Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where did the time go?

I'm sitting here waiting for some delicious pizza to arrive, watching our recording of "Bringing Up Baby" and reflecting on how my usual holiday organization utterly escaped me this year.

Just to be completely clear we are midway between Christmas and New Year. I finally decided I was finished decorating our tree yesterday, with way fewer ornaments than usually (although I really like it this year - almost all the decorations were hand made by me) and that is just about all I've managed to put up.

Usually I make cards, make gifts, make gingerbread and set a beautiful table. Not this year. I have dispatched no cards, sent no hampers, and the gifts this year were mostly purchased. Plus the one thing I thought I had ordered on a website to get sent off apparently didn't go through. Annoying.

However, I did get a Secret Santa gift sent off in time, I hope, and my immediate family received nice presents. We made our traditional crock pot stew, and have been slurping up bowls of it ever since.

We received the average number cards - 17 by snail mail, and a couple of nice email greetings. I enjoy seeing photos of friends' kids as they grow up over years, although one of James' ham radio buddies sent a photo just of himself on his card, which seemed a little unusual.

Most years past I have sent out 73 handmade cards, including internationally. It occurs to me that my list is too long! Plus so few people reciprocate the next year. I can picture some folks looking at them and saying, "Here's another card from those Coburns again. Who are they?"

Maybe that's why it felt so overwhelming to attempt this year. For those people who like getting my cards, I'm sorry, and I plan to return to sending them next year - at least to those who sent them to us this year. And in the meanwhile, I have thank you cards to make and send.

Besides we've been very busy. I'm preparing a comprehensive business plan for a meeting that we have scheduled part way through January. I'm preparing a proposal for a major installation for the same meeting. I'm designing several projects for my ScraPerfect Design Team, that will be part of a promotion at CHA at the end of January with a bunch of craft vendor partners. More details of those will be on my Iggy Jingles blog.

James is busy working hard, not just at LAFS, but also on his coursework for his degree. He should be finished by February.

I hope everyone's holidays are wonderful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Uptown Village Market

The Gallery 9 is kindly giving me an exemption to sell my dolls here at this juried affair. No mass market imports here - all local artisans with handmade wares. My art dolls are all one of a kind! See you there. 

Uptown Village Market on December 2nd and 3rd.  

The Uptown Village Market is THE newest place for all of your LOCAL AND HANDMADE Shopping Needs.  This 2 days event will host over 60 artists and creators of well-crafted goods to show and sell their work. Expect a myriad unique, high quality, and, above all, HANDCRAFTED.  Don’t miss it!!!

4321 Atlantic Ave
Long BeachCA 90807
Fri 5 pm - 10 pm
Sat 10 am - 4 pm

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing Round Up

Still found time to get out to LACMA for
the awesome Tim Burton exhibit.

I can tell you one thing. I am way too busy for writer's block!

That's the good thing about having several projects pots on the stove. If one starts to cool off, there's another one simmering ready to be stirred.

Here's what I'm working on at the moment:

I'm doing editing/polishing rewrites on my family fantasy script, "Mermaid Lake". The title rather says it all. I think of this as my live action with CGI "Disney" type movie. I'm loving the characters and the eco-conscious story line, but it's heart is about friendship and family.

I'm doing character histories (because they help me) and story outlines for my fractured fairy tale "Spinning Wheel". I'm  noticing a sudden influx of the genre in film and tv (especially), so I may have missed it this time around. Oh well; genres cycle. But this is a really epic treatment of Sleeping Beauty - think filming in New Zealand or Eastern Europe. It's not just an olden days homage to Tolkein and Grimm, it's also a love song to textile art - with CGFX. The production designer and costume designer will have a ball! But I'm a ways off yet - the middle is still hazy, although I know how it starts and how it ends.

I'm working up my next article for Natural Life - answering some of those hairy reader questions. I climbed around in my over full storage unit until I found some packs of old slides, and I have a stack of holiday cards and even a wallpaper sample book. Stay tuned on the Natural Life website where I hope I can include more photos than would fit in the print mag.

I'm hoping to revive a reality show idea that I'd really pushed to the back burner...if my producer buddy who is very busy with his latest release can take a glance at it. I think it would be a good fit for OWN. It's a contempory take on restoring the kitchen the heart of the home, but it's individualized for each family - no one size fits all solutions here.

My refashioned/upcycled old clothes book project is so cold, it's got a lid on it. Cold but definitely not forgotten.

But I don't get to spend a lot of time just writing screenplays, articles and books. My time budget - which needs revision now that I have cut back on my hours at my lovely Michaels (oh you didn't know that? That's another story) - still has me doing my education publication project most of the time. James and I have high hopes that this will be huge, and help so many parents and kids with what seems to be a scary and challenging process. Home schoolers welcome too! I'm not quite ready to reveal it, but I think it will be very cool.

Jayn participates in the big project when she wants to. We are enjoying sitting on opposite sides of the work table these days, so we can grin for pure joy at each other. Most of her time is taken up with World of Warcraft, which she now adores. She's full of ideas that she wants to sent to Blizzard for new classes of creature. Her contentment overflows. It's lovely.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jayn's Birthday

We had a fun birthday party for Jayn turning 12 this year. There were fewer folks, but that was something of a relief since the children are all so much bigger than they used to be, and alas our apartment is still the same small squish that it ever was.

