Mark Your Calendars For February 27th!

One month following the 7.1 earthquake that struck Haiti, an all-star cast of musicians is gathering for Help Haiti Live, a two-city ticketed concert event taking place on February 27th, 2010 to benefit Compassion International’s Haiti disaster relief fund.

Don't live in LA or Nashville? Watch the concerts for free (streaming live) on the 27th at Help Haiti Live website. Go ahead and bring your wallet, though–at the website you'll be given a chance to donate to Compassion's work in Haiti. If you've not already done so, this will be the perfect opportunity.

One hundred percent of on-line donations through HelpHaitiLive.com will go to Compassion International’s Haiti disaster relief fund. One hundred percent of net proceeds from ticket sales will go to the same place.

Some of the artists participating in this concert include Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and two of my personal favorites: Dave Barnes (*squeal*), and Alison Krauss and Union Station (*double squeal*). This will be a spectacular night of music for a great cause–I'll be watching live. Join me!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9307574&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Help Haiti February 27th – HelpHaitiLive.com from Compassion International on Vimeo.

If I Don’t Write It Down I’ll Forget

I'm trying to grease up these rusty brain cells of mine and get back to writing the occasional blog post–not a bad thing to do when one has, you know, a blog. I've been working on a post documenting the vacation we took over the holidays, but as the story involves abject humiliation, I've been understandably reluctant. (More on that later. Maybe.) Instead, here's a few random questions, comments, and general wondering-ments.

1. My daughter got a Puff the Magic Dragon book for Christmas, including a sing-along CD. And never mind that I am 37 years old with a mortgage and four children and a PTA membership card–I am unable to listen to that song without blubbering over my lost childhood and bereft dragons. But what in the heck is sealing wax? (Also, please do not tell me that song is actually about drugs. I-have-my-fingers-in-my-ears-and-I-can't-hear-you-la-la-la.)

2. Thanks to my patient and crafty sister-in-law, I'm learning how to crochet. I can't get enough of it! I'm not exactly good at it yet, but I can stitch the heck out of a rectangle. If you know me in real life, congratulations–you're probably getting a scarf this year. Please act happy.

3. Over the holidays I've been plowing through my reading list. This and this were both outstanding, and this was really good, too. This was a fascinating concept, but I thought it came up short at the very end–it's so disappointing when that happens. I'm reading this now, and this is next on the list. What's on yours?

4. American Idol is back underway, and can I just tell you how much I love the "Pants On the Ground" guy from the Atlanta auditions? Here's a great post about him, including his history marching with Dr. King in the '60's. (On the occasion that A Particular Son Of Mine Who Shall Remain Unnamed thinks it might be funny to try the whole droopy-pants thing, I remind him that I have a staple gun in the garage and I'm not afraid to use it.)

5. Does anyone reading this know anything about chronic headaches (possibly migraines) in children? One of my kiddos is struggling with this, but I'm not finding a ton of resources online.

6. Please remember to consider Compassion when you plan your giving for the Haiti crisis. Follow their Twitter feed for helpful updates. While you're at it, see Ree's great giveaway to help raise some more Haiti funds. Another great effort to raise funds is underway here.  Whatever you do, please give.

Have a good weekend, and remember to keep praying for our friends in Haiti.

What We Can Do

"Should we go there?" my eight-year-old son asked me last night as we sat and watched CNN as a family.

No, I explained, we shouldn't–we'd only be in the way.

But I know how he feels. Watching the epic destruction unfold leaves me sitting with a shaking head and a heavy heart, wondering what on earth I can possibly do. Hand-wringing won't help, of course; there is always a course of action, even when the path seems overwhelming.

:: Give. There are people on the ground with access to the tools to help–give to these organizations generously, until you feel the pinch yourself. If you've never been a giver before, let this be a wake-up call and a chance to stretch that part of your heart, and see how your life is changed when you sacrifice for someone else. Compassion has had a strong presence in Haiti for a very long time, and–praise God–their office still stands. You can be sure that your gift will be stretched and used to its very last drop. Here's a great explanation (directly from the Compassion folks) about why their model for disaster relief is so effective:

In
this disaster it is crucial that first responders receive support
quickly. Because Compassion International ministers through local
churches to meet the needs of that church's neighbors, and because
these church partners are respected aid workers in their communities,
Compassion is uniquely positioned to assess and meet the needs of its
sponsored children quickly. This is an advantage of our church-based
model in practice for more than 50 years.

