Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Look, a Thanksgiving turkey everyone can love! This vegetarian beauty was made by the fine minds at Figs with Bri. [via Craftster]

And Jessica at Indexed- beautifully sums it all up:

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Get the Most Out of Black Friday: Buy Nothing!

One of Jim's and my favorite holiday traditions is Buy Nothing Day. In the late 90s we started reading Adbusters, and something about BND really captured our imagination. It's subversive and creative. MTV won't even air Buy Nothing Day's paid ads. (See them below if you're curious what kind of thinking offends the people who make Jackass and the Osbournes)

We're looking forward to a relaxing day of friends, food, and games. For me, that's way better than any doorbuster deal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

thanks for the reminder, Judy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

XO Laptop: Changing the World

A laptop with ears? Well, yes... Designed for kids? Right AGAIN! And also an instrument of global change.

The XO laptop is a marvel of energy efficiency, durability, and innovative software. It is designed for the One Laptop Per Child initiative in developing nations.

And for one more week (as part of a two week program) you can Give One and Get One. For $399 ($200 of which is tax deductible) you can send a laptop to a child in a developing nation and one to the Canadian or American home of you choice. These are sweet laptops, but their real appeal is their dedication to social justice.

In a week (on Nov. 26) the XO will no longer be available in the US or Canada for purchase except in massive quantities, so don't wait to decide. T-Mobile is throwing in a year of complimentary Hot Spot WiFi access (retail value $350) for everyone who GOGOs.

You can also enter an XO laptop giveaway at Prizey through January 4, 2008.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Crafting with Crayons

Vegbee's gorgeous crayon shavings projects remind me of crafts my mom organized during my childhood. My brother and I would usually send our finished projects to our far-flung relatives.

I have some good memories of watching my mom iron sometime similar on a sunny winter afternoon.

Here are the Martha Stewart instructions Vegbee used.

What crafts projects do you remember? Which ones do your kids like?

Vegbee's "Time Change Madness' mobile is a great reflection of our house's post-time change nap chaos.

Anyone else hating the time change?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Chocolate's Dark, Dirty Secret: No, It's Not Nougat

To the utter astonishment of friends and relatives, Jim and I quit chocolate cold turkey in 2001. We were chocoholics of the first degree. When I cleaned out the kitchen for all our chocolate we found over 14 pounds- not counting things containing cocoa.

At first I thought I would lose my mind. One night someone walked past me in a Circuit City smelling of Butterfinger bar and my consuming envy made me want to tackle them and bounce their head off the floor a few dozen times. I'm not a violent person, so this bizarre desire definitely meant I had momentarily relocated to downtown, central Crazy.
Chocolate was to me comfort, reward, and love. My beloved grandmother used to keep chocolate bars stashed for the grandkids, so it's hard not to associate a Nestle Crunch with the pure joy of visiting grandma. My grandma loved kids, all kids- so much that she dedicated her life to schools and orphanages in Africa. I'm sure she had similar treats for the kids there.

As a result of my grandparents' work, I always had a heightened sense of Africa. My mom never said "Eat your dinner, there are starving children in Africa." Instead I overheard conversations about war, coups, government closure of schools and orphanages, poverty, famine, police that show up in the middle of the night, imprisonment, execution, and families that had become kin to ours fleeing their nation through dangerous means both legal and illegal. I have always felt thankful not to have been born there, and I deeply respected my grandparents' courage to work in such a dangerous place.

So... when I found out that virtually every American chocolate bar is tainted with child slavery (enacted in Africa), I didn't want to believe it. Knight-Ridder had a series of articles outing the use of child slaves to harvest cocoa and coffee beans* in the Ivory Cost and Mali. It's fallen off most of the news site because it's age (2001), but it's been reprinted here.