The kids went swimming - yes it was warm enough in October for that - then ate tacos they filled, and then  decorated their own cupcakes as the birthday cake. By cupcake I do mean "cup" because my recipe literally fell in the middle instead of making a round topped cupcake. But that was OK because as everyone kindly agreed, the shape held more fillings. They were yummy gluten free gingerbread, btw.

Then after opening presents, everyone proceeded to design and decorate small vinyl figures to take home for Halloween.

Here's my figure - a Blossoming Frankie.

The last activity was a hunt all over the outside for the little Halloween themed goodie bags filled with stickers, pencils, an eraser, and a candy necklace kit.

Jayn was so delighted to see her Aunty Lisa, who makes amazing artisanal and custom all natural perfumes - so she herself always smells wonderful.

Now on to thank you cards to all the kind folk , both near and far, who remembered Jayn on her birthday.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Changes at Natural Life Magazine

Things are changing at Natural Life Magazine. My column, Crafting for a Greener World is going entirely digital, and will be available at the NL website.

So to celebrate this, we are changing the format some, and I plan to feature my creative answers to your crafting dilemmas in my new column. I hope to be able to include more photos than space allowed in the print mag. I have already received several juicy problems that folks have with their stash of trash, junk, fabulous recycled resources and art raw materials.

I'll continue to design crafting projects, and post footnotes and links here - but I need your help, dear readers!

Here again is the "blurb" that appeared in a recent issue:


Got Stuff? Need Projects?

Do you gaze forlornly at that stack of odd containers? Are you puzzled by those old rusty bits in that bucket in the garage? Is that stiff plastic packaging too cool to toss, but you just don't know what to do with it? Maybe you just can't bear to throw out those embroidered bell bottoms filled with memories, even though they haven't fit you in years. I bet you're not alone.

You have stuff you're collecting and need some plans and projects, and I would love the challenge of coming up with some new creative ideas especially for you and your stash of possibilities.

At last you will feel great about that cardboard you kept for years – maybe get a jump on your holiday gifts, or hand make some fun – cheap - kids' stuff. Finally your husband will stop grumbling and start seeing the potential of that pile of boxes. Well we can dream....

Tell me what you are saving, hoarding or wondering about. E-mail me your list, even send photos if you have 'em. And I will do my best to come up with a new crafty use for it, in a future article. It's like Dear Abby for junk!

Then once you have created your masterpiece, send along another picture or link, so that we can all applaud!

Oh and I still need Target prescription bottles - I'll reimburse your shipping if you can send them to me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Natural Life Article Footnotes - Wall Art Ideas

I'm sorry to tell you that I have not yet finished my Aesthetic Preferences Style quiz as I had hoped on my Robyn Crops website, although you can follow the progress here as I examine the assorted style preferences.

Fact is that this article is pretty much all how to - so I don't really need footnotes.

I will say that I like the Best Glue Ever for these projects; it's a non-toxic multi-purpose glue that can be used as is or turned into glue dots. I'm on the ScraPerfect design team and it has been a wonderful experience.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The value of ice cream

We are in high excitement mode over here as we prepare for the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference. I'm going to be speaking first, about Unschooling and Creativity. My presentation is pretty much ready - I just need to tweak it for time, to ensure the fun parts are the most parts. There is a lot of creativity being talked about and promoted and explored at this conference - as happens at all the unschooling conferences.

I only wish the mother of all the spin off conferences, and Jayn's godmother, Kelly Lovejoy, could be there. But I know that she will be so in spirit and maybe facebook.

James will be presenting his Nitrogen Ice Cream making funshop at the closing picnic, in what has become something of a tradition when he attends conferences. It is always delightful to see the kids' fascination with the process, their enjoyment of stirring like crazy, and their enthusiasm for the different recipes - or measured and cautious exploration of new tastes. Just because it is sweet, doesn't mean that every child likes every flavor. And being free children, when they are sated, they are happy to watch and not eat more.

Then we get to do some other fun things with the liquid nitrogen - like make a "haunted" toilet bowl for a few minutes, or freeze a leaf. Did you know that if you place your razor blades in liquid nitrogen for 10 minutes or so, they stay sharp for many more shaves than normal?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Aesthetic Preference

The quiz design moves forward slowly. Here's another aesthetic style: Mid Century Modern/Retro chic

From “The Jetsons” and the atomic printed future envisioned by interior designers of the 1950's through to Danish modern that is still represented by Ikea.

That kind of fun retro print, with a nostalgic idealized vision of domestic bliss and efficiency, is very popular in scrapbooking. The bright tints and contrasting discords, repetitive geometry, and science (or is it sci-fi) graphic motifs can be found in kits and stacks and often include charming line drawings reminiscent of magazine ads of the era.
Representative designers of the time include Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, George Nelson and Eero Aarnio in furniture and interiors; in fashion Balenciaga, Balmain, Givenchy (Audrey Hepburn was his muse), Jaques Fath, Dior and the near perennial Chanel. Later these designers were joined by Yves Saint Laurent, Courreges (famous for space age designs) and Mary Quant. Modern architects of the day included Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, and Edward Durrell Stone.