:: Talk to your kids. Don't hide tragedy from them. Their world, unfortunately, is a scary place sometimes. Poverty and disaster should be jarring, and seeing it will help them grow into people who want to make things better. Pray together. Brainstorm as a family about things you can give up together to give more generously. Let them feel the pinch, too.

:: Live with intentional thankfulness. When I came home from Africa, I struggled with guilt–why am I comfortable when so many others aren't? I understand a little better now that I can channel those emotions into thankfulness, and I can teach it to my kids. I don't know why my kids are safe and my house is standing and our water is clean. But I will be thankful, and I will take opportunities like this one to re-tune my heart. So many of the things that occupy our minds are fleeting and unimportant. Let Haiti awaken us to a perspective that is laser-focused on what really matters.

http://farm.sproutbuilder.com/load/kADUtMgfH0EiNN2H.swf

The Scoop on CPSIA

Like many of you, I'm a big fan of supporting creative small business owners, such as those found on Etsy and elsewhere on the web.  The "cottage industry" environment fostered by the web inspires me, especially as I see creative women (many of them moms) making brilliant, artistic items in their home, and giving me–the consumer–a chance to buy something special and handmade.

So it's been with increasing alarm that I've followed the story around CPSIA.  (Never heard of it? Bear with me just a minute.)  This is a law that goes into effect in only a few short weeks, and it has the potential to greatly inhibit the productivity of crafty small business owners that make products for children. 

I do not own a business making children's items, so my knowledge on the subject has been fairly limited.  But I wanted to understand it better–and to be able to tell you about it–so I decided to ask for some help.  My real-life friend Heather is the owner of Blessed Nest, a small but growing company that makes organic nursing pillows.  This law has thrust Heather into the position of reluctant activist, as she's had to discern what this law means for her company (newspaper columnist Susanne Tobias even interviewed Heather on the subject here).  

Thankfully, Heather agreed to sit down and answer a few questions, and you may be surprised to learn just how far-reaching this new law is.  Heather's answers to my questions are in italics, below:

What exactly is CPSIA?

CPSIA stands for Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The way it was summarized for the U.S. Senate vote was: “A bill to establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children's products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

Terrific, it’s about time, read no further… right?  Well, it’s sort of their jobs to read the whole thing and think about it before they “yea” or “nay”.  See how your favorite Senator voted here and Congressman/woman here.

How will it affect Etsy shop owners and other small crafty businesses?

According to the actual scope and wording of this bill (H.R.4040), as of Feb. 10, 2009, all products made and/or marketed to children under the age of 12 will have to comply with mandatory lead and phthalates testing for each component of each product they sell or face felony charges and hefty fines. Tests have to be conducted by labs that have been approved by the Commission, and range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars. (For one small business’s estimate based on actual quotes from approved labs, see Happy Panda’s blog). Even if you use the same materials for the 30 different things that you sell, every component of all 30 have to be individually tested, regardless of whether those materials have passed testing by other agencies or other manufacturers. For example, we use Harmony Art fabrics, which conform to the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) . Even if we had them tested by the lower standards of the CPSIA for our pillows, a mom who sells hand-made slings out of the very same fabrics would have to have her products tested as well.

In a nutshell, if you knit booties (or sew burp cloths, or make bibs, or create hair bows) and sell them on Etsy (or at your church craft fair or to your neighbor down the street) you will be required to have each size and style of each item you sell tested, even if they are made from the same material. Let's say, for example, you knit booties and sell them. Even though yarn is not known to inherently contain lead or phthalates, and even if your yarn has been certified organic by GOTS standards, which exceed CPSIA standards by more than 300%, your yarn would have to be tested.  And if you opt to have the testing done, next time you get the same yarn from the same manufacturer in a different dye lot, everything has to be re-tested.

There are some less expensive tests available through “unapproved” sources, but they will only be good until August, 2009.  So, it either means that if you sell without certification you are breaking the law or that you better have a rich uncle.

Will any other businesses be affected?  What about consignment stores and/or eBay?

