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Throwback Thursday: Seeing Green

Traffic_light_redTraffic lights are pretty predictable these days. Throughout the country, they’re more or less the same: red, yellow, green. Some might be vertical while others are horizontal, and some places might use arrows more than others, but nothing is too surprising about traffic lights in general.

It wasn’t always like that, though. At one point, traffic was more likely to be directed by police officers than by automated lights. Some places only had two colors, while others had four. Some included “stop” and “go” signs that popped out when the colors changed, and sometimes yellow would appear before red and before green. Crazy, huh?

This 1937 video explores the inner workings of old-timey traffic lights and the cities that used them. Enjoy!

 

A License Plate Divided

plate2Dear State of Illinois,

I’ve always contended that Arizona was the most thematic state in the union. Everything about the state screams “Arizona!” If a person were to be abducted by UFOs and dropped in the middle of Arizona, it would only take a couple minutes of wandering around before the person spotted a turquoise lizard or purple kokopelli painted on the side of a building and realized he was in the Grand Canyon State. (I realize this scenario is absurd. UFOs are more likely to abduct people FROM Arizona, not TO it. But I digress.)

Illinois, you might not be as thematic as Arizona, but you seem to be trying. You don’t have stovepipe hats carved into highway retaining walls (at least not that I’ve seen), but you’re fiercely proud of Abraham Lincoln, who spent most of his adult life in the state. As The Land of Lincoln, Illinois even includes Abe’s likeness on its standard-issue license plates.

I’m a huge presidential history nerd and a big fan of Lincoln (who isn’t?) so when we moved here, I was thrilled at the thought of having him on my license plate. But then I started to notice something that bothered me and my sense of order: Lincoln’s head is centered, and it shouldn’t be.

IMG_0724Back when Illinois’ plates used to consist of three digits, a space, and three digits, it made perfect sense for Abe’s head to be centered on the plate, so one could see him. I’m sure it felt right.

But now the standard, non-personalized plates consist of three digits, a space, and then four digits. That means the plate is off-balance and the first digit in that second set inevitably covers part of Abe’s head, and it drives me nuts.

So, State of Illinois, I am humbly asking you to scoot Mr. Lincoln’s head to the left a bit. You could even have two different prints: an off-center one for use on the standard-issue plates, and the centered one for people who order personalized plates where an off-center Abe might look weird. And don’t tell me this would be too complicated. The state currently offers more than 50 specialty plates, so adding one more design shouldn’t be a big deal.

I realize it’s a silly thing to ask, but if Illinois is truly the Land of Lincoln, shouldn’t we avoid stamping over his head as much as possible? It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Sincerely,

A concerned citizen

Why New Parents Get it Wrong

Most expectant parents spend countless hours making sure everything for the new baby is just right. They paint the nursery, pick coordinating crib sets, pour over catalogs and roam stores looking for the perfect coming-home outfit, type up their birth plan, and misuse swaddledebate names for weeks.

Yet as soon as these parents put their baby in the car for the first time, almost all of them make at least one critical mistake. Car seat advocates and experts have known this for a long time, but a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics is highlighting it again: Almost all car seats are installed and/or used incorrectly.

After checking the usage of more than 250 families being discharged from a hospital in Oregon, researchers found that 93% of them made a serious error with their car seats. Nearly 70% left the harness too loose, and 43% didn’t install the seat tight enough. Thirty-six percent had a seat adjusted to an incorrect angle, and 34% positioned the chest clip too low. Other misuse included having the harness straps in the wrong position and using unapproved after-market products.

Why do doting new parents misuse seats like this? That’s a question safety advocates have asked for a long time. Usually it’s not because they don’t care; it’s because they don’t know.

Many parents fail to read the manual that comes with their car seat. I know manuals can be tedious and boring, but when it comes to a piece of safety equipment, it’s necessary. Just do it!

Another reason is that car seats are confusing. If they were easy, we wouldn’t need to have certified technicians to help people with their seats. Again, much of the confusion can be cleared up by reading the manual, but even that can’t solve everything. Car seats often need to be demonstrated, not just talked about on paper.

Finally, a lot of people just don’t understand crash dynamics. Most people have never been in a serious or even moderate crash. They don’t understand how strong crash forces can be, and what kind of effect they can have on a human being—especially a tiny one. It’s certainly not something I had thought about until I became involved in child passenger safety, and even now it’s sometimes hard to wrap my head around. Many parents just don’t understand the lifesaving role a car seat can provide, and how that safety can be compromised by not using them correctly.

How can new parents be better prepared? Here are some tips to help reduce the most common mistakes.