After a few months of research, the evidence mounted- and it became apparent that the American chocolate industry was not interested in reform. Bob Dole was hired as a lobbyist for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association as they quashed Congressional energies to mandate slavery-free labeling. Instead of agreeing to voluntary labeling, they offered a alternate plan in which they would monitor cocoa farms and work for reform. Their compromise, the Harkin-Engel protocol was accepted and immediately forgotten. To date, the chocolate industry has not even attempted to meet their own plan. They don't really care about anything beyond their bottom line and big chocolate is banking that the American consumers won't care about the lives of foreign children either.

So Jim and I quit eating chocolate. Honestly, even something so delicious starts to taste like fetid poo when it's produced by companies willingly complicit in child slavery. It seemed to me like every chocolate bar I bought undid my grandparents' efforts to help children in Africa.

On the whole, our friends and family didn't respond well to this decision. Some mocked us for caring too much, others went out of their way to find chocolate industry PR to reassure us, and one close family member broke my heart by saying "Well, what else would those kids do? It probably keeps them out of trouble."

So, we turned our boycott into something secret. Just an "I don't eat chocolate" response. I was tired of arguing with everyone and hearing things that disappointed me. People would ask why and Jim and I started giving dodgy answers. I clearly lack my grandparents' courage.

A recent article in Melbourne's The Age newspaper on chocolate slavery nudged my sheepish social consciousness. Jim sent me links surrounding Tony's Chocolonley (a Dutch man who turned himself in to the police for knowingly buying goods obtained through a crime).

Now I won't ask you to stop eating chocolate on my word alone please Google "chocolate slavery BBC" for a reputable international source.

I am asking that everyone at least bypass gift chocolates this holiday season. Do you really want to feed you children the product of child exploitation? Fair-trade certified chocolate is okay, but everything else- according to the Salvation Army's anti-slavery unit probably contains beans harvested by slaves (thanks to the workings of the commodities market).

Sorry about the soapbox, but I really needed to say something about this issue that's been buried or misrepresented in the American media. I'm just having trouble believing that I live in a country where people are willing to have children suffer and even die for cheap luxury goods.

If you're considering boycotting gift chocolates, we'd love to hear about it...

*We don't drink coffee.

***This post is the independent, unsolicited opinion of Baby Toolkit. Photo: Baby Toolkit, (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Give 'Em a Smile: Calendars as Holiday Gifts

My friend Karen found some well-priced blank calendars that she is scrapbooking into grandparent gifts for the holidays.

And if you're like me- short on filigree scissors and decadent papers- you're probably thinking "I could do something like that with a editing program and a printer." Well of course we can- but do you really want to drive to a copy shop for spiral binding?

If the answer is yes- then consider making the calendar pages with Google Calendar. You can enter all the relevant family holidays as one calendar per clan. Then, with a few mouse clicks, you can choose to include the appropriate family dates and whatever calendars are appropriate (like Catholic observances for my mother-in-law, the Tour de France dates and phases of the moon for my dad, and, ahem, license plate renewal reminders in bold for a forgetful friend). With a minimal amount of work you can produce some calendars that are personalized in function as well as form.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Styrofoam: Proceed with Caution

After recent talk of BPA in plastics, this probably sounds like another health concerned post. It is not. And although Styrofoam is terrible for the environment, this is not an ecology post either.

This is a toddlers-and-Styrofoam-should-not-mix post.

Around the 3rd hour of a 4 hour car trip, we wanted to reward Ranger with a treat. He's an awesome long-distance car traveler. We've never used a DVD player, VCR, or laptop to entertain him en route, and thus far he seems unscarred by our resistance to in-transit entertainment technology.

The boy is crazy for lemonade (the real lemons, water, and sugar stuff, not the fountain version with high fructose corn syrup). So, as we knew we were approaching a rare purveyor of actual citrus squeezings, we said the L-word aloud. Ranger immediately brightly blurted "JUICE!" in response. This is his word for lemonade. He seems to know that lemonade is not exactly the same as juice, but just loves tweeking his English major mama with poor paraphrase. Ironically, he doesn't like many other fruit juices, so this tends to bite him in the hiney whenever he's out with people who understand juice to be apple or grape.

