethreatening or terminal disease can however very quickly swing a person out of its wellorganised hinges and it seems that the support is not sufficient at all. All the money goes into the treatment and no money is left to turn the few 'normal' moments with the kids into blissful memories.

When I first read about it, the initiative touched me greatly. I am not a single parent, but I can imagine what you go through as a couple if something like cancer for example happens to you. As a single parent you have to fight this alone and worry about your kids three times as much.

I wanted to support the cause - but as it happens so often, you go to bed and things are forgotten the next morning.

Yesterday I read the same weekly magazine and come across some sad news about the charity: the founder has died. Tears sprung to my eyes and I immediately wondered what was going to happen to her children.
When you have children yourself such stories obviously hit home and you wonder what if...
My other half left for a two-week business trip this morning and I hate it. I know planes are safer than cars or crossing the road, but still. What if...
So hug your loved ones all the time, tell them you love them even if you are going to see them again tonight. Just in case you might not.
And today I will wire some money to the charity before I go to sleep and forget about it.
The charity is called WONDERFONDS and the site is in Dutch only. But I am sure if you write an email to them in English they'd be happy for any kind of support.


You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it - Charles Buxton

>> 17 October 2007

I have recently taken up my studies again. I quit school at the age of 17. I wanted to see the world, travel, earn my own money and independance and not spend years at school when I didn't really know what I wanted to become. My parents did not push me to go to university. Getting a decent job was already a big achievement for them. I got a decent job and I have worked my way up the corporate ladder ever since.

As I mentioned, being independant at a young age was an advantage to me at that time. I was living on my own in Paris when most of my friends were still living with their parents. I had money (albeit litte) and was free to do all the silly things and mistakes one has to do to grow up. I learned by doing, on the job, in real life. I had to deal with finding someone on the weekend to replace my apartment door wrecked by burglars. I had to handle a berserk neighbour knocking on my door every so often threatening to harm me. I had to get rid of a stalker. I had to learn how to fill in my first tax declaration in a foreign country. I am not sure university teaches you this kind of things.

Now that I am (still :-) thirty-something and my life is blissfully settled, I discover regret at never having studied something. For the knowledge I missed, for the experience of having to sit through 4 years of hard work, for the diploma and the doors it opens.

It is not easy to change your career. Most women come to such a point in their lives when they have children and their entire life is turned upside down and with it the priorites they had set themselves. I don't necessarily need to have a fast-moving career anymore. This does not mean that I am not ambitious anymore. I just want to find a job that satisfies me, that allows me to do what I like to do and that is flexible with the life I lead and the needs I have.
Let me tell you that such a job probably doesn't exist. Job flexibility is so hard to find. I figured I could find a job in education. That would at least put me on the same schedule as the children. But as I do not have the necessary qualification for it (being a mother alone does not count for anything) I wanted to do the necessary courses to attend that goal. Well, it seems that in order to be allowed in those courses you first need to have finished your secondary school diploma - which is what I lack since I left school at the age of 17. So now I find myself distance learning to catch up with my baccalaureate.

There are a few major problems I have encountered so far:

  1. getting your brain back into studying mode is a challenge

  2. knowledge gained on subjects such as maths, physics, geography, biology is so far gone that you have to start from scratch

  3. finding the time to study

I want to elaborate on the last point as it gives me the most headaches.

How is one supposed to find time??? after:

  • full time job,

  • feeding hungry kid,

  • putting kid in bath and bed,

  • making and having dinner for partner and self,

  • cleaning up kitchen and other mess

  • catch up on mail, pay invoices

  • catch up with partner's day

After above list is checked off, it's 9 or 10 pm most of the time. Then I have to switch on the pc (which takes about 5 minutes because of too many crap softwares...), read my distance learning mail, find one of the online modules that I have chosen to learn over the next 8 weeks, read online what it is again I need to do or print it because online reading gives your head a buzz after a while. After one or two hours of reading about meteorological previsions and what makes up a climate or doing maths exercices and equations I drag my tired old feet to bed.

Obviously I am horribly off schedule. I have chosen 3 subjects for the first 8 week period (Maths, Geography and English). The only one I am not so worried about it English as I use it every day. But Maths and Geography are decades (I am not kidding) away. I find myself getting frustrated because I just can't seem to get a simple

into my head.

And yesterday I gave up with:

Can you blame me??? :-)

I suppose that planning is the solution to this of course. But even with minute planning, the schedule of my day still looks the same and I end up having no time to do all the things that need to be done.

Does anyone have a magic trick or just good advice for me?


Poverty is the mother of crime - Marcus Aurelius

>> 8 October 2007

US man faces potential 30-year prison sentence for stealing a doughnut.

