Friday, December 7, 2012

Slow News Summary: Early Winter 2012

You guys, November was rough. The kids, my husband, and I spent the whole month fighting a bug characterized by multiple relapses - and then there was the onset the blues that hit me every fall in October and November. I don't know if it's post-influenza depression or seasonal affective disorder, but I got myself one of those nifty treatment lights and I've upped my omega fatty acid and vitamin D supplements. I've also been being gentle with myself and filling my time with inspirational reads and project planning, in addition to my volunteer work with The Local Good - we had our fifth anniversary party the other night! Events like that really energize me, because I get to chat with so many amazing people who are working in their own way to make our city cooler. Anyway, let's get down to brass tacks. There's so much interesting stuff to share with you.

I made a snow drawing yesterday! The snail was Terra Madre inspired, obviously. I had to mess with the photo's contrast, and you still can't see the antennae and face detail - phone cameras and twilight aren't a great combination. It was surprisingly easy to do in the freshly fallen powder. No snowshoes required. Lots of fun. 
Oh, yeah. If you're on the Twitter, you might be interested in following all the people on my recently-updated Slow Movement list.

On Slow Design, Slow Making, and Slow Home:
  • The originators of the slow design movement, slowLab, have just launched a Kickstarter to fund creating a wonderful open-source resource that promises to deepen the design conversation and further the slow movement as a whole. The pledge rewards are amazing, especially if you'd like to hold a slow design event in your city (that's a bit of foreshadowing for those of you in Edmonton. Ahem.). Go watch their video, and support their project.
The brilliant folks at Sugru have created a Fixer's Manifesto. LOVE.
  • Speaking of manifestos (manifestoes? manifesti?), Brett at The Lab has created a spiffy one for anyone who is into slow making, slow craft, slow cloth, or just making things from scratch.
  • Brooke from Slow Your Home has been on fire with collaborations and guest posts, and I am so happy for her. Check out her interview on The Midway Simplicity Show, her slow workspace post for Epheriell Design, and her fantastic pre-holidays decluttering guide.
  • I've written before about slowing the suburbs - this post from GOOD on urban farming is an important addition to that discussion. The ability to grow food on the land surrounding suburban houses is a huge asset that we can use to our collective advantage as a society - and we should be figuring out how our city planners and governments can be helping to support that.
  • A twitter friend (thanks Marcelo!) also pointed me to this great TEDx talk from a editor, about suburban versus urban and 'cupcake urbanism' (wonderful coinage!). There are strip malls in Millwoods (an older suburb of Edmonton) that look like his example from Scar-beria, too, with a crazy mix of diverse services being offered by tiny mom-and-pop shops, close to public transit and on-street bike infrastructure and patronized by the people who live in the neighborhood. Drive through the 'burbs on the north side of town and you see the same kind of diversity. If we're going to encourage families to live downtown or in inner-ring suburbs where that diversity of services has been lost, the gutting of inner-ring commercial strips and movement of services to cheaper land on the outskirts of cities needs to be reversed somehow.
  • The guys from Slow Home in Calgary have created a real estate service based on their slow home criteria. Brilliant!
  • I commented when we were house-hunting that, according to our realtors, environmentally-friendly features are seen in the industry as an 'extra', instead of adding value to a home. Green Building Advisor point out that means most banks won't lend you the money for them as part of your mortgage. So, if you're looking to build or buy green real estate, how do you get green features appropriately appraised? This is a really important issue if we're ever going to retrofit existing houses to reduce their huge carbon footprint.
Elaine Lipson from Red Thread Studio posted her presentation on Slow Cloth from the 2012 Textile Society of America Symposium on her blog. It's brilliant and inspiring. Truly. 
On Slow Fashion:
On Slow Food:
  • Holy guacamole: a third of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from food production when fertilizer production, packaging, and transport are included. The CGIAR reports that figure comes from is a pretty important one for you to read, foodies and farmers and thinkers about food security.
  • Locally, there was much ado about Edmonton's food and urban agriculture strategy, which in the end was adopted as written with very little tinkering (If you follow me on Twitter, I was one of many who live-tweeted the meetings.). I have mixed feelings about the results. I liked the draft report as a starting point for creating local food policies, although it needs more meat on its bones. I'm thrilled that city council mandated the creation of a food council and funded office space and an employee for them. The job description laid out for them in the food & ag report is promising, although I'm worried that the position may come with very little ability to change the status quo; local food advocates will need to give whoever is hired in that position a lot of support. I'm disappointed that the discussions about preserving farmland were essentially deferred to the Area Structure Plan process. I'm disappointed that ideas that are pivotal for advocates of urban farming, like bylaw changes to allow backyard hens, were a joke to certain members of council - food advocates will also have some public education to do to overcome such attitudes.
  • At the same time those hearings were going on, there was a Food Secure Canada conference happening in Edmonton - check out Joveena Holmes' Storify to get a sense of the issues around food sovereignty and social justice that they discussed. 
  • Hmm. Is our organic food certification system really as troubled as this implies?
  • Reason had a great post illustrating how government regulations meant for industrial-scale food processing are endangering traditional food-making techniques. 
  • A pretentious old fart in the NYT on food replacing fine art as High Culture. (Oh no! The barbarians are at the gates!)
  • Required reading: the fantastic accounts of the highlights and issues discussed at Slow Food International's Terra Madre & Salone Del Gusto event from Lia Rinaldo (who was part of the Canadian delegation), Earth911, and three posts at Zester Daily. Oh, and an article summarizing Slow Food's legacy that appeared on the Beeb's website just before the conference.
  • So. What are you doing on Terra Madre Day?
  • Oh, yeah, and the Americans had an election and a GMO-labelling proposition got defeated. As an ex-scientist, I have a nuanced view of the GMO issue, so I haven't talked about it much - but here's a great article to remind anyone who needs it that labelling laws are not the raison-etre of the food movement. (Also, why do they put such things on ballots in the States? Why bother having politicians if you'll decide the outcome of complicated policy debates by public ballot? American politics makes my head hurt.)
On Slow Living:
The holidays are upon us, and a few great posts are making the rounds that talk about ways you can slow down the experience. The four-gift rule image above comes from Given To Love. Shareable did a great post a couple of years ago on doing a donation exchange. Treehugger talked about the importance of shopping local, from an urbanism perspective. There are a brilliant list of non-item gifts at SlowYourHome and design*sponge, and slow inspiration to spare with a gift list by Margaret and musings on gift-giving by Zoe at SlowMama. The Savvy Do-Gooder took a critical look at Giving Tuesday.