The law applies to all products, even used items. This means that unless the stores (including eBay sellers and private parties) do the testing themselves, on Feb. 11 all of those products are to be treated as hazardous waste and destroyed. In a vague memo issued this week by the CPSA “resellers” may be excluded from certification, but these proposals also say that businesses owners will still face the same penalties if an item they sold ends up containing lead. It not only omits a specific definition of what a “reseller” is, it also fails to explain whether it applies to their entire inventory or just used items. So it exposes the store owner to the risk of either being shut down because of an item that may or may not have actually been purchased from them, but also to the nuts that could sue them if they claimed they were injured by the product. (Ouch, McDonald’s… I spilled my coffee!)  It also is a very effective tool for competitors to use against businesses who they know can’t comply, a practice that has already been used by some of the big guys.

Something else to consider is that Canada is apparently watching to see what happens with this legislation, as they structure their own policies for safety standards. Many other countries could follow suit, making handmade children’s products a thing of the past, globally!

How will it affect consumers?

If the only products on the market are those made by companies who can afford to comply with the CPSIA rules (especially on such short notice), consumers will have very few options. Taking away handmade and even used items will create a market that is little more than mass-produced, mostly foreign-made children’s products. It also sets a precedent which allows one government agency to determine what is in the best interest of “public safety”, without having to take other factors into account.

One other big issue is that the jury is still out whether books, including text books and library books will be exempt. If the law isn’t changed, libraries will have two options: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves, or they ban children from the library.”  (according to Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association.

To play devil’s advocate for a minute, I suspect that advocates of this law support it in the interest of keeping kids safe.  What’s your response to that?

The irony is that most of the people who will be hurt by this are those of us who have been trying to get the government to pass safety laws all along. We all want our kids to be safe, and in fact many of our businesses were started as a way of being proactive in providing safe alternatives to the mass-produced, unregulated products on the market now. I doubt that many people want this law to be vetoed altogether, just for it to be reasonable. We want it to focus on areas where it will do the most good without forcing everyone else to break the law or live in fear of being shut down and hauled off to prison. There are many intelligent recommendations that have been made that would not only protect children but also would allow small businesses to operate and let parents make informed choices for what they buy.

Is it inevitable? Can something be changed?  If so, what?

Well, not to sound too dramatic… but I believe that inevitability is the enemy of liberty. Without going into too much detail here (feel free to read my soapbox letter here), I think that this is much deeper than whether I can call my pillows “nursing pillows” or not. Fortunately, this is still America, and our voices do matter. This bill was pushed through under the radar at an unusually fast pace, but our representatives are still responsible for representing us. You can join the efforts of the Handmade Toy Alliance here, sign a petition here, and vote to bring this issue before the President-Elect on Inauguration Day here.

Once you get into this it can become very emotional, confusing and overwhelming, especially if you are a small business trying to make ends meet (insert raised hand here).  We have made a page on our blog where we are trying to stream-line the most up-to-date information, links, articles and support that we find. We’re also looking into the technology to put a hug on it, but that could be years off and would be regulated anyway.  In the meantime, at least we know we’re all in it together!

I expect that many of you are very knowledgeable about this issue as well.  If you know of additional resources, please leave them in the comments section below.  In addition to contacting your congressional representatives, you might consider alerting local, state or even national media to this story that will affect so many hard-working women.

Now Get To It

I woke up my crew at the crack o’ dawn this morning, so we could go to the polls together before school. 

But then life happened–one kid dawdled over breakfast, another spilled something on his shirt.  We didn’t get out the door as early as I hoped, but I still used the rushed time in the car for a lesson:

"This is VERY important, guys.  People died so we can have this right, and Dad and I take it very seriously.  Americans who don’t vote are seriously disregarding the sacrifice of those who came before them."

And then we pulled up to the polling place.  The line snaked out the door, down the sidewalk, and around the side of the building.  God bless the great state of Oklahoma

"Rats," I muttered.  "I don’t think we’ll have time for this right now."

Stephen reached out his arm and gave me his best serious, grown-up look.  "Mom, really, I’d be happy to miss some school today so I can learn about the voting process."

Cheeky kid.

"Ariel!" shouted Corrie.  "I want to vote for Ariel!" 

My grand civics lesson wasn’t turning out quite as I’d hoped.  So we abandoned the crack o’ dawn voting initiative, went to school, and we’ll try again after the bell rings this afternoon.  In the meantime, my kids’ school is having a mock election today, and I’m eager to hear the results (though if the discussions my kids have been bringing home are any indication, I think it’s clear that many kids are getting good information from their parents. God bless the great state of Oklahoma.)