We drive through the lemonade place and get Ranger a lemonade, Jim a lemonade slush, and me the largest ice cream sundae I've seen in person (they only have one size- mammoth). I am driving, so we have to pull into the parking lot so I can wolf down the legal portion of the dessert.

About two bites into the sundae, Ranger's warbling voice lets out a sad cry "Juuuuuuice! Help, help, help, help." When I turn around, I can see that he's removed his straw from the cup. Jim can reach him more easily, so I ask him to reinstall the straw properly. This should have struck me as odd because Ranger's been manipulating straws forever.

Jim turns around and puts the straw in, but Ranger's crying does not cease nor does he take a drink. Suddenly Jim says "OH NO!" and grabs pulls the drink into the front seat baptizing the borrowed mini-van's leather interior with lemonade.

Ranger managed to pierce the side of the foam cup with his straw. It had since been filling his pants and car seat with sweet, sticky, sugary "juice." Now it had also gotten the front console, 3 additional leather seats, some carpeting, Jim's coat, my bag, and Jim in the process.

It's not fair to blame Jim for bringing the cup forward. Our instincts to save our young- even from cold lemonade in the pants- are very strong- and as Jim was still seatbelted in and holding a lid-less slush in his other hand he had limited options.

When I realize that Jim can't open the door with both hands full, I start laughing. He's unsuccessfully trying to plug the hole with a finger and just getting soaked in the process. I reach across him and open the door- so he holds the spurting cup over the parking lot. Eventually, I think to unsnap his seatbelt and release him from the car.

Ranger is still crying.

We dump the lemonade and do a quick toddler costume change in 40 degree weather. Unlike Jim's pants, the car seat's cover is remarkably water resistant, so it's easy to dry.

From here on out we'll be keeping a small straw cup with a lid in the car to prevent future juice geysers. Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Confused About Polycarbonate Bottles? Zrecs has answers

If you're concerned about Bisphenol-A in baby bottles and sippy cups, then you should definitely visit's comprehensive overview of major manufacturers' products and attitudes. This directory is a great new resource.

Plus, the Zrecs folks are offering some BPA-free products from BornFree in Prizey's current giveaway:

Reading Pays- Especially When It Comes to Credit Card Updates

My mailbox was full today, so it was tempting to jettison the "Important Amendments to Your Credit Card Agreement" envelope into a "To File" box without opening it.

Maxed Out has left me with a greater sense of fiscal research duty, so I opened the fat envelope and pulled out a disjointed handful of papers. Everything about this envelope seemed designed to discourage actual reading. That made me suspicious, so I trudged on.

The cover sheet told me how my account was improving and listed lots of great new features but no drawbacks. Nothing in the cover letter merited a legally mandated update.

On the second page I found gold- for the credit card company- a 3% increase on all cash and cash-equivalent advances. This increase applies to new and outstanding balances. Nice, eh? Then I found the part they worked so hard to discourage me from reading:
You may reject the APR increase by following the Rejection Instructions described below.
Seriously? Well, yes. They don't make it easy though:
1. Write to use at [postal address only]. Clearly print or type your full name and full credit card account number and state that you reject this change. You must give us the notice in writing it is not sufficient to telephone us. Send this notice only to the address in this paragraph. Do not send it with a payment or any other type of customer service request. This mailbox is ONLY for rejection of the Annual Percentage Rate Amendment.
2. We must receive your letter by [date approximately 3 months in the future] or your rejection will not be effective.
So by writing a letter in which we emulate Bartelby's "I prefer not to" we can maintain our 3% lower rate? No wonder they make that paperwork so boring.

Even though we don't ever use cash advances, I'm sending a letter in on principle.

Not reading these things can cost us real money.