Picture this: a guy tries to steal a doughnut - probably because he is poor and hungry and just wants to eat. On his way out the shopkeeper tries to hold him back and maybe he pushes her a bit trying to get past her.
Turns out that the push is now being treated as minor assault, which transforms a misdemeanor shoplifting charge into a strong-armed robbery with a potential prison term of five to 15 years. Given the hungry guy's past criminal record, prosecutors could boost that sentence to 30 years to life.
30 years of imprisonment for stealing a doughnut? Because of the principle that 'a crime is a crime', 'everyt crime should be treated equally' and 'it's not the doughnut, it's the assault'?
So the guy has a past: he has been arrested more than a dozen times for crimes ranging from shoplifting to drug possession to torching a car for insurance fraud. He has done time in prison for these crimes. Not 30 years but the allocated time for crimes such as these.
Has anyone ever asked him why he keeps committing 'minor' crimes? I assume he is not rich, probably has a drug habit. He is trying to get by with the little he has and seems to be caught up in a vicious circle.
Don't get me wrong, I do not tolerate nor agree with his crimes. I am just saying that a stolen doughnut is not enough crime to deserve 30 years of imprisonment. And even if he did go to jail for 30 years. What happens when he comes out? He still has no money, his addiction has probably worsened (don't tell me they don't do drugs in jail) and where will he go from there? Probably to another store to steal something to eat.
It is clear that in order to eradicate crime, we need to address the root causes. These include, but are not limited to, greed, inadequate corporate oversight, poverty, lack of education, homelessness, drug addiction, racial hatred, and lax gun laws.
I agree with you that some of these causes are harder to eliminate than others. But without helping (or trying to help) criminals to get back on the right track before they get out again, they are doomed to just get straight back into the same downwards spiral.
In Pollsmoor, a harsh prison in Capetown (South Africa) of which Nelson Mandela was the most famous inmate, is filled with the most dangerous criminals and known for it's gangsterism. It is in this prison that an astonishing experiment took place, led by Joanna Thomas (from Cape Town's Centre for Conflict Resolution), to find out whether these criminals can change. The goal of these workshops is to transform the prison from a militaristic culture to a culture of learning, growth and development, where human rights are respected and people are treated with dignity and respect in order to achieve a reduction in the rate of crime and recidivism.
The goal is to come to a certain 'awakening' where one becomes conscious of things that seemed invisible before.
A prison is like a pressure cooker where everyone keeps everything (thoughts and emotions) to himself. And even if couples, gangs or fraternities are formed, everyone lives for himself, the indiviual must be very strong, contain everything and provide for everything. When you sit down in a circle with these inmates, talk to them and show them sincere interest you will very quickly get a catharsis effect.
Let them listen to some Verdi as sung by Pavarotti and something happens - an inmate maybe suddenly understands what the word empathy means. It might sound kitsch, but these men have very kitsch emotional reactions. They pass from toughness to tears without transition or intermediate state. Things are white or black, they are there or not. In most of the cases, this emotional infantilism comes from a blocked affectiveness development during childhood provoked by a mistreatment, often sexual, often at a very young age.
A big part of Joanna's work consisted in creating bridges between the white and the black, the good and the evil, the wound and the causes. She does not control the catharsis that this 'awakening' brings but she knows that she provokes it and knows the techniques that lead there.
The impact, if spectacular, is not always comprehensible. For us, letting ourselves fall down into the arms of colleagues is already difficult, even if it animates team motivation seminars. How to measure the emotional shock by the same exercise of this visibly troubled inmate who, for the first time in his life, has had a physical contact other than violent or forced? And throwing balls in a group obliges to have eye contact for something completely different than defiance, aggression or submission exchanged usually.
The instantaneous and impressive physical aspect of the process can be explained by the fact that if they were abused and beaten as children (something which the mind cannot comprehend without therapy), it is with the body that they attempt to make sense of things; the body becoming their thinking organ.
When I saw this documentary, I was impressed with the results. You saw these die hards talking about the people and inmates they have abused and killed and once they went to the workshop they were crying because their father had never loved them.
And that is what I mean by attacking the root causes...
So instead of incarcerating the doughnut thief for 30 years and sending him to a prison where his behaviour will only get worse, one should set him down and talk to him as one would to a child who stole a doughnut and ask him why he did it and take it from there. Life would be a better place if we treated everyone like that.
Press article on doughnut thief
Killers don't cry article in French


Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn - Elizabeth Lawrence

>> 2 October 2007

It is October but it feels like spring. It's about 20 deg. C outside, the birds are singing, the bugs are buzzing, the sun pushes the morning fog away and renders everything hazy. The yellow and brown leaves tell me however that it's autumn.

As Albert Camus puts it:

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a

Autumn days...
Smell of fallen leaves, of mushrooms and moss.
Indian summer days
before the cold and the fog take over
and the winter becomes dark and wet.
Going for a walk,
stir up leaves with my feet.

Isn't nature just spectacular?
In autumn there is not enough light and water for photosynthesis. The green chlorophyll disappears and makes room for all the other colours that were hidden underneath. Whether a leaf turns red or brown depends on the type of tree. A maple will turn red because of the glucose in the leaves. An oak will turn brown because of wastes left in the leaves. Not very romantic when you analyse it but how poetic it is to the eye!

Go to Google images, type in autumn and look at the display of colours!


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