Much of the style can be summarized by clean lines and simple geometry. Where there are curves, they create exaggerated organic forms. The color palette avoids primary hues unless muted, with few colors in each design scheme. Deep reds are popular. The woods are generally lighter, and there is plenty of white. A contrasting discord means dark shades of usually light colors (such as deep mustard yellow) combined with neutrals or tints of hues that would normally read as low on the tonal scale (such as pale mauve or muted mushroom pinks).

I'm only noting color movies to watch (which is not a reflection on the quality of the numerous fantastic black and white films of the era, just on the idea of looking at visual design) : "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) - both have some beautiful interior design and fashions - "Funny Face" (1957) - fashions and interiors - "North by Northwest" (1959), "Peyton Place" (1957), "Imitation of Life" (1959), "Pillow Talk" (1959), and for good measure "Corrina, Corrina" (1994) which really has the look. (The list was just getting way too long!) Oh alright, alright, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) which also has fashions and interiors.

For scrapbooking in this style I'd grab the colors and use papers designed with retro graphics. I wouldn't do too much inking or distressing in these layouts. I'd focus on color blocking and clean line work. I might include metal embellishments in geometric shapes. I would use fewer floral motifs and more layered geometry and abstracted nature images. I notice little birds, which have recently become a very popular visual trend, were popular in the mid-century period also.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scraperfect products contest

I am on the ScraPerfect Design Team - which is great fun. I love the products.

Courtesy ScraPerfect and the beautiful Scrapbooking and Beyond Magazine: 

HOW TO WIN? Go to and post a response on the thread that says: 
WANT TO WIN A PRIZE??? Just tell us where you heard about this contest for ScraPerfect Products.  We'd also like to hear questions or comments about our Magically Perfect Craft Products...Where's you first heard about them? What do you love about them? How you use them most?....

THE PRIZE: The Best Glue Ever, Embellie Gellie, Perfect Crafting Pouch and 2 Perfect Cleaning Cloths. 

Contest Details: Contest ends November 15, 2011. Winner will be drawn at random from the Facebook posts. Paid shipping to the US, as well as Israel & Brazil where we have DT members. (If winner is from another country, they may choose to pay shipping or forfeit the package.)

More info and ideas at the ScraPerfect blog.

The Best Glue Ever can be used for more than just scrapbooking and paper crafting applications. It works for fabrics and woods too, some metal uses, and for home decor. It's a general purpose glue that stays super tacky and holds like crazy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What has Jayn been doing?

As I start collating all the random thoughts and laser focused ideas for my upcoming Good Vibrations presentation, and as her birthday approaches (she'll be 12), I have noticed a change in Jayn's creativity and her interests.

When I first proposed the idea of a presentation about unschooling and creativity, I was thinking of expanding my article about it. Jayn was still doing a lot of drawing, very visible manifestations of her artistic pursuits. In the nine (?) or so months since then, she has really shifted her attention to computer gaming and storytelling. Although she still picks up her pencil and paper to sketch out ideas, she is more making notes to herself about characters, rather than making a running commentary about her emotional life.

She has started writing stories, usually with the intent to film them via The Sims, and she is very keen to acquire some decent editing software. She has also started revisiting older stories, ones that she dictated outlines for me to write down, rethinking them in terms of movie scripts.

Just as I predicted, as she has become a fluent reader, she has begun chatting by text with some of her friends, especially those she joins on Free Realms, and rarely needs my help with decoding.

Jayn has always been an illustrator, with only rare forays into sculpture or building, the latter usually being doll related paraphenalia. Now she is clearly far more excited by the prospects available to her digitally, especially character creation. She still loves designing clothes for her Sims, and by the way, has an awesome incisive understanding of exactly what fashions in clothing and shoes, especially shoes, suit her. I've never told her what to wear, and I have no plans to start doing so now.

Her professional goals have changed - or more accurately the path she envisions to her goals. Instead of focusing on doll design, she is more interested in game design and animation. She is very interested to go to Comic Con next year too. She still speaks of her doll museum, and looks over the new releases in the stores, but she hasn't actually played with a doll for about a year. I always said she looked at them as a Collector.

So lots to think about for my presentation.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

So just how are my screenplays coming along?

Time for an update on my screenwriting projects.

I've been working pretty steadily on Mermaid Lake, my family oriented fantasy film about a young mermaid secretly trapped in a mountain lake who befriends a teen and has to escape the clutches of a villainous industrialist. It originates from a story that Jayn devised. Think Disney - live action with FX. The themes are family, friendship and redemption.

I'm at about my third draft. I've got the story pretty well along, but my villain needs to be a bit more serious, and menacing, and a little more difficult to escape. I'm giving the dad a more interesting history, more to lose, and I'm going to show some different family situations, and the explore the idea of people changing and growing.

As for the other ones - Spinning Wheels is still in the story outline stage, while my producer friend Ron is shopping Clean Up my martial arts action/romance which needs another pass to make the whole thing a bit more spectacular, beef up the middle part and put some more bang in the finale.

So there you have it. Working, moving forward. Slowly.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Natural Life Article Footnotes - Furniture refinishing

The August column (my 13th!) is about refinishing old wood furniture. As I say in my article, I've done quite a lot of this over the years mostly in theater, mostly using ordinary acrylic paints and a few other methods.

Just to reiterate from the article: the recipe for furniture wax will go moldy - quickly if it is not refrigerated and eventually even in the fridge. If you are finding that it is too hard to use at room temperature, or to save time when you first get it out of the fridge, set the container in a hot water bath for a few minutes, or microwave in 15 second increments.