On Slow Travel:

On Sustainability and Environment:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Slow Design: Veneer Pendant Lamps

I'm obsessed right now with pendant lamps made of wood veneers. Not only are they gorgeous, they're sustainable - they are designed for use with low-wattage LED and CFL lamps, the production of veneer is extremely resource-efficient (imagine putting a log into a pencil sharpener and using the shavings), and FSC-certified versions are widely available. Here are a few of my current favourites:

David Trubridge's stunning flat-pack bamboo ply Coral pendant. Via Design Within Reach.

Propellor Design's magnificent Meridian pendant, a Canadian design,
which is available in birch or walnut veneer or ecoresin. Via Remodelista.

Another Canadian design, Atelier Cocotte's Gladys pendant in birch veneer. Via Etsy.

Transfigure's Trinity suspension lamp in cork veneer. Via Etsy.

Flaco lamp by Casper Madsens. Via 79Ideas.

7Gods' Puku lamp, via 42 Concepts. Out of production but Tom Raffield makes a similar one.

Tom Raffield's gorgeous steam-bent veneer globes (Pendant No.1) make me weak-kneed. 

Most of these beauties are in the $500+ range, which is not in the budget right now. However, I do have some prior experience in creating pendant lamps from scratch. So I'm planning to make something myself to replace the yawn over our dining table. The raw materials are affordable, although finding long veneer strips that haven't been backed with paper or glue is more challenging, and ideally I'd like to find a local, sustainable veneer source (I might even need to work with a local mill or woodturner to have something custom-made.).  I figure, I want to try crossing the instructions for a string pendant lamp (I need a ball at least 28 inches in diameter for it to be the right scale for the room, by my calculations), with the instructions for the woven wood veneer lamp (also seen here), throw in some wood bending techniques, and see what the grain of the wood will allow me to do. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Good Hundred Experiment

On Saturday, I had the great privilege to attend the Good Hundred Experiment and the party afterward. The event was an unsectored, invitation-only gathering of Edmonton change-makers organized by Nadine Riopel and Tad Hargrave with the support of The Local Good. The idea was to put amazing people doing inspiring projects into the same room, get them talking about the work they're doing and providing feedback to each other, and to watch the magic happen. The hope was that new friendships, new collaborations, and new insights would be created, to help smooth the attendees' paths and make even more good things happen in Edmonton.
"We trust that if we bring good people together in a good way, good things will happen."
(click to see the full-size panoramic image)
From the feedback on Twitter, I'd say that goal has already been more than accomplished. You can see the response on Twitter and in attendees' blogs summarized in this Storify by Tamara Stecyk.

I had to leave for a couple of hours mid-afternoon, but I got to participate in the small circle introductions, Tad's Islands Interview exercise, and have lunch (catered by Under The High Wheel) and drinks (at Kasbar that night - also Storified by Tamara) with some of the most inspiring people in Edmonton.