And while we’re on the topic of the election, Robin of Pensieve has rounded up some of the freebies being offered as incentives to voters today.  Because, you know, nothing says "democracy" like a free donut, cookie or ice cream cone.  America is alive and well, my friends, and evidently she’s also on a sugar rush.

Now, go vote.  It’s a very big day.

What I Really Hope

A mother’s hopes for her children are never far from her. 

I’ve been thinking much these last couple of weeks, as the sky seems to be doing a bit of falling.  I think of how higher gas and grocery prices will affect my family, of course, but I think of other things, too.  I look at the failure we’re seeing, on such a grand scale, and it reminds me of something much deeper.  Cheaper groceries aren’t the only thing I’m wishing for, where my kids are concerned:

I hope they learn that greed is not, in fact, good.  That it messes with the heads of big-time CEOs all the way down to first-time homeowners, and it clouds judgment, often spectacularly so.

I hope that they pay attention in math class and learn that, whether you’re a government or a regular Joe, if you spend more than you make, it never ends well.

I hope they learn that a happy family is a million times more precious than a big house.

I hope they learn that when times are good, your circumstances don’t have to enslave you or define you.  And that when times are bad, your circumstances don’t have to enslave you or define you. 

I hope they remember that America’s version of "cutting back" is very different from that of the developing world.

I hope they learn that contentment is not something that accidentally happens to you, it is something you actively decide upon.  And you lay hold of it, re-deciding every day that enough is actually plenty.

I hope they learn that, at the end of the day, our truest Hope will never be found in our bank accounts or our government.  Insitutions sometimes fall.  He doesn’t.

The Southern Girl’s Guide To Proper Political Discourse: What Your Momma Should’ve Told You

So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’re thinking of electing a new president.

Of course you’ve heard.  You couldn’t have missed it, with all the shouting from both sides (we are a nation of equal opportunity meanies).  Some of the vitriol I’ve seen and read has made me feel suddenly less alarmed by the scuffles that sometimes erupt in the back of my mini-van.   

I know you’ve heard of political correctness, the idea of conducting yourself in a way to "minimize offense".  You might think that notion was invented by the media, or sociologists.  But you would be wrong.

It was invented by Southern women. 

We’ve made "minimizing offensiveness" an art form.  We do it all day.  We are trained to do it at our mothers’ knees.  In fact, I remember, quite distinctly, my parents telling me never, ever to bring up politics or money in conversation unless you were absolutely certain where the other person stood.  And even then, you should proceed carefully.

Since I have received such fine training myself, I thought I would offer up the following to the Whole Entire Internet, Or At Least The Portion That Blogs About Politics.

1.  Do not make assumptions that the person you’re talking with must vote a certain way because of her gender, race, religion, or shoe size.  That simply tells your conversation partner that you don’t think she’s smart enough to make up her own mind, and that is just plain tacky.  Anyway, you know what they say about assumptions….well, I’ll let you look that one up on your own.

2.  To expand on #1, when you begin a political discussion with a stranger or acquaintance, do not launch into a tirade about how horrible Senator Joe Don is, because this stranger might be voting for Joe Don.  Heck, your stranger might have a Daddy whose old football coach once had his hair cut by Joe Don’s niece.  It is the South, you know.

3.  Name calling is completely, always inappropriate.  But if you really feel you must throw around words such as "socialist" and "radical right-wing nut-job", it would soften things a bit if you would insert a "bless his heart" at the end of sentence.

4.  When you go to the polls in November, please do not wear white shoes, because that is after Labor Day.  It has nothing to do with politics, but I just needed to squeeze it in.

5.  Do not blanket statements of fact:  "ALL Republicans are money-hungry," or "ALL Democrats are overly emotional," or "All Texans have big hair."  Blanket statements are almost never true, and they just make the speaker sound desperate and uninformed.  And anyway, I’ve known plenty of Texans whose hair size was only slightly above average.

6.  It’s okay to disagree with someone and still like them.  Even if they’re voting for the Other Guy, or–worse–cheering for the University of Texas football team.  (I know.  I’m bagging on Texas a little.  They’re big, they can handle it.)

7.  Be charming.  If you find yourself utterly and completely annoyed, then make a joke.  If charming doesn’t work, head straight for that great old friend of Southern women, passive-aggressiveness.  You could even, perhaps, and I’m speaking purely hypothetically here, write a blog post about it…