You can also lessen the proportion of wax in your blend. I'm considering a coconut oil/jojoba blend that would need very little wax, since coconut oil is almost solid itself - for really special furniture (but not valuable antiques! Please remember my disclaimer.) Coconut oil is not cheap, but it sure is good. Stay tuned.

Online some folks have other recipes for furniture polish that are liquid like this one at DIY Life, and this one at Care 2 which recommends some alternative oils to olive. It's wonderful how the oils that seem best for our skin also seem to work best for furniture.

My painted stool is looking a little faded now (see above). I think I should have paid more attention to sealing the finish, especially since I was using translucent methods (vinegar food coloring wash, and some translucent metallic paint). But I'm still happy with it. It was so dry and sad after having sat outside in the weather for who knows how long, that the wood just sucks up any application of polish or wax. Simple as it is, I still enjoy seeing at it in use in my living room every day.

Here's a link to the Google Image search for Gypsy Painted Caravans. Other than the unlikely picture of Ron Wood in the group, you'll get the idea at once.

Shabby Chic shows a lot of whitewashing.
Here's a blog post about using candle wax instead of petroleum jelly as a resist for creating a worn finish.

There is quite a lot on the web about distressing or antiquing furniture, but it usually starts with oil based paints and polyurethane varnishes, not the artist's paints that I was using. In looking for commercial paints please continue to consider low or no VOC brands (long list of links) such as:
Benjamin Moore
Ecos Organic Paints
Mythic Non-Toxic Paint
Also check out the ads in your issue of Natural Life for our wonderful suppliers.

If you are sanding your wood furniture, especially if it is older and has an unknown finish, please be sure to do it outside and consider a proper dust mask. Remember that fine wood dust is an irritant and a known carcinogen.

I still like using shoe polish, the "paste" kind, despite the warnings on the website. They are concerned that the wood will change color - but hey that's exactly what I want it to do! One of the reasons I like it for aging purposes is because you only need a tiny amount. One container will last for years. But there are some strong chemicals therein including naptha, lanolin and turpentine. I recommend gloves to avoid staining.

Here's a recipe for home made shoe polish - non-coloring, and rather familiar.

And don't forget the call for your materials in the article! I'm hoping for some really difficult and challenging boggles.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time Budget Update

After about a month, I'd thought it was time for a quick report on how my time budget is working.

The short answer is very well. I have planned by budget for two months in advance, and the organization looks good.

However if I am being completely honest, and I am, I haven't stuck to it as perfectly as I wish. I have found that Jayn has been needing my attention, and she has been on a normal schedule. So we've spent some days out and about, eating in to the "professional" time. But that's a great trade-off! Also I've had doctor's appointments, and have shifted things around on the fly somewhat.

And there has a been a bit of frittering - much diminished, though.

At the moment for my business pursuit, I am working on the business plan. In the absence of software, I have downloaded and printed a blueprint for a good business plan, and I am laboriously making my way through it. The questions are tough, incisive, and it really is important to do your plan well, both for your own clarity and for the purpose of seeking funding/investors in the future. Finally one of the purposes of a thorough plan is to ascertain if it is actually a viable proposition, a good business that might actually turn a profit.

So moving forward, slowly but surely, instead of running in frenzied circles and falling on the floor in exhaustion. Better.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aesthetic Preference Profiles - working on my style quiz.

Photo from Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic (tm) site.

I have been busy today working on my Style Quiz for Robyn Crops. I guess I had the idea that it would be pretty quick and easy. (Ha,ha). The whole point of it is A: something fun, but also B: a seriously useful tool for me to get to know what kind of scrapbook layouts and design style appeal to potential clients. So the answers have to be serious.

I realized that the first thing I should do is not think up crazy questions, but define the answers or the results to which the answers point. You know what I mean, the part where they say "if you answered mostly C you are an optimist with a disconcerting habit of climbing trees at every opportunity".

So I thought I would start by developing Aesthetic Preference Profiles (six times fast, please). I'm confirming for myself that style is a continuum and people who might love a particular style (eg Retro) will still slide back and forth into the neighboring or transitional styles too. I'll be bringing it back to scrapbooking though, and what might be overwhelming covering the largest room of your house, could be perfectly fine within a memory album, or in one small shadow box.

Today I've been researching Shabby Chic/Cottage Style - to quote Rachel Ashwell's site seeing "the beauty of imperfections...the allure of the timeworn...dilapidated elegance...faded velvet". The style has a lot of white and pastels, mismatched and mostly floral motifs, natural materials (wood, stone, brick, marble, linen and cotton), as well as the concept of  "honorable repairs adding additional character". There's lace and embroidery. At the cottage end of the continuum live Liberty Prints, but the clusters of blooms, rather than the Art Nouveau style, Laura Ashley and tea sets. Furniture is often traditional, Queen Ann's, Victorian but then whitewashed and sanded. The most practical aspect? Slipcover - white or cream but washable.

At the other end of this sliding scale is the Arts and Crafts Movement, Stickley, Mission furniture and William Morris. For William Morris to be Shabby Chic it has to go through some bleach first.

You might be a Shabby Chic enthusiast if your favorite detective is Miss Marple, one of your favorite movies is Picnic at Hanging Rock, and your favorite color is tea dyed.
Nether Wallop which doubles as St. Mary Mead, 
home of Jane Marple. Still thatched even today.

So scrapbooking with layers, lace, a whiter shade of pale, florals and silk flowers, worn text, aging and gentle distressing and natural elements. I'll rustle up a page or two in this style and post it over at Iggy Jingles soon.
Watch this space for more Aesthetic Preference Profiles. I should trademark that phrase....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Self Value


So let's also reverse it:

"When you undervalue who you are, the world will undervalue what you do."

Wow. This puts the responsibility for how we are perceived at least partly back on our own shoulders.

I was trying to think how this idea might apply to say, mothers, but surely it also applies to fathers, especially when these two people are in their workplaces instead of their homes. Are you a mother or homemaker who undervalues herself because you are not in the paid workforce? Let's ban the phrase "Just a housewife" from our speech and thinking.

Jayn and James at Legoland

I was thinking how it might apply to women, ("woman's work") but surely it also applies to men ("cos after all he's just a man"). Here are some surprising stats about time spent doing different activities categorized by employment level (FT, PT, none). At least, I was surprised. The page isn't perfect - they have left out the ages of the children which I think differentiates the three similar tables. Also they do leave out some (important from my pov) demographics - the minority of families where mother works full time and father is either part time or not working, or both work part time. Yet it is still very interesting. Who knew moms are getting more sleep than dads? And by the way, home schoolers, scroll down to the Reading to Children and Playing/Doing Hobbies with Children lines and prepare to be amazed.

Jayn's earrings on her Etsy store

Of course professionally women are still paid less than men for the same work - except that it isn't always the same occupations. Women are often still the first choice for the crappy ones. Plus it turns out women aren't as good at asking for more money. I know I'm not!

Aquarium of the Pacific public mural activities

The world tends to undervalue the daily work of children, unless it is at the level of prodigy (ie indistinguishable from that of an adult). I don't think it's because children undervalue themselves. Maybe they learn to undervalue their own gifts and strangeness in favor of the external gratifications of grades and the correct answers to test questions. What about the daily work of children in much of the third world, who are living as if they were adults? Their work is undervalued.


On another level, do you claim your highest aspirational title? I call myself Writer, not someone doing a bit of writing. I call myself Artist, Artisan, Crafter, Maker - increasingly leaning to dropping everything but Artist  - not dabbler, dilettante or hobbyist, not playing with stuff. This is serious professional business for me. If I value my title as a big part of my identity, maybe it will follow that the effort I place on my work, the quality of my work will improve and then the world will value what I do.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

{ My } customers value my work

"When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are"
Oprah Winfrey
If any one should know what it means to be valued, especially professionally, surely it is Oprah.
Like many professional artisans, I have a hard time pricing my work to accurately reflect the time it takes to create it. It's always a balancing act between what time and effort I have poured into any piece, and what the market will bear. In my recent foray into time budgeting (see my last entry) and the faux interview I conducted for myself, I was looking at what I value and where I need to direct my attention. 
I believe there is a perception out there in the world that if an activity brings us joy, visible, expressed joy, then we should receive no other compensation. If we are defensive about wanting to be paid, we only exacerbate the misconception that we don't deserve to be paid.
I remember 23 years ago when I was in college, working for Greenpeace collecting door-to-door, with my earnings based on commissions. I was, and still am, passionate about the environment, and the job was a bit of a dream at the time. Sometimes people would attack me with the accusation that I was paid for my work. I found that if I cowered and apologized, I got no donation but smug looks and a closed door. 
But if I immediately, with great conviction and no trace of humility, said, "Of course I'm paid! I proud to work for Greenpeace. We're doing important work!" the prospective donor's whole demeanor changed, and perhaps their thinking too. Usually I then got some donation or they joined.
What had to change was MY thinking. I had to value the work I was doing, even though I was enjoying it and believed in it. I was helped by some training materials from the office, talking about the value of professionals in the environmental awareness movement. They recommended speaking about being a professional with valuable time to our leads. 
But I think what really made the difference was me conveying the idea that I was affronted at the suggestion that I was a mere unpaid volunteer.  We weren't some penny ante, half-baked, nickel-and-dime, amateur hour outfit, you know. We were professional activists.
People sometimes undervalue my art. They look at my dolls or bags and sneer at the prices. Well, clearly they don't see the work or the value to themselves in something beautifully hand made. These are just not { my } customers. There is no trying to persuade them differently - that is just another poor use of my time. And it is certainly not useful to me to charge less.
People who do value the dolls, seem happy to pay, as if they have found a wonderful bargain. (They have.) 
Now I have started my new scrap booking business, and I am seeing the same kind of dichotomy of response to my prices. My prices are perfectly in tune with what others are charging, and frankly it's not worth it to me to work for less. My time is valuable. Some people say, "How can you afford to charge so little?". They know the time a good page takes - usually because they are croppers themselves. Unfortunately that means they aren't my customers.
Others say "$30 a page?!" with incredulity, and think that they should pay less. Folks, minimum wage is $8/hour. Your page will take at least three hours plus materials. Still think it's too much?  You are just not { my } customer. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My husband is something of a genius

Time management has been a problem for me, more so in recent years. There was a period, a long period, in my life when I did one thing. Worked. Almost all of my time was taken up with my one job at a time - which was often all consuming, but not difficult to manage at all.

Now, however, I have way too much going on. It all takes time. It all needs to be scheduled. There are some things that if I fail to schedule them, they simply disappear into the ever growing pile of laundry at the end of the bed, the ever growing pile of mending on the sewing table, the ever growing backlog of cool ideas I want to write about, the ever nagging project deadlines, the ever patient aforementioned husband who tends to get last place in my attention.

I have plenty of goals, long and short term. They are publicly declared, standing like doleful sentinels around my good intentions, while my creative desires flutter off following other muses into new interests. I am perfectly efficient at setting goals.

I'm also fine at devising deadlines. My calendar is filled with color coded deadlines - publication deadlines, scrapbook calls, project due dates, dates by which I need to have certain things done for the long term. Plus my calendar is filled with those commitments of which I can be reasonably sure - classes I will teach assuming I get student registrants, the upcoming Good Vibrations conference, exhibitions I hope to attend, birthday parties.

But finding the time to complete the works to meet the deadlines in the midst of my day to day frittering - that has been tough. I've started to feel like I was drowning - in that deadly quiet way that has been a topic on facebook and home schooling lists recently. No flailing or crying out - just a kind of paralyzing despair that I would never  get anything done, let alone everything - that I would have to let go of some of my beloveds.

So how is my husband a genius? For some time he has been telling me my time management needs improving, which I translated as "do more". I have been struggling to work out how I can possibly fit even more tasks into my day and still sleep. Then yesterday James said something that I heard differently - that finally clicked.

"You need a time budget."

I don't know why that seemed to be the right phrase, but it was. So I immediately set to work with a spreadsheet and a calculator to look at percentages of my waking hours, and actual hours, to work out a monthly time budget.

First I am assuming 8 hours of sleep, which has so rarely come to pass in recent years that I feel like I am banking time by not counting those daily 8.

16 hours/day x 30 days = 480 hours/month.

Looking at typical weeks, and assuming that I have signups and will be teaching all the classes that I have scheduled in any particular month, I can plan on at most 52 hours of work at Michaels. It is very unlikely to be more, and good chances are will be less, but that is 11%. 11% already gone! When I started doing this budget, I Immediately realized that I really would never get everything done, unless I changed how I do things.

Here is how my time budget looks in its raw data form:

Big Writing Craft Project    18%  86.4 hours/mth  or 5.75 hours every other day
Custom Scrapbooking        11%  52 hours/mth  or  3.5 hours every other day
Writing                                5%   24 hours/mth or 3  full work days per month (ie 8 hours)
Crafting/sewing/crochet      10% 48 hours/mth or 6 days per month
Michaels shifts/classes        11% 52 hours/mth - scattered somewhat but predictable

Daily stuff
Cooking (God help me)      15%   2 1/2 hours per day
Design Team admin              2%    20 minutes per day
Housework                          6.5%  1 hour per day
Time with Jayn*                   15%   2 1/2 hours per day
Time with James*                6.5%    1 hour per day
*actually doing something together as compared to hanging out in the same space while we do other stuff - that's the other 69% of the time I am working at home.

The idea that I only really need to put in on hour per day on the housework to stay on top of it makes things a lot more manageable. The DT work is checking and posting to message boards.

Then I went back to my calendar and I scheduled, in color codes around the days that I have classes and demos already planned - 6 sewing/crafting days over the next month, roughly every other day a long day of business crafting work (which is planned to be my biggest income stream and the most fun too), and three days per month of just writing. This will be mostly screenwriting, and by focusing on writing on those days, and knowing I will be focusing on other work on other days, I hope that more gets accomplished.

This removes the overwhelming "what do I do first" choices from my day. I already have my writing deadlines outlined from early in the year when I did my goal planning, so when I see that tomorrow, Monday, is writing day, I already know that I'm going to be working on "Mermaid Lake" story structure and character development.

Now all I need is clients.


Expanded Polystyrene Natural Life Magazine article footnotes and issues - very long, maybe worth it

My most recent article in the June issue of Natural Life Magazine is about using expanded polystyrene (EPS) for crafting, the last in my series about reusing what would otherwise be waste plastics for crafting purposes. "STYROFOAM (tm) Brand Foam by Dow" is the proper way of writing out the trademarked term for the most well known and oldest brand of expanded polystyrene foam. The packaging I used in  my project was not the Dow material - unfortunately for me because they pay for published pieces using the craft products. For a description and how it differs from other EPS products, go to the STYROFOAM(tm) Brand Foam website.  

Some NLM readers have expressed concerns.

I thought long and hard about doing EPS (I'm now going to avoid the trademark for most of this post) because it really does contribute to the problem of litter in the environment - much of which ends up in the ocean. There has been much discussion about the safety of EPS food containers, most especially about hot food and reheating in the microwave and leaching of chemicals into food.

Here are a couple of links to that information: 

Food grade packaging & testing guidelines:
FDA Food Ingredients and Packaging page
Here are some useful pages on identifying and safely using microwaves and plastics:
Harvard Medical School

Personally, I don't really trust my rather old microwave and whatever internal thermostat it uses, so I avoid the question by not microwaving EPS containers regardless of the label. I can't be certain the temperatures are staying in the designated safe zone to avoid melting, there has been an odd taste sometimes in the dim and distant past, and I have pyrex dishes at home that are better. I never think the EPS cups look clean when I see them out and about. I'm not thinking the grubbiness is necessarily toxic chemical dust, just ordinary-dirt-from-a-warehouse dust, or sitting-in-a-cardboard-box-for-a-while dust. Blech. I have a metal travel mug I tend to carry around with me.