The ideas we wanted to explore in the afternoon sessions were jotted on the wall
over the course of the morning sessions, then our mediator Michelle Riopel pulled out what we'd brainstorm about in the afternoon. I can't wait to see a summary of what came out of those sessions.

I'm told that some of what we wrote here actually belonged on the burning questions sheet. Oops.
Music Is A Weapon's Lucas Coffey
energizing the crowd after lunch. SO fun.
Kaz Mega and Solidario (VladiG) rock their spoken-word piece "Edmonton". 
I learned so much at the daytime workshops, and finished the afterparty feeling energized, inspired, and deeply impressed with the city that I call home. I also got some great feedback and constructive criticism on the projects I'm involved in, and I'm delighted to have been able to introduce a few people who needed to meet, and sit and brainstorm with others on ways to collaborate. It'll take me a few days to process it all.

There will be another Good Hundred Experiment event in the Spring. If you're interested in attending - or you'd like to organize a similar event in your city and you'd like some advice on how to proceed - Tad & Nadine are the people to talk to.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The ABCs of Slow Design

Alphabet Letterpress Print by 1canoe2 on Etsy.

I've been giving a lot of thought to a simple, graphical way to explain the principles of slow design to people who have never heard of it. It occurred to me that, since slow design is collaborative, the best way to achieve that would be to reach out to the slow home, slow design, and slow craft communities to brainstorm a list of adjectives that could then be used to create a typographic poster, or a short message (like SLOW DESIGN) vertically down the back of our business cards.

I'd also love to use this list as the basis for a slow design blog hop! More details on that in a sec.

Sound good? I thought so. Let's get to it.

Slow Design is...
  • Antique, Artisan, Activist, Affordable, Authentic, Adaptive
  • Better, Bespoke, Beautiful
  • Cherished, Covetable, Cradle-to-Cradle, Creative, Collaborative, Community-centred, Charette, ComfortableCaring, Conversational, Curious
  • DIY, Desirable, Durable, Diverse, Democratic
  • Enduring, Ethical, Eco-friendly, Evocative, Engaging
  • Fixable, Found
  • Good, Green
  • Heirloom, Handmade, Healthy, Honest
  • Intelligent, Ingenious, Inclusive, Interactive, Intuitive, Inviting
  • Just
  • Kept
  • Local, Limited-edition, Luxurious
  • Modern, Meaningful, Mindful
  • Nondisposable, Now, NaturalNeighbourly
  • Original, Open-source, Observative
  • Precious, Preservation, Personalized, Participatory, Playful, Process-drivenPlace-making
  • Quality
  • Reuseable, Recycled, Repairable, Relaxing, RealResourceful, Reliable, Responsive
  • Sustainable, Simple, Shareable, Social, Smart, Soulful, Skill-building, SeasonalSensual
  • Timeless, Traditional, Thoughtful, Transparent, Terroir
  • Upcycled, Useful, Uncluttered
  • Vintage, Values-based
  • Well-made, Wabi-sabi
  • eXtraordinary
  • Youthful
  • Z

I have no idea what we will use for the missing letters, especially X and Z. ;-)

What would you add to this list? What terms would you leave out because they need too much explanation or are too politically freighted for some clients? I'll update this list based on your comments, with new ideas (highlighted) and crossouts (like 'Charette' above), as we go.

As for that blog hop! I am so excited to see how you all will interpret this topic, and so honoured to showcase your thoughts on slow design. Let's get started. (If you are participating in the blog hop, please also get the InLinkz code to add the list of posts to the bottom of your blog post.)

(If you are participating in the blog hop, please also get the InLinkz code to add the list of posts to the bottom of your blog post.)

Update: The month-long blog hop experiment is now closed! Thanks to everyone who participated, in the comments, on your blogs, and through twitter. I've added the highlighted words above, and a couple of cross-outs, thanks to your input.

I thought it would be interesting to compare our list with the words used in the text tags from slowLab's SlowLloyd project (seen above), and from the SlowLloyd project's website. Here's a partial list (they have not released a complete list at this time): adaptive, alternative, attentive, caring, commonality, connections, conversational, creativity, curious, deliberate, engaging, gestation, guardians, history, local, memory, mindful, mysterious, neighborhood, open, place-making, playful, possible, public, reliable, responsive, reuse, sensual, sharing, sincere, transparent, and witnesses. Naturally we'd already included some of these words, but I have added and highlighted a few of the missing adjectives.

What a fascinating and inspiring list we have compiled! Please leave a comment if you think of any other adjectives we should add to this open-source list.

Now comes the hard work of turning that into an appealing design that can be used to explain slow design to people who have never heard of it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Slow News Summary: Autumn 2012

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

I'm switching to a seasonal schedule for the slow news summaries, to give me more time for other projects. If you'd like more frequent updates, you might want to check out the Slow Weekly on - although it's difficult to set that up so that it catches all the relevant news without having a lot of peripheral material.

