Friday, November 30, 2007

Danger in Toyland

...and it ain't some creepy melodrama villain after Annette Funicelli and Dick van Dyke!

It almost seems like a blessing that all these toy recalls have happened in the last year or so. Finally the idea that the products we buy for our littlest community members need to undergo the highest scrutiny is gaining visibility, as well as the idea that products created by slavery-like factories in a very unregulated country might not be of the highest quality!

We're working on buying things made locally, and then in the USA, and then by scrupulous countries, not just for toys but for all things. I need a new water bottle, and Sigg is both safe for me and my breastfeeding and occasionally water-sipping baby, and it's produced by a country that's meticulous in creating its products without harming the environment. And I'm okay that this once every several years purchase is not a local one. We do the farmer's market, buy things made by work-at-home moms locally, and also just try to reduce the amount of stuff we require from the earth, too.

Okay, so getting back to toys. There are a couple of points that are shaping the purchases of my friends it seems (forgive the overlap, etc.):
1) Not made in China (NMIC), but also not made in other unreliable and unethical countries...and this just might include the USA! See below....
2) Ah yes, ethical purchases! Why support a country's economy when it's subjecting its people to human rights abuses (Howdy, China!), or tacitly encouraging the child sex trade (hello, Thailand!)?
3) Safest for our babies. Now, it surprised me to learn that Europe has much higher standards regarding toys than the US. So European toys are likely the best bet. They don't allow phthalates in toys, which is a big one for me. Companies that sell to a broader market actually adjust their products to meet the European criteria, so it CAN be done! I'd rather get the Euro toys than the ones made especially for US babies with this very dangerous plastic modifier.
4) Wood, metal, or cloth toys only. This goes along with finding the safest toys. Cut plastic out of the equation completely. Now, you have to be careful here, because just because a toy isn't plastic doesn't automatically make it safe. Those recalled Thomas trains were metal with lead paint, MIC. And lots of wooden toys are MIC, too, like Melissa and Doug toys. So we are left searching for safe options. I'm trying to collect some resources on that, which I'll include below.
5) Playability vs. marketability. Most of my friends are staying away from branded characters, like Dora, Disney princesses, and Elmo. Experts agree that toys are better when kids can get more play out of them, when they are not tied down to recreating storylines from a TV show or using a toy in only one way. Open-ended toys, like those typically made by good US and Euro companies, will offer more fun and be used by children for generations.
5) Quality over quantity. This is something we're trying to abide by for our whole lives, but it's especially good to remember around Christmas time, and especially for babies. Babies don't need a million toys. Even my daughter, who loves "the new," just needs us to rotate which toys make an appearance in her life, and suddenly they are new and exciting! I'd rather give her a few high quality toys that are safe and fun, than a hundred low quality plastic toys.

Okay, so where do we turn for these safe and ethical and play-full toys?

Oompa Toys is a good place to start because it lists products by country.( http://www.oompa.com/ )
Amazon has Haba Toys--some of this brand, like the cloth ones, are MIC, but the wooden ones tend to be made in Germany, and each product makes it clear (well, if it says, "lovingly designed in Germany" that's probably a good hint it was manufactured in China). There are natural toy shops in a lot of towns now that can address these concerns, too. I found some strong research on this issue as well as resources for good toys in the last issue of Mothering Magazine, which should still be out now (I get mine at B&N). I'll add more as I see links on the ongoing online discussions of this. Add those that you find, too!

((Here's another good site I just found advertising on TBW: http://www.downtoearthtoys.com/ )))

Hopefully, as we strive to provide the best environment for our little one, while being kind to the greater environment, we'll work to model this behavior in all the things we use and purchases we make. China is the factory of the world right now, so it's virtually impossible. Some purchases are just made. But we can cut down on what we purchase. While our house is full of stuff manufactured on the cheap of cheap plastic and other materials, we can at least go on using it, rather than demand new products of the earth. And when the time comes to replace a few of the things, we can look to local and high quality sources.

For now, we'll have some fun playing!

Additional Resources I've come across:
www.healthytoys.org/ is a new website that most parents are saying is indispensable. It will also give us a chance to get the movement for safe toys and products some more attention. It's shocking how many products have lead in them, for instance, like shoes from Target. Of course kids try to chew on shoes! Ai yai yai! I try to be a laid-back mom and let my kid get into the dirt and all, but it's hard when the dirt may be on lead-carrying shoes or pesticide-laced grass... well, getting informed is going to be the first step!

Blessings

Okay, Thanksgiving was last week, but it's not too late for a few reflections, as well as some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while now. Especially because this week Tiny Face is conducting a sleep-deprivation experiment with me as her principal subject. Greetings from 3am!

We had Thanksgiving at our place this year, which was really nice for TF's first real holiday. Dashing Daddy's family came over and it was the whole feast/football deal. Here are some pics:

TG centerpiece

TG centerpiece closeup

turkey cake with no flash

Our Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Day Feast!

Sophie on Thanksgiving

I did placemats with various literary quotations on the theme of thankfulness/gratitude, because TF loves to yank on table cloths, so they were out! Cloth napkins of course, tied with raffia. Turkey, homemade gravy that wouldn't thicken so I added more and more flour and then it thickened half an hour later wayyyy too much, sweet potatoes with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, nice steamed green beans, corn, and peas, mashed red potatoes, apricot-cranberry sauce, cornbread apple stuffing, homemade pumpkin pie (even homemade crust my mom taught me to make, and homemade whipped cream), and that chocolate cake with a turkey design.... yep, it was a feast! And most importantly, we had a great time all hanging out together. When I think back to holidays as a kid, that's what I like best, and what I treasure now even-- how we can all just hang out together, maybe getting a bit silly, maybe just sitting around watching a movie and grabbing leftovers from the fridge, just being relaxed and together. Family.

So obviously I was thinking through cooking up cornbread and printing up placemats how grateful I am for my life. And this is something I've tried to do for a long time; simply, count my blessings. Whenever I felt persnickety about having to lug a load of textbooks from the library to my classroom, I'd try to focus on what a beautiful day it was on our peaceful campus, and now when I'm serving as a sleep deprivation test subject, I try to remember how fortunate I am to have my healthy baby, and to live in a place of relative peace and safety and privilege. And even the fact that my baby can't go 40 minutes without waking/needing to be nursed/patted and can't sleep without me by her side, won't even go down by herself for a couple hours at the start of the night, which is all our normal (not like the wiggle-every-twenty-minutes hijinks of this week), and she always needed to be moving even from one month old, and won't let me simply nurse her down on the bed but must be walked (not rocked! nothing so comfy) and nursed and walked and nursed, and can't handle noisy crowds indoors like say a mom's group where I can socialize.... whew! And dude, even my fellow AP moms talk about how they can do all that stuff with their babies, so it's the baby, not the parenting.... But then I realize that I have a rare husband who truly sees our life as a partnership, including raising our daughter, cooking, laundry, cleaning, and taking care of each other. Truly a gem. So we all get a break somewhere.

When the wildfires were heading towards our house and the news was saying the big one would very likely tear through our neighborhood overnight, I found myself realizing that I was totally okay if my house burned down. We had gotten prepared that morning and had all essential documents and memorabilia (mostly) and it was okay if all our stuff was gone. We had our family safe. It was rather freeing to realized I really was okay with the idea of shedding the majority of our material stuff. Not to diminish the loss of the fire victims, but the idea of purging away all the accumulated dross was appealing. I think reducing our load of stuff is a goal to pursue now. And I'm thankful that the real good things in my life aren't stuff but my family and friends.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's 10:00...

Tiny Face woke up a little before 5am. She went to sleep soooo early last night, before 6pm. Of course it was a bit of a challenge to KEEP her asleep all evening but worth it as I got to eat pizza in bed, brought to me by my sweet husband, and we got to watch a movie together all the way through! I got up pretty game, thinking she had done this a few times last week and was all cuddly and went down again pretty soon. HA!