There may be some confusion about off/outgassing of EPS at normal temperatures. According to the MSDS that I have found, the outgassing is very minimal and the products like foam coolers or craft balls are safe when used properly by the consumer. By properly I mean don't burn, melt or dip the stuff into solvents.

Sometimes the confusion arises because the word "foam" is used for more than one kind of product from more than one source chemical. Polyethylene foam can outgas small amounts of odorless flammable hydrocarbons. It should not be stored in confined spaces where a spark might occur. I remember when there were a lot of warnings around to do with foam insulations and mattresses. These are often made of Polyurethane foam, another highly flammable foam that gives off an assortment of nasty gases when heated or burnt, and can create irritating dust.

Here is a very nice article talking about safe use of a number of arts and crafts materials, based around their use in model railroading by adults. It quotes several MSDS sheets with links, and is a rather nice summary. Scroll down for the section about foams.

The blowing agent used for expanding polystyrene is usually a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, although that is changing.  If there is any outgassing, this is what is outgassing, not the styrene - not toxic but not good for the ozone. Remember when we all stopped using hair sprays in the early 1980's to protect the ozone? (Am I showing my age?)

However, this brings me to the very recently released National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Styrene, one of the main original components of polystyrene, has newly been classified as "Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen". This falls short of the most damning designation "Known Human Carcinogen". That list is also really worth reading! (Scroll down and click "Access Report Contents".)

To be honest, I tend to assume that all industrial chemicals could be "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen, especially at high levels of exposure. (Some people are affected by even slight exposures if they have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. I doubt these folks are doing much crafting with even innocuous non-toxic paints and glues, or natural products like botanical dyes or essential oils.) EPS itself is pretty much inert unless you start burning or melting it with high heat or chemicals, or grinding it into dust.

The commercial foam cutting tools that rely on heat are supposed to melt it well below the thresh-hold heat for burning the foam. Please do your own research on those. I don't own one, but I've seen the little puff of dark smoke when the hot wire first touches the foam and I'm just not sure - so I cut with a serrated edged knife instead IF needed. However maybe I'm being paranoid. Here's an MSDS from Dow, referring specifically to the STYROFOAM (tm) Brand Foam as used in home insulation:

"Upon burning the product generates dense black smoke with small amounts of hydrogen bromide, -chloride, and -fluoride. Studies have shown that the products of combustion of this foam are not more acutely toxic than the products of combustion of common building materials such as wood."

Right, because wood smoke is so good for you. Don't stand downwind of a house on fire. But back to the issue at hand.

I have read the entire section of the report dealing with Styrene, and I am slowly making my way through the other information because it is fascinating. Also included are letters and input disputing the findings in the report. I encourage you to read the report yourselves, rather than rely on simplistic interpretations in the media alone, some of which have excessively alarmist headlines or are too dismissive. Some of the articles also conflate one chemical with another just because the study results are included in the same report. The studies themselves are not connected. (But still worth reading about.)

Here are my conclusions:

Short version:

Factory workers in styrene manufacture and related industries (in Europe and US especially) are exposed to very high concentrations of styrene, orders of magnitude greater than the general population, and are at  statistically relevant higher risk for certain cancers. Styrene is used in many, many products some of which are more noxious than others. These are slowly becoming ubiquitous.

The greatest exposure to styrene in the non-occupational (ie not manufacturer/factory workers) population is from cigarette smoke which is greater than the exposure from all other sources combined.

I think the strongest, immediate conclusion we can draw from this report is that the factories need much more stringent health and safety regulations to protect workers!

Long version:

Here's some of what I talked over with Wendy, the editor of NLM.

Quoting the report:

"The limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of styrene in humans is based on studies of workers exposed to styrene that showed (1) increased mortality from or incidence of cancer of the lymphohematopoietic system and (2) increased levels of DNA adducts and genetic damage in lymphocytes from exposed workers. Elevated risks of lymphohematopoietic cancer were found among workers with higher exposure to styrene after an appropriate elapsed time since first exposure. In some studies, the risks increased with increasing measures of exposure, such as average exposure, cumulative exposure, or number of years since first exposure."

To paraphrase the first part: High occupational levels of exposure to volatile styrene and some styrene compounds and oxides have been found to increase the risk of some cancers and depress immunity in industry workers with the highest spikes in exposure. The mice given the high levels got tumors. The ones given the low levels did not. 

Here are some paragraphs from it that I think are important to put perspective to the issue in relation to crafting with the EPS:

"Polystyrene is used extensively in the manufacture of plastic packaging, thermal insulation in building construction and refrigeration equipment, and disposable cups and containers. Styrene polymers and copolymers are also increasingly used to produce various housewares, food containers, toys, electrical devices, automobile body parts, corrosion-resistant tanks and pipes, various construction items, carpet backings, house paints, computer printer cartridges, insulation products, wood-floor waxes and polishes, adhesives, putties, personal-care products, and other items, and they are used in paper processing (IARC 2002, Luderer et al. 2005, NLM 2008). Styrene-butadiene rubber is the most widely used synthetic rubber in the world (ICIS 2008). Over 70% of styrene-butadiene rubber is consumed in the manufacture of tires and tire products; however, non-tire uses are growing, with applications including conveyor belts, gaskets, hoses, floor tiles, footwear, and adhesives. Another major use of styrene is as a cross-linking agent in polyester resins used in gel-coating and laminating operations in the production of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic products such as boats, bathtubs, shower stalls, tanks, and drums (Miller et al. 1994, EPA 1997). The resins generally contain between 30% and 50% styrene by weight."