These might be my favourite slow design seen in photos from London Design Festival: orphaned drawers in new chests of salvaged plywood by Rupert Blanchard (via Inhabitat), which were shown in his studio space in the Shoreditch Design Triangle. He also has photos of fascinating furniture made from a patchwork of damaged wooden packaging crates on his blog.

On Slow Design, Slow Home, and Eco-Products:
  • LifeEdited drew our attention to Saul Griffith's "Heirloom Design" philosophy, whose principles are interchangeable with slow design (except perhaps in that locavorism isn't an explicit requirement, although sustainability is).
  • My new favourite blog Slow It Down explored the fleeting pleasures of street art with examples of the scenes in Bristol, England and Melbourne, Australia. (Locally it is chronicled on the Foundmonton tumblr. I've found a few pieces of graffiti near my home on a stretch of abandoned road, but the bored teenagers tagging crumbling asphalt in my suburban neighborhood need to seriously up their game if they ever want to be considered street artists.)
  • Treehugger put together a great, up-to-date explanation of how to lower your home's carbon footprint without breaking the bank.
  • Laura from Simple Design wrote about the interior decor trends she's still not over - several of which I'd argue have achieved classic status. (Me? I'll never be over ikat.)
  • LifeEdited shared the story of McMansions being used as an intentional communities, artists' colonies, and cohousing space - and mused about how sprawling Victorian homes turned into apartments during the Great Depression are a model for the repurposing and right-sizing of huge modern homes.
  • An indoor hydroponic system that's an Ikea hack? I remember when the only people who talked hydroponics were, ahem, weed enthusiasts. This is a different sort of beast, coming from a fusion of permaculture and slow design principles, with one of the stated goals being to allow consumers to themselves become makers and designers.
  • Assemble Papers explored the slow-design ethos of furniture designer Daniel Barbera.
  • The London Design Festival showcased lots of sustainable and flat-pack design this year, but what interested me most were the handmade pieces and the ones designed using slow principles. I've already shown you Rupert Blanchard's work above. Chile's Bravo! showed their beautiful furniture at Tent London, made of copper and native wood species using "rescued local carpentry traditions". Roland Hunt showed stools made of recycled paper and hand-carved resin-coated logs at Designersblock. Naomi Paul showed her gorgeous hand-crocheted Omi Pendant lamps (the photos of the 'Gluck' shape make me weak-kneed). Breaded Escalope showed their Love Me Bender project, which turns creating steam-bent additions to broken mass-market chairs into performance art. English designers also played with the Anglepoise lamp form: Degross Design & Innovation created one from a discarded amber glass jug, while Jason Lloyd Fletcher used salvaged furniture parts for the lamp that was part of his Third Generation Furniture collection (I'm also loving his Genevieve chair woven from upcycled leather belts, which is so much better-executed than 99% of the belt-recycling projects I've noticed on Pinterest).
Jason Lloyd Fletcher's Genevieve chair and stool with marble top. Beautiful work! 
On Slow Fashion:

I'm coveting State's reconstructed smocks. Found via I Am The Lab.

On Slow Food:
  • Here in Edmonton, the draft Food and Agriculture strategy has been released, with only an 8-day comment period (to comment online go here before Monday!) which promises to be followed by a raucous public meeting fuelled in part by a war of words between opposing groups and the emerging public interest in food security and urban agriculture. Those in the know are complaining about how rushed the process has been (possibly as a result of behind-the-scenes pressure from developers), how generic and watered-down the resulting 'toolkit' feels, and how little of the comments provided at various points by local experts have actually been incorporated. Those local experts who were part of the consultation process are not allowed to discuss it publicly. Certainly the report looks to me like very much like what was presented at the Food & Ag conference at the start of summer, which leaves the impression that the consultants were not really listening to the feedback from attendees. (I'll understand if those of you not in Edmonton want to mute my twitter feed until after October 26th - I'll also be doing a lot of retweeting in my role with The Local Good).
  • I'm also a bit obsessed right now with the idea of public urban orchard projects like the ones in London, Chicago, and even Calgary (I wonder how Ralph Klein would have felt about his name being attached to an urban agriculture project?).
  • Also upcoming in Edmonton: Food Secure Canada's annual conference.
  • Slow Money in Canada:

It's canning season, and Treehugger shared some brilliant vintage posters promoting food preservation. This one is part of the Preserve series by illustrator Carter Housh, which also included images of Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves in the kitchen.