  • Read the manual! Really.pileomanuals
  • For rear-facing seats, the harness should be at or below the child’s shoulders—not above.
  • Tighten the harness so you can’t pinch any webbing between your fingers at the collarbone. On most seats, you’ll want to pull up excess slack from the hip area before tightening.
  • The chest clip should be level with the baby’s armpits. That puts the clip over the strongest part of the baby’s torso—not on the neck, and not on the tummy.
  • Install the seat with the seatbelt OR lower anchors, not both (unless your seat and vehicle both explicitly allow it, which is rare).
  • If you use lower anchors (LATCH) make sure the position in the car allows for it. Most vehicles don’t have dedicated LATCH anchors in the center seating position, and most don’t allow for borrowing outboard anchors for use in the middle (check your manuals).
  • Check to make sure your seat is installed tightly enough. Use your non-dominant hand to give a firm tug where the seatbelt or LATCH strap goes through. As long as the seat moves less than an inch, the installation is tight. It’s important to check for movement ONLY at the belt path. Checking at the top of the seat will make the installation seem looser than it is, and will probably wind up loosening up an otherwise good installation.
  • Check the side of your seat to make sure the angle is correct for a newborn. Some seats have a line that needs to be level to the ground, while others have indicators that include balls, bubbles, or colored disks that show how reclined the seat is. For newborns, the seat should be at or close to the maximum allowed recline.
  • If you’re using a rear-facing-only or infant seat, make sure the handle is in an allowed position in the car. Some seats require the handle to be up, some require it to be down, and some allow any position, so read the manual to find out what’s allowed on your seats.
  • Don’t use aftermarket accessories unless they’re specifically approved by the car seat manufacturer. Also, don’t attach hard or heavy toys to the handle of the seat while it’s in the car.
  • Don’t swaddle your baby or use heavy jackets or snowsuits in the car. Check our tips for winter weather to learn more.
  • Make an appointment with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician before your child is born. A good technician will teach you to install and use your seat properly. A list of CPSTs can be found here, and car-seat.org also maintains a list of techs among its members.
  • Read the manual!

Aton 2 Declan

If you’re expecting, you’re probably doing everything you can to make sure your baby enters the world as safely as possible. Don’t skimp on safety once he or she is out of the womb.

Horton has a Head

elephant headHalloween is upon us, and that means it’s time to get the kids’ costumes ready. Maybe some of you are struggling with how to create the perfect costume that can’t be bought in stores. Maybe you need to make a full-headed mask or a large prop. Perhaps I can help. What you need is papier mache–but not the drippy, tedious kind you did in school. What you need is DIY papier mache clay.

Let’s back up a couple months to when a friend volunteered me to make a giant Horton the elephant head for a Dr. Seuss show our daughters’ dance studio was performing. The head had to be really big–large enough that it would look appropriate on a two-person elephant. One of the instructors suggested that I use papier mache and chicken wire, but the thought of cutting and sculpting chicken wire really didn’t appeal to me. I saw no way to get around the papier mache, though.

papier ballSo I went to Five Below and bought a few different inflatable balls. I blew them up and decided that a small exercise ball was the way to go. But then I started the papier mache process. If you ever did this in school, you probably remember tearing up strips of newspaper, dipping them in a mixture of flour and water (or something like that) and layering it on. That works fine for something small, but I quickly realized it was going to take FOREVER to make a head as large and as sturdy as I needed, especially since you’re supposed to let the layers dry completely before adding more.

In desperation, I turned to the internet for help. That’s when I discovered the site Ultimate Paper Mache and a recipe for do-it-yourself papier mache clay. (This woman makes adorable papier mache animals—I might need to take that up as a new hobby.)

It’s really simple to make. You just need a roll of toilet paper, 1/2 cup of flour, 3/4 cup of all-purpose glue, and 1 cup of joint compound. (The recipe also calls for linseed or mineral oil, but the site says it’s optional so I didn’t use it.) You take the toilet paper off the roll and soak it in warm water, then squeeze it out. You should end up with 1 1/4 cups of toilet paper pulp. If you have more, just discard it. I used a Costco roll that gave me about double that, so I doubled the other ingredients, too, and made a jumbo batch. Tear the pulp up into 1-inch-ish pieces, add the other ingredients, and mix (I used a hand mixer). When you’re done, you’ll have a mixture the consistency of cookie dough or very thick canned frosting.

big headIt spreads like frosting, too. I used my hands to glump some onto my existing layer of newspapers on the exercise ball, then used a frosting spreader to spread it out. Here’s the beautiful thing about the clay: Because it’s so light and airy, you can spread it up to 1/4″ thick. Do you know how long it would take to properly apply an equal amount of newspapers??? FOREVER.

The nature of the clay also makes it really easy to attach other parts. Just make sure those are made of light-weight things, too. I used a cut-up-and-repositioned heart-shaped styrofoam wreath to form the tops of Horton’s ears, and some taped up newspaper to make the IMG_0380trunk. To attach them, I set them in place over my existing (dried) clay, then just used more clay to hold the base of each appendage in place. I let the base dry before I finished covering the rest of the ears and trunk, just so they wouldn’t get too heavy and fall off before everything was dry.

I wound up needing several batches of clay to finish the elephant head. That included two layers plus the clay I needed to join other parts. You can keep the unused clay in the fridge, so that was handy for times when I needed a break or had to wait for things to dry. (Leave at least 24 hours for drying between layers.)

naked elephantThis stuff dries HARD, too. I needed to cut around the opening a little, so it wasn’t so rough, and also needed to cut a mouth opening so the person inside could see out. My husband had to use a jig saw, and it was a bit terrifying, