December 23, 2008

Save Handmade Toys

From the Handmade Toy Alliance website:
In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public's trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small part, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number.

All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.

For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers and manufacturers of children's products, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business.
  • A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • A work at home mom in Minnesota who makes cloth diapers to sell online must choose either to violate the law or cease operations.
  • A small toy retailer in Vermont who imports wooden toys from Europe, which has long had stringent toy safety standards, must now pay for testing on every toy they import.
  • And even the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007.

The CPSIA simply forgot to exclude the class of children's goods that have earned and kept the public's trust: Toys, clothes, and accessories made in the US, Canada, and Europe. The result, unless the law is modified, is that handmade children's products will no longer be legal in the US.

If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.

Please write to your United States Congress Person and Senator to request changes in the CPSIA to save handmade toys and children's products. There's a sample letter here, or you can write your own. Find your Congress person here and Senator here. You can write directly to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission by clicking here.


December 22, 2008

Custom Vinyl & Earle's Departure

I was searching through my iPhoto library for a particular picture and stumbled upon these photos of the custom vinyl show Jerry took part in back in October. It was at one of our favorite stores, Monkeyhouse Toys, here in Silver Lake.

Jerry contributed six pieces to the show. These two, the devil and angel, are my favorite.The two just above Jerry's head are his as well. They're called "Robber" and "Space Cop."
The artists that make these things are so creative.
It's amazing to see what people come up with.
Some of them are hilarious.Most of the artists are adults, but the store owner, Myra, always tries to get a few kids in her shows.
Okay, onto the real reason I was searching through my photos this morning. I was looking for a picture of my grandma's husband, Earle. Earle turned 92 last week. He and my grandma met late in life, lived together for a long time, traveled the world (or part of it, anyway) and finally married, maybe ten years or so ago. Earle was one of the original California surfers. He continued to ride the waves well into his seventies. He's loving and sweet and so good to my grandma (who went through more than her fair share of not-so-good-guys in her life). Earle has been in the hospital for the last week and a half (with a brief layover in a nursing home), but last night the doctors sent him home for hospice care. His body is shutting down.
So today we'll be going down to spend the day with him and my grandma. We're bringing soup and cookies, and maybe some surf music. We'll reminisce and hold hands and surround him with love, so that his journey out of this world will be just as wonderful as his journey through it.

December 19, 2008

Urban Chickens

I've been thinking about getting some chickens. We have room in the backyard. And it would be so cool to have our own eggs from our very own chickens. I've looked at designs for building simple chicken houses. I've read numerous articles on chicken care. But today I read something that stopped me in my tracks. It's from the Poultry chapter of The Encyclopedia of Country living by Carla Emery, in the section titled "Chicken Injuries, Diseases, Parasites."
Egg-Bound - The chicken squats, strains, maybe spends all day in the nest looking constipated. Treatment: Pour warmed olive oil into her vent. Feed her castor oil. Then gently try to maneuver the jammed egg out.
Now I don't know for sure what a vent is, but I can guess. I can also guess that the warmed olive oil doesn't flow freely into said vent. I'm thinking it will need some help. But then I suppose if you're prepared to "maneuver the jammed egg out" you're not going to think twice about maneuvering the warmed oil in. Anyway, this has got me thinking that maybe the fantasy of owning chickens is better than the reality. Still, I guess I'll never know 'til I try.

My neighbor did purchase a flock of chickens in our honor from Heifer International this year for Christmas. Maybe I should be satisfied with giving chickens to someone else. But that's just not the same.

The truth is, I want to live on a farm. Just a little one. With a goat and a cow and a couple sheep. And horses. And a ruggedly handsome stable boy (Warren has already nixed that part of the plan, though). I do like urban living. It has its perk, to be sure. But I'd like to live on a farm at some point during my life--just to try it out. Even if it's only for year.

For now I'll just have to pretend. Now that the deck is done, the vegetable garden can go in and (maybe) the chickens can come to roost. Hmmmm. Maybe we could find a ruggedly handsome veterinarian to take care of the egg-bound chickens. That could work.

December 16, 2008

Photoshoppin' With Jerry

Jerry's been messing around with photoshop...

Now we know why the soon-to-be-ex-prez (35 days and counting!) stumbles over his words at times. He's got other things on his mind.

Jerry wants me to give credit to his friend Jackson for showing him the ways of photoshop's healing brush. Jackson's instruction enabled Jerry to make this picture.

Snowball Soap-Prize

Ta da! There it new do. And that's my friend Poliana with the identical haircut. We didn't plan it. Poliana used to babysit Jerry back in the day when I was taking acting classes twice a week and working out with a personal trainer and Warren was slaving away under James Cameron's iron fist on Titanic (over a hundred hours a week!) and our marriage was on the brink of collapse. Ah, the good old days.
We love Poliana. Look at Jerry--he's so happy in her arms. He didn't want to leave her house. We had stopped in for a visit on our way home from Violet's (after the super fun cookie swap party and sleep over) and I think he could have happily stayed with her for a week.
A few weeks back our homeschool group had a holiday craft sale and Jerry and I made some "snowball soap-prizes" to sell. I meant to post the photos back then but never got around to it. So here they are...We bought some Ivory soap bars (12 for $4.99 at Ralph's!) and ran them through the food processor's grater.
Then we added a quarter cup of water for every one cup of shredded soap.
And mixed it up, shaped it into balls, and stuck a little surprise in the middle (bouncy balls, marbles, polished stones, a few playmobile pieces--all stuff we had around the house).Here they are drying in the sun. The only snowballs we're bound to see in Los Angeles this winter.
On Friday I finished making the gifts for my sister's family in Ireland. This is the cape I made for my niece. It goes with the cute little skirt I posted the photo of last week (or was it the week before?).
And instead of wrapping the gifts in paper, I used unbleached muslin (50% off at JoAnne's!) and these furoshiki instructions which I found at (my new favorite site). Using fabric is a bit more expensive than paper but I figure it's easier on the earth and it can be used again and again. The next step will be to look for organic muslin, I guess, since cotton farmers typically use a ton of pesticides on their crops.I really want to show you what I made my sister--I love it!--but I don't want her to know what it is so I'll have to wait. Instead I'll post the picture I took last week (or the week before?) when the moon and Venus and Jupiter formed a perfect little triangle in the night sky. Cool, huh?
And here's Patsy, being forced to wear yet another hat.
And this is Charlie showing off his six fingers. We thought of naming him Count Rugen after the six-fingered man in the Pricess Bride but that just didn't roll off the tongue the way Charlie does. We think he's the next evolutionary step in felines--doesn't it look like he has opposable thumbs? Before you know it he'll be using them to pry open cans of cat food when we're not looking.

December 13, 2008

Stop Motion Holiday

Yes, I know I said I would post photos of the hair and deck. I haven't taken them yet. Back off! Oh, sorry. I guess I'm a little stressed. Thanksgiving came so late in the year this time around that I'm feeling all out of sorts because Christmas is just around the corner and I've vowed to make most of the gifts this year and, naturally, I couldn't start making them before Thanksgiving (that would be way too organized) so I'm feeling a bit of a time crunch. I did manage to get the gifts mailed off to Ireland yesterday. So now I can start on gifts for the stateside people in my life. But first I have to finish the newsletter I edit for the writers group I belong to and then I have to write an article for our neighborhood paper. And do laundry. And wash dishes. And finish the robe I started making for Jerry. And--you get the picture. Stress.

The good news is that we're going to a cookie party/sleep over at Violet's house today. So I can forget about all of those things until Sunday afternoon. Last night we baked a bunch of chocolate chip cookies, ate a bunch of dough (which I seriously regret now) and we're baking and decorating sugar cookies this morning. Then we're off to--well, I don't actually know where it is. It's far. And it's close to San Diego. I do know it's going to be fun and that's all that really matters!

Which reminds me...we had another great "Family Fun Day" this week. It was Jerry's turn to choose how we spent the day so we stayed home and put up Christmas decorations, made some origami ninja stars (in red and green, of course), made paper airplanes and threw them off the deck to see whose was best (Jerry's) and worst (mine). We watched "The Cat Returns" and an episode of Total Drama Island--Jerry paused it frequently to give us a rundown on all the characters. We baked and decorated cookies; did some reading; Jerry made a Christmas stocking for Patsy (our dog) and Warren made a cat toy for Charlie and Ravenpaw. I was the consultant for both projects. It was really fun. Jerry captured the putting up of our tree in stop motion and, later, Warren edited in some music and titles. Have a look:

And have a great weekend!!

December 8, 2008

Danger! Overload!

Not me. My computer. I keep getting a message that says I don't have any more space on my computer. It's mostly because of pictures but I'm afraid to take them off. I have an external hard drive (Warren bought it for me last time I started getting this message) but I'm afraid something will go wrong and I'll lose my photos if I try to move them!! I did move some the last time and I guess it worked so I should just shut up and get to work moving those photos. I have 21 gigs of pictures on this thing!

Anyway, I'm telling you ths to explain why there is no photo of the double-decker deck or (drum roll please) my fabulous new hair cut!! That's right. I did it! I cut it all off. Well, I didn't cut it off. Osmond did. Usually when I go to the hairdresser and say "Cut it all off," they talk me out of it. But Osmond did no such thing. He just snip, snip, snipped. It's just above my shoulders and even though I got it cut on Friday I haven't washed it yet because he blowdryed it and straightened it and I know it will never look this good again.

Jerry hates it. He actually cried. I can't remember if that was before or after he told me it made him "want to barf." To which I replied "It's not very nice to tell someone looking at them makes you want to barf." "I didn't mean looking at you," he said, "I meant your hair." Ah.

In his defense, my hair has always belonged, in part, to Jerry. He never had a blankie or a binkie--he had my hair. He used to hold it in his little hand while he nursed and then, when he was older, he'd wrap it around his fingers while he slept. So I understand. But, I explained, I needed a change and hair is just about the easiest (and cheapest!) change a girl can make. And it'll grow back. He still misses it, though.

By the end of the day I will have made some space on my computer so I can show you some photos. Now I'm going to make a second cup of tea and sit on the deck and enjoy our view!

December 5, 2008

Photos & Family Fun

Here's a quick photo round up of what's been going on in our house since my last post.

We spent Thanksgiving at home with Warren's mom, his sister, and her family. Rock Band was a big hit.
The day after Thanksgiving I got very crafty. I made this skirt for my niece.
And this knight outfit for my nephew. I've vowed to make as many gifts as I can this year and I'm off to a good start.
Jerry made a hat for the dog. She didn't seem too thrilled about it.She resigned to herself to wearing it, though. She's so good.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving a little box of bolts
and a bigger box of steel cablesbrought us to the end of the interminably long process of building a deck (two, actually) off the back of our house.We just had to string the cables through the holes
and screw on the boltsand voila! The deck was finished!! Yippee!! Hooray!! Wahoo!!Jerry and Charlie relaxed on the rocking chair after all the work was done.Warren and I poured some 1988 Perrier Jouet for ourselves (and milk for Jerry).
But guess what? It turns out champagne doesn't stand up too well to many, many years in a hot kitchen with no air conditioning. It tasted like vinegar. Sweet vinegar. But still...vinegar.
We were not to be deterred, however. We opened a bottle of wine instead and the celebration continued.Of course, I haven't managed to get my butt out back to take a picture of the whole deck (it's a double-decker deck) in all it's glory but I will. It's a beautiful thing. Now we have loads of landscaping to do. I've been pouring over books about California natives until my eyes are ready to pop out of my head. I think I might go down to good old Theodore Payne today for some face to face help deciding what to plant next to the deck. There are waaaay too many choices when it comes to plants.

However, there don't seem to be any choices at all when it comes to living a dairy-free life. Two days ago I decided to cut out dairy and (horror of horrors!) wine from my diet. Honestly, I don't know which is worse. At least I don't miss wine until dinner time, though. I miss dairy all. Day. Long. The thing is, I'm tired of blowing my nose every three seconds (Warren has threatened to make me a tissue holster) and I think dairy is the culprit. Also, I've noticed that when I drink wine (especially red wine) before bed, the stuffy nose gets worse. And it's keeping me awake at night. And then once I'm awake I can't stop thinking about things like the fact that I probably have cancer and will die an untimely death, forcing Jerry to go to school and Warren into complete despair because then he'll have to sort through all the crap that's piling up in our office and garage without me. And also because he'll miss me. For the record, I have not been diagnosed with any kind of cancer. It's just a general feeling of cancer that's keeping me awake.

In other news, as soon as I posted about Jerry's excessive screen time he started spending less time in front of the screen. How does that happen? Also, we've instituted a new weekly event called "Family Fun Day." The idea is that it happens once a week. It's screen-free. And each of us takes turns choosing how we'll spend the day. I know what you're thinking. You're imagining me standing over Jerry shouting "You will start having fun right this instant! It's Family Fun Day God Dammit!!" And to be honest it could have gone that way. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed and said he was boycotting Family Fun Day.

Instead of panicking, however, I just sat with him on the couch and we talked. Not about Family Fun day. Just about stuff. And then he was fine. And the day was great. We visited our 93-year-old friend Sol (he had a job offer for Jerry), then went to JoAnne's for fabric for a robe I'm making for Jerry, then went to one of our favorite state parks, Will Rogers State Historic Park. We played frisbee, and walked around and sat in silence, then headed home where we ate dinner and sat in the living room reading. At the end of it Jerry said the only thing he didn't like about it was the no screen thing. But when I asked if the day would have been as special if we'd had screen time (it was no screen for all of us) he said no, it wouldn't have. So I think it was a success, and I think it was right to make it screen-free. Next week it's Jerry's turn to pick the activity. He's decided we'll all stay home and decorate the house for Christmas. If he wants to do a screenish activity together that's fine but the idea is that we do it together. I hope all the rest of the Family Fun Days go as well as the first. Of course, with a name like Family Fun Day, things could go horribly wrong. It's almost like we're tempting fate to make it something other than "fun." Still, I'm optimistic.

One final thing. I'm cutting my hair. Short. I think I might do it today. It's all because of Skype. I talk to my sister in Ireland via video chat on Skype. If you've never looked at yourself on a video chat, let me tell you, it's not pretty. Well, for you maybe it's pretty but for me, definitely not. Anyway, looking at myslef on Skype has become too much to bear. Today I actually turned the camera backwards, but my sister said it was disconcerting to be looking at my stove while talking to me. So I think the solution is a hair cut. Yep, I'm pretty sure a hair cut will solve everything. Hopefully it'll cure that cancer, too.

November 23, 2008

Waldorf School Revisited

We went to the Elves' Faire at Jerry's old school yesterday. Yep, he went to a Waldorf school for five years before we went to "school-at-home" for a whopping three days and then, out of sheer desperation, to unschooling. I don't regret our decision a bit but can I just say that I love his old school? I don't love the playground politics or the getting there bright and early and picking him up after seven hours only to struggle with homework until well into the evening.

But, I love that campus. And I love the people. And I love the peaceful feeling I get from being there--especially now that I can go to enjoy myself and visit old friends instead of working like a dog! In the past I've been in charge of costumed characters, usually taking a turn as one of the characters (the fortune fairy) myself. This was the first time I've ever gone to the Elves' Faire strictly for enjoyment. It was great!
I swiped that picture from my friend Jim's Flickr page (without asking...). Thanks Jim!

At park day last week one of my homeschool friends was saying she tends to think of parents at the Waldorf school as of a bunch of rich people dressed in funky (but super expensive) clothes. She knows that's not the case, she said, but that's the impression the Waldorf school gives. It's not my experience of the school at all, though. Sure there were some people I'd consider rich and there were a handful that shop in places where I can't even afford to breathe the air. But for the most part they are families who really believe in the Waldorf philosophy. Still, her comment made me think about the way people view homeschoolers.

When Jerry and I were at the hostel in Marin a couple weeks ago we were talking to one of the women that was staying there and she asked about Jerry's school. As soon as we told her we homeschooled I could see the wheels turning in her mind. She was making all kinds of assumptions about us: "social misfit....over-protective mother...ultra-religious...weird." I'm always amazed at how it's possible to actually see these thoughts flow through someone's mind. It's like they're flipping through a rolodex of qualities (none of them good) we surely possess.

Anyway, back to revisiting the Waldorf school. Some of you may be wondering how we went from Waldorf to unschooling since they're on completely different ends of the control spectrum. Waldorf keeps the kids in a very controlled environment. It's an environment of peace, serenity, beauty, music, watercolors, hand-crafted toys, and stories by candle light. I love that environment. But it turns out Jerry wasn't so keen on it. While we were trying to give him the best of the "old world" childhood (minus the infectious diseases and poor hygiene) he was dying to break out into the 21st century childhood of Nintendo and Club Penguin. Granted, we never went full on Waldorf. He was allowed screen time on weekends but our opinions ruled. And our opinion was that screen time was wasted time, or worse, it was detrimental time.

You can throw a stone and hit a study that says television and video games are ruining our children. But there are a fair amount of studies (you may have to look a little harder) that show us there's nothing wrong with video games or television and, in fact, the screen time we were so wary of offers opportunities for developing qualities and skills that are very much in demand in today's world. Personally, I'm not sure any of these studies has much relevance in our lives. It's possible to find a study on just about anything that will back up your own personal feelings so I think we have to take them with a grain (or ten) of salt. Still, it makes me feel better to know that some people think video games can help rather than hinder a child's development.

In the end, though, none of that really matters because when we opted to unschool we chose to take Jerry's interests seriously. And he's seriously interested in video game and computers and television. So we did a complete 180 and (after a few failed attempts at partial control) decided to give Jerry the freedom to choose how he spends his time.

We're obviously still working on being more accepting of his choices. When I start to worry (like I was the other day) I find the best solution is to keep my mouth shut, post something about my concerns here (devour the comments), read some posts at the Unschooling Basics Yahoo! group, and talk to other unschoolers about the issue. I'm usually feeling better about things in a day or two. If I'm not feeling better, at the very least, I have a plan of action--and a plan always makes me feel better.

My current plan is this:
  1. Plan more Jerry approved outings during the week. Even just going to the library gets him off the couch and out into the world so the outings don't need to be big.
  2. Spend more time hanging out with Jerry during the day. If he's watching television I'll watch with him. If he's playing video games I'll sit beside him and read out loud. I think I just need to devote more time to him. If I'm right next to him he'll be more likely to suggest that we do something together.
  3. Find out how I can expand on his video game/computer/television interests. I've posted a request for ideas on Unschooling Basics and I have a few ideas of my own. I think my support of these interests needs to be more active.
So that's the plan. As much as I need to respect Jerry's interests, I also need to help him make choices that will enhance his life. Hopefully more choices and more time together will mean more time spent off the couch. And more time off the couch will make Warren stop saying he thinks Jerry would be better off in school. And it'll give Jerry more energy. And it'll keep me from waking up at 3 in the morning to read Sandra Dodd and Joyce Fetterol and the unschooling e-groups. And then I'll have more energy. And then my house will be clean all the time and I'll become super organized and I might even start a daily exercise regimen and I'll lose weight and--Oh my God this is going to be GREAT!