On Slow Travel:
On Sustainability: 

George Lakey penned a thought-provoking post for Yes! Magazine on why consumer choices aren't enough to address the bigger issue of climate change, which makes a slightly uncomfortable read about how the sociology of different socioeconomic groups are being wielded by the wealthy and the petroleum industry to maintain the status quo. Read in combination with this post about design thinking (which I found via Treehugger), it'll make you think hard about the narratives behind products, and how best to make a better world. 

On Slow Living and Slow Work:
  • My brilliant twitter friend Stacey has a little permaculture side project going on, that started with a passion for plants, a few fallen trees from a hurricane, and a willingness to dive in and learn on the fly. I've been thinking a lot about that approach to creativity lately - which this post calls "the creative power of the outsider" - maybe because as an over-educated ex-scientist I have an outsider's approach to the worlds of design and fine craft. Or maybe because I share Stacey's impulse to jump in with both feet and immerse myself in a subject. Or maybe both. Of course it has its drawbacks, like a steeper learning curve or not doing things in the most efficient way. However, the reward can be enormous. The most interesting work in any field emerges at the intersections between disciplines, where people with differing perspectives collaborate.
  • The case for spending more on less.
  • Why schools should help students find their passion.
  • A back-to-school kids' clothes and books swap held at a local school? What a lovely idea.
  • Turn off your smart phone and live in the moment.
  • London's RSA hosted a panel discussion on October 4th entitled The Slow Revolution - click through to the link to download an audio file.
  • Shareable on why sharing on a neighborhood scale is a tough sell, and how using tribes as the basis for sharing communities could sidestep those issues.
  • GOOD explained bokashi composting and gave some tips I've not seen before. That reminds me, I need to figure out where my bokashi setup got packed when we moved (oops).
  • I kind of love what New Dawn Traders are doing. Check out the Guardian's explanation from February of their inaugural slow-food-by-slow-cargo voyage, then go browse their blog. Their goals also include supporting and revitalizing the traditional skillsets of the age of sail, and treating each port-of-call as a pop-up opportunity to promote the ideas of the slow movement. How can anyone not want to run away to sea with them?
  • Stop overscheduling yourself and your children.
  • Brooke from Slow Your Home (who is writing a novel *and* an e-book! Go Brooke!) suggested trying single-tasking instead of multitasking, wrote about finding your passion through experimentation, and made a wonderful list of 21 quick ways to simplify that makes a brilliant supplement to her bootcamp posts.
  • Here's a book on slow democracy. What will we attach that adjective to next?
  • Shedworking drew our attention to a brilliant article on how the London Olympics have catalyzed a conversation about presenteeism versus working from home. Meanwhile Treehugger reported on a trade-show talk exploring the future of workspace design, which is leaning toward the creation of flexible team-use or co-working spaces given trends in technology, homeworking, and employees who need to be present at their clients' offices instead of their own.
  • Is it practical to switch back to not answering emails during our off hours?
  • David McCann wrote the terrific "Work Slower, Produce More?" about results-only work environments from a managerial perspective for CFO. The comments largely miss the point, which brings home to me that a lot of organizations are not remotely ready for the way disruptive technologies will change the nature of office work.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Edmonton Waste Management

Last week I went on a field trip with my fourth-grader to the impressive Edmonton Waste Management Centre (you can take a photo tour at the link; the photo is one I snapped with my phone of beautifully-designed posters inside their theatre where the tour begins). It used to be the Cloverbar landfill site, but over the years has morphed into a collection of buildings that includes North America's largest composter, a facility for sorting and baling recyclables from Edmonton's widely-admired recycling program, a paper recycling plant, and an electronics recycling facility beside the rapidly-shrinking former TV-henge. The sorting facility where organics are separated from the rest of the garbage bound from landfill will soon also boast a machine that crushes most of the debris into fluff to be used for gasification, with the ethanol and methanol from that process to be used to run the garbage trucks and the amount going to landfill to be reduced to about 10% of what comes in. The landfill itself, now closed, is being prepared to become a park, and items for landfill are currently shipped about 80km outside city limits. Time constraints meant we missed out on seeing the construction debris recycling facility.

On the whole, the tour was fascinating, and mostly conducted from the safety of enclosed overhead walkways. I was dumbfounded that the piles of stuff still being sent to landfill at this point looked like they were about half plastic that should have been recyclable, even with our city's enviable participation rate in the recycling program. I imagine it's much worse in other municipalities. The other thing that sticks with me is the worker at the electronics recycling plant starting decontamination before he left the floor of the warehouse at a shoe-washing station beside the door into the locker rooms. The hazardous-materials safety protocols also require them to wear a double layer of jumpsuit, helmet, gloves, eye protection, and heavy-duty dust masks.