So this suggests that the incidence of styrene in the environment is likely to be higher anywhere that there are cars, paper, refrigerators, computers, and new bathrooms. Other places to avoid include nuclear power plants, copy centers and toll booths.

Expanded polystyrene is vaguely analogous to cotton candy (fairy floss) or perhaps honeycomb candy where a tiny amount of liquid sugar (about a teaspoon on a typical stick) is expanded with gas (squirted into the air in cotton candy, carbon dioxide from bicarbonate of soda with honeycomb) to create a lightweight yet voluminous material with many holes and air spaces. The actual amount of styrene in EPS is going to be very much smaller than in products made with these other denser resins and faux rubbers.

Second quote:

"Exposure to styrene can occur in both occupational and non-occupational settings. However, workers in certain occupations potentially are exposed to much higher levels of styrene than the general population. The greatest source of exposure for the general population is cigarette smoking, and daily styrene intake by the nonsmoking population is expected to be orders of magnitude lower than daily intakes for workers in occupations with high styrene exposure levels (Cohen et al. 2002, IARC 2002)."

Cigarette smokers are also ingesting orders of magnitude more benzene than the non-smoking population. An order of magnitude is multiplying or dividing by ten. Two orders of magnitude is by 100, three orders by 1000. The ordinary intake of styrene in the non-smoking general population is hundreds or thousands times LESS than the exposure that appears linked to a higher cancer risk for industry workers. I wonder how many of the factory workers also smoke, and how that might have been corrected for or factored in to the conclusions.

Elsewhere in the report:

"While this study demonstrated that inhalation of both indoor and outdoor air and ingestion of food are important sources of exposure for nonsmokers, it also estimated that exposure from smoking cigarettes was roughly 10 times that from all other routes (indoor and outdoor air, drinking water, soil, and food) combined. Other studies estimated that styrene exposure of smokers was six times that of nonsmokers (Cohen et al. 2002) and that up to 15% of nonsmokers’ styrene exposure could be attributed to environmental tobacco smoke (Miller et al. 1998)."


"Styrene has been detected in a wide range of foods and beverages, with the highest measured levels occurring in unprocessed, raw cinnamon, possibly resulting from the natural degradation of cinnamic
acid derivatives (IARC 1994)."

So watch out for raw cinnamon. It makes my tongue itch.

I guess, bottom line for me, of all the sources of styrene in my environment, EPS packaging at room temperature is most inert, most benign and of least concern when used as a crafting material. If it smells unpleasant, I don't use it for crafting.

Here are my recommendations:

I would discourage all people, especially pregnant women, from using EPS cups and food containers especially for hot foods. Their usage by everyone concerned about the environment should be limited for more reasons than the information in this report, including the problems of plastic waste and the waste of
energy and resources inherent in single use disposable products.

Pregnant women, and anyone with respiratory issues, should be extra cautious about breathing EPS dust (and other dusts too). The residue of sawing with a knife is messy but the particles from this kind of crafting look generally relatively big, rather than dust.  They cling rather than float, and appear much larger than wood dust (a Known Human Carcinogen for "cancers of the nasal cavity" according to the same report) from sanding wood for example, which can look like a cloud if you have ever been in a woodshop.

I keep a lint roller on my table, as well as a carpet sweeper to collect any bits. The particles get statically charged and can be collected with something like an inflated balloon too. In the interests of full disclosure, the totem I made didn't get sawn at all. It was one long piece for the body, and another oddly shaped found part for the head, glued together. There is neither dust nor bits made when you cut thin EPS sheeting with scissors or craft knife for stamp shapes.

If a dust mask makes you feel better, then do use one. If you plan on sanding the EPS, which will make dust, certainly use a dust mask.

For everyone ordinary caution should be used to avoid ingesting this or any non-food craft material:

* Don't do any crafting around food or drinks or have snacks at your work table
* Keep your crafting tools and food prep tools separate
* Wash your hands thoroughly before eating, and take off your apron or grubby craft clothes
* Have adequate ventilation and sufficient light, but avoid drafts 
* Be extra careful of hot tools, including where you set them down
* DO NOT use volatile chemicals on EPS, especially 
spray paints unless they are specially formulated for it. 

* It should go without saying, do not smoke while crafting (or around your kids or if you are pregnant). 
* Don't burn EPS!

If you are still concerned and don't want to craft with expanded polystyrene, then by all means don't. You can make similar totem dolls to the one in the article using small cardboard boxes or wood blocks stacked together and glued, before decoupaging your fabrics and papers. I will continue crafting occasionally with EPS, because it is useful for some jobs.

But I'm also going to continue purchasing my food in containers other than plastic foam as much as I can, and continue striving to decrease the amount of plastic trash in my life. 

Here is a free MSDS search engine.