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.