The whole experience left me feeling conflicted - I am proud of our city for going to such lengths to keep things out of landfill and recover useful resources, but at the same time, I wonder if residents subconsciously use that to justify continuing to buy disposable items that in the long run are trashing the planet in other ways. I'm even more determined to consume less stuff now - especially since most of the machinery involved in sorting and disposing of our waste is pretty energy-intensive, and will become even more so once the gasification facility opens.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Slow Parenting: a talk by Carl Honore

Last week, author Carl Honoré gave a wonderful talk on slow parenting as the public keynote lecture for an early childhood education conference. I completely forgot to take a photo during the talk (facepalm!), so instead, here are his books, which you really should read:

Under Pressure: Putting The Child Back In Childhood,
and In Praise Of Slow, by Carl Honoré

Honoré talked about how childrens' lives have been hijacked by adult fears and agendas, as modern parenting has become a cross between competitive sport and product development. We've been primed by media and advertising to want perfection in everything. This has put both children and their parents under intense pressure that is leading to the opposite of our goal of bringing up healthy, happy children. He shared stories of young adults with helicopter parents who are unable to cope with minor challenges because their entire lives have been stage-managed, the extension of adolescence into late 20s, and grim statistics about ritalin use and abuse, suicideself-harm, and burn-out.

He's not immune to the pressure to overparent, either. He described how, when he suggested an art tutor to his son after a teacher described him as a gifted artist, his son asked, "Why do adults always have to take over everything?" He also told the story of his daughter, stopping to watch a ladybug on a leaf and coming up with an elaborate backstory and context for the insect - while he looked at his watch and tried to hurry her along. Neuroscientists tell us that quiet moments of contemplation, these 'ladybug moments', are the times when our kids' developing brains are on fire, making connections and absorbing information.

The need to dial back on overscheduling and create more time for contemplation for a better academic and life experience has recently been recognized by Eton (with a project to start in November) and Harvard (with this 2004 letter to newly admitted undergrads). Burn-out is also a problem among young athletes, with many kids dropping out of sports altogether during their teens, and Honore talked about the need to give kids a chance to "fall in love with the game" instead of making sports about winning.

Honoré also observed that our newsmedia-fueled fears of our children getting hurt or kidnapped and the "cult of safety" that arose from that has led to a generation being "practically raised in captivity", never getting to explore nature on their own or play pick-up games with neighborhood kids. Some parents are trying to counteract that tendancy by creating 'Backyard Sports' leagues and neighborhood summer camps, organizing 'Dangerous Book For Boys' parties, and taking their kids to nature playgrounds and outdoor preschools.

Finally, he gave some practical advice and answered questions. He observed that raising children is a journey, not a project to be managed using business-school methods. Less is more: the less stimulation and pressure, the greater the benefits for our kids' development. Furthermore, "by giving our children the very best of everything, we are denying them the opportunity to learn to make the best of what they have," which may be one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. 

Parents in the audience asked: how do we slow parent in an inner city apartment, or with teenagers, or with both parents working full-time?  Every family is unique, so he advised finding what works best for your family. Look at your schedules and your kids' interests, then dial back on the extracurricular activities and give your kids more unstructured play time. Find like-minded families to get a support group or find playmates for unstructured play in safe, supervised spaces. Try art or nature projects as a transition to less scheduled activity during the period when your kids are learning how to amuse themselves without resorting to TV and video games.

Mr. Honoré will be back in Edmonton next April to promote his upcoming book, The Slow Fix. Meanwhile, both the above books are available as e-book editions from the various online vendors (is there something ironic about that?). You should also check out Carl Honore's website and TED talk on slowness, and this blog post from another local parent who attended the same seminar.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Slow Living: The Hunt

You may have noticed that when I write about my wardrobe or my decor, or even my bicycles, I end up using the words "thrifted", "vintage", and "antique" a lot. I love the variety and sense of history that older objects bring to a space or an outfit. I love that antiques are green. I love hunting for them, learning about them, and using them. I love the stories that they tell.

While I've never joined a collectors' club, I've been a casual collector of antiques and vintage since before the days of eBay (oops, I just outed myself as old, didn't I?). Now that my kids are both in full-time school, I'm able to spend more time on The Hunt, so I thought it would be neat to make summaries of the cool things I've found a semi-regular feature on the blog. I'm going to include things found at thrift shops, antique malls, or on Kijiji since all three of those are dominated by vintage and nearly-new items in my city.

