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.