OVER FOUR HOURS LATER she finally goes down for a 40 minute nap. Now we're back up again. OH boy.

Did I mention it was one of those wiggle-every-ten-minutes nights last night? Whew. We had fun this morning but when I needed breakfast she was not letting me put her down or even eat without grabbing at my food before I could get it anywhere near my mouth. I was so hungry and tired! I know there was probably an easier way to deal, but I swear my IQ is dropping steadily. Something about not being able to have a long train of thought.

At least she's pretty happy these days when I'm playing directly with her. Fun! But demanding in terms of getting a chance to eat or comb my hair. Which I still haven't done this morning. Yeesh. Better do that before I can escape out to the fabric store. Where's that hat....

The Agony of Defeat... and the Contentment of Watching Too Much TV

So... I can win NaNoWriMo with a bad cold. I bet I could win it with a 7 month old, too. But a bad cold plus a 7 month old? I surrender!

It was already so hard to try to scrape out a few minutes here and there to write. And I write best when I can get going, after close to a thousand words; the ball just starts rolling and I can do several thousand in a sitting. It was already incredibly frustrating to try to write while stopping every ten minutes to position Tiny Face on my boob to nurse (as she slept-- she'd wake and whine and I'd try to keep her asleep so I could write!). When I got the cold and I was even more tired than I've been the last seven months? YEAH. When Dashing Daddy took her to walk her down for the night or she fell asleep, all I wanted to do was sleep or watch very mentally unchallenging television. The good news is, the pressure of November made me revisit my novel from last year and do a ton of planning for book number 2. I just have to go with the flow now, in motherhood. And I can say, as a two-time writer/winner of NaNo, it was just not the same this year, and at 20,000 or so it was time for a break. We can do another challenge in January.

So, we're back to normal life. Better post a few things about Thanksgiving and other thoughts that have been tumbling around inside my head... in a little bit.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Out of the frying pan...

They're in another forest. Yup, straight from one to another. My MC (main character) even has powers of magical transportation (I gave her this just so I wouldn't have to write all the traveling scenes I was still OVER from the first book), and yet... at least I know basically what's happening next, it's just the filling out that's a challenge. Ugh, just got to get started and it'll all roll along. I can always make it veryveryvery short and plan to come back later and fill it out, and just get them back out on their main quest for this book! But I know if I stick with it, I'll start typing in all these little interactions and details that I didn't know existed among the characters. At least I know they are going to a temple on the coast, a sybil's cave, a desert, and the moon before the end of the book! And then out to sea! Yay, no more slogging through forests!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

NaNoWriMo Ate My Donut

Okay, NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul is the forum for novelists in distress, but I'm doing okay. Maybe just like NaNo stole my delicious pastry. I am on target thus far for my word count. I'm finding the time to write during Tiny Face's first nap of the day, when I am not in such dire need of a nap myself. Noveling in the morning, napping in the afternoon, maybe a little more noveling at night, or some DVR TV with the Dashing Daddy. Not a bad life! Of course I've always had a week off for Thanksgiving, as high school teacher, which usually involved either preparing a feast for many or traveling to Davis as well as grading many papers, but also affording gobs of free time for making a push through catching up, getting ahead, and getting through the tricky middle of the book. We'll see how I slog through that push this year. Everyone seems to say week two hits you the hardest (the old name for the distress forum used to be I Hate Myself and Want to Die, and it got many hits with week two), but I think it's when you realize you can do this, but you have so much story to get through and bring together and bring to a crescendo. And you have enough done that you can see what it's actually becoming, and you can compare this to the ideas you had when you began... Yikes! Don't want to psych myself out early! Besides, what am I doing wasting precious words on my blog? Well, it's okay, I've finished today's word count quota as well: 6,753 outta 50,000. And I finally finished the first chapter and got them the hell outta that dang forest!