November 20, 2008

Just Like Old Times

Ah, it's just like the old days when I first started this blog. Well, maybe not just like them. I'm not totally freaking out about how Jerry is spending his time or what he is and isn't learning. I am, however, a little worried. And Warren is a lot worried.

Jerry does spend a huge amount of time sitting in front of the television watching cartoons. When he gets tired of TV, he plays computer games or breaks out the Wii or PlayStation. I don't have a problem with these activities (Warren does--more because of the time spent on them than the activity itself) but I am worried because he seems to be doing them out of habit--because it's the easy thing to do. He seems to have fallen into a kind of malaise--like he just doesn't have the gumption to get up and do something else. I really think he needs more physical activity but I have to twist his arm to get him to do anything that's active--including leaving the house.

Am I doing Jerry any favors by accepting his first (or second or third) answer to my requests that he get out of the house (or even just off the couch)? People pay personal trainers to help them do what they say they want to do, but fail to acheive without coaching. As a parent shouldn't I be coaching Jerry to become his best self? I want to honor his choices. But I also want him to be healthy and vibrant and engaged in the world around him.

I'm not saying he doesn't do other things but the days when he spends more than a few hours away from one screen or another are few and far between.

At this point I think my plan is to make more plans. He liked the unschooler park day in Santa Monica and he actually ran around at that one so that's a good first step. Yesterday we went to the library. He wanted to stay in the car while I went in but I just said no. He didn't complain and ended up finding a bunch of manga he wanted to read so I'm glad I insisited.

What I want to know is where does the line fall between honoring your child's feelings and rolling over like a wet noodle, always taking their first answer as the final one. I want to support his interest in television and computers and video games but I feel like Jerry is getting compliance rather than support from me these days and that makes me feel like I'm not being the best parent I can be.

At one of the Dragon Tree park days when Pam Sorooshian was speaking, she said that unschooling is like a dance. Sometimes the child is leading, sometimes the parent, and other times parent and child dance in perfect sync, together. So maybe I need to take the lead for now, with my eye on getting to a place where we weave freely in and out of leading, following, and gliding side by side.

November 19, 2008

The Big Four-Oh

So I mentioned before that I set myself a goal of walking the entire coast of California by the time I turn fifty. My friend Sol was the inspiration behind my decision. He walked the California Coastal Trail in seven years back in the eighties. And at 93-years-old Sol still walks four miles every day. Every single day! At 93!!

I decided that the first portion of the walk I wanted to do was San Francisco, starting with crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though I went to junior high and high school in the Bay Area I had never walked across the Golden Gate before.

So on November 1 (two days into my forties) me, Warren, Jerry, my mom, my dad and my sister (all the way from Ireland!) drove down to San Francisco from Sacramento in the pouring rain. We checked into the youth hostel at Fort Mason (the only place in the city where you can get a bed in a beautiful location with free parking for 22 bucks a night!) and made our dinner in the communal kitchen. Here's my mom hard at work.My sister's friend, Amy, and her husband, Bart, joined us for dinner and drinks in the dining room.It had been pouring for two days straight so we were worried that we might end up walking in the rain and we prepared accordingly. Sunday morning was dry though. Warren and Jerry headed off to Zeum for the day while the rest of us met my friends Lindy and Zefra at the Cliffhouse (where our walk would end). My dad drove us to the north side of the bridge--the beginning of our walk. Here we are. From left to right that's Zefra, Lindy, me, Jenny (my sister) and my mom. And so we begin. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves from here on out.It felt so good to be surrounded by some of my favorite people on the planet for an entire day of walking in one of my favorite places on the planet. I have a lot to look forward to in the next ten years!