Here's what I've scored in the last couple of weeks:

The folding plywood chair by American Seating that I told you about yesterday.
Pyrex bowls, a fluted Fire-King bowl, and a small Pyrex casserole - all $5 each at Value Village -
because borosilicate is best.
A china creamer souvenir of Whitehorse, Yukon; a GourMates by Glo-Hill mid-mod chrome serving platter;
and a Birks house brand silver-plate tray to go with my silver-plate tea set. All from Value Village.
Also, for my wardrobe (no photos because I sent most of these things for dry cleaning):
- two wool pencil skirts and one linen tulip skirt
- two lace-trimmed black polyester camisoles from the '80s
- one white cotton button-up blouse

I'm doing the link party thing for the first time, so please be gentle with me. Today I have linked up with Simple Design's Thrift Haul (well, I will when the next one goes live on Monday - meanwhile check out her 5 rules of thrifting) and Cap Creations' Thrifty Love.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A vintage folding plywood chair

Look what I found at a local antique mall yesterday!

I was drawn to this wonderful folding chair by the transitional nature of its design, which combines moulded plywood with quarter-sawn oak and sturdy industrial metal hinges. The tag said it was a steamship deck-chair, but I knew that wasn't the case at a glance.
It folds beautifully and compactly, with an unusual and elegant mechanism.  Here it is mid-fold. 
Completely folded and flipped over to show the underside of the seat with the maker's stamp.

The stamp tells me it was made by American Seating Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan,
who are still in business (in the same location even!) today.
Is that the ghost of an ink-stamped S that I see under the stamp?
The version of the mark on my chair was in use from 1931-1956. In the PDF history of the company, a photo of a similar chair is labelled as a World War Two folding chair circa 1941; they were simultaneously making millions of steel folding chairs for the military. Many of the similar wood folding chairs from American Seating that have ended up for sale on the internet seem to have come from schools and churches rather than the military.

Here is a sibling wartime wooden folding chair on Etsy, with an identical shape and hinges, and a giant U.S. stamp on the back instead of the round stamp (and remnants of inked identification) mine has:
Via Etsy listing for a chair almost identical to mine, which must date to 1943-1945.
The patent number on that chair's stamp leads me to this patent, applied for in 1941 and granted in 1943, and the name of the chair's designer, Walter E Nordmark (who must have worked at American Seating as an industrial designer because there are several other American Seating design patents with his name on them). My folding chair, with no patent number, might be a wartime chair that predates the patent being granted (1941-1943), but could also be a postwar chair (1945-1956) if the round stamp was applied without the patent number stamp to chairs sold to schools and churches.

From 1939-1941, Charles Eames taught at Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit, Michigan. I can't help but wonder whether Nordmark was a student or colleague of Eames, and whether this elegant folding design was part of a larger conversation in the design community about plywood use that culminated in the creation of the Charles & Ray Eames' famous LCW.

The finish on this chair is really dinged up, with signs of water damage on the seat, which is why it was only $68. Now that I've determined that it isn't a rare item, I feel okay about refinishing (in a way that doesn't erase its history) and sealing the surface so I can use it beside the tub in the ensuite without damaging it further.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Slow Home Case Study progress report

There isn't much to report, yet, since we're still settling into our 'Slow Home Case Study' (I really must find a more personable name for our place) and unpacking room by room. Work in progress everywhere means iPhone photos, for now:

(still need to tack the cord management thing to the wall and paint it)
Moving in all the furniture, books, and art that were being used to stage the old house has made a big difference to the feeling of the new house. I'm still figuring out the final floorplan, moving things around, and unpacking boxes. Yesterday I unpacked two giant boxes of things for the dining room and found the cooling rack and coffee grinder we had been missing. It's nice to have my fancy things on display again.

I scored this fantastic 1920s-30s fumed quarter-sawn oak tea trolley for $60 off Kijiji. It needs some minor work where the finish has been damaged, but so much potential for use as a bar cart / server for during house parties and a sewing machine station or mobile office cart the rest of the time. I love the industrial-looking rubber casters. And check out the label from the underside of the top shelf: it tells us it's from northern England, and with a little research in period business directories might help confirm how old it is.

A budget- and family-friendly Ikea Manstad corner sofa-bed in beige has made it into the family room, so movie nights no longer involve camping out on the carpet, and we'll be able to better accommodate overnight guests. (Yay!) Eventually, when the kids wreck the current one, I'll get a replacement slipcover from Bemz or Comfort Works - right now I am loving the idea of linen.

My wonderful husband has installed the central vacuum system, including a clever kickplate in the kitchen meant for sweeping up crumbs.

I'll be spending the Labour Day long weekend painting the front porch, and planting black tulips and purple irises so that our new front door colour (Benjamin Moore's Peerage) is repeated in the landscaping. We've already added furniture and a bin for sidewalk toys on the deck, and while I'm painting the kids will play (DS has a bigger bike to get used to) and have a little lemonade stand.

Dealing with head lice

Despite being an incredibly common problem among school-aged children, head lice are still discussed in whispers in North America. My daughter caught them at school at the same time as several of her classmates at the end of the school year. Since September is a common time for infestations to be found, I thought I'd share our experience in removing them from her hair (and my son's, since of course he had them too, although a fraction as many). We did all of these treatments as a family every time, because the lice spread so easily.

(We followed the house cleaning instructions provided at the very thorough websites linked above, washing our clothes and bedding in the hottest water and drying them on the hottest setting, and vacuuming thoroughly. Head lice are not bedbugs or fleas, and they die after 24-48 hours off a human host, so full-on-hazmat-throw-everything-away is not necessary. Thank goodness.)

Treatment 1, Day of discovery: An over-the-counter permethrin conditioner recommended by the pharmacist at the closest drug store, used according to the instructions (shampoo hair, leave in 10 minutes, rinse out, towel dry hair, comb with provided plastic comb). Unfortunately a growing percentage of lice are resistant to permethrin treatment, and the pesticide only kills the live insects, not the eggs (nits). Supposedly it leaves a residue in your hair that will kill them as they hatch, and needs to be repeated after 7 days.

Treatment 2, daily since discovery: A half-strength rinse with vinegar followed by combing, twice a day. The vinegar helps to remove the glue that holds nits in the hair, so that they can be removed more easily. This worked like magic to remove the majority of the eggs and empty egg casings - but my daughter has lots of very fine-textured hair so the comb could not grab everything. Some people pick the rest out with their fingernails at that point, but my hands are too shaky for that (thanks, essential tremor), so I needed to get a better comb.

Treatment 3: carefully flat-ironing the hair while wet to kill any remaining eggs by heating them - a home remedy I had run across that seemed like it was worth a try. Of course this only works if your child will sit very still, because you need to be able to get right next to the scalp.

Treatment 4: saturating hair with conditioner then combingA friend who lived in the UK said the kit available from this website worked great for her - and I highly recommend the video on it for good advice on how (conditioner keeps live lice from evading the comb because they won't move while wet!) and when (at least every 3rd day (after any missed eggs could have hatched), until day 14 or when the lice are gone, whichever comes last) to use the comb. This is super important!

Treatment 5, Day 6 after discovery: The Nit Nannies kit, purchased locally from Beaners, a kids' haircut chain. It includes a mineral-oil based treatment (to suffocate the insects; it also contains an ingredient that dissolves insects' exoskeletons, and more vinegar), shower caps (because you leave it on for 2 hours, and it's messy - you'll also want a towel draped over shoulders to protect clothing from drips), and two combs (one metal that looks similar to this one, and one very fine-toothed plastic one with a magnifier on it, both of which work better than the comb we were using previously).

If you don't have local access to Nit Nannies, you could try the mineral oil / vinegar 50/50 solution in its place, combined with an isopropyl myristate rinse (another chitin dissolver). You don't have to use mineral oil - olive oil or canola oil will work too - but it's colourless and scentless so it's usually what's recommended.

I'm mentioning this kit by name, instead of in generic terms, because it's the one that worked best for us, alongside a careful combing procedure, AND it's an environmentally friendly option. When we did our 7-day retreatment with permethrin the following day, there was nothing left to comb out of my children's hair. 

We continued checking daily for the next couple of weeks to be sure, and found a couple of additional insects during the second week, but by the third week we found nothing. Continuing to comb even when you find nothing is crucial to make sure you don't end up with a single missed egg turning into a whole new infestation - as we discovered to our chagrin in week five, when we found a dozen or so insects in my son's hair, and two more in mine, and started the cycle over again. We are now at week 10 since we originally found the lice, and we haven't seen any nymphs or nits since week 7 during religious combing with conditioner every third day, so I think we can finally loosen up our combing schedule. We'll continue to comb once a week through autumn and winter just to make sure the kids haven't picked up more at school.

We also use a preventive hairspray with essential oils in it (geranium, lemongrass, and peppermint is the combo in the one I bought), although that feels more like we're spritzing it for good luck than because of any proof that it works.

Here's a couple of good summaries of head lice myths and facts. I'll add a few more:

1. Hiding from your kids how utterly icked out you are about the whole thing is way, way harder than the actual tedious act of nitpicking.

2. Anecdotally, it appears from many of the articles I've linked to that lice infestations are becoming more common among school-age children worldwide. I haven't found any actual numbers though.

3. Head lice don't carry disease, have no preference for dirty hair over clean, and are found infesting children of all socioeconomic demographics. This bears repeating. It's not your fault if your kids get this, and nobody should be shunned because of it.

4. Insensitive parents who loudly gossip about which disgusting children are responsible for the notice sent home from school to check your kids' heads, will probably get their comeuppance when their kids get lice next year. (Karma's a bitch when you are.) They can also be easily derailed by breezily saying, "Oh, one of those kids was mine, sorry! I was so grossed out! I never thought it could happen to us. But here's what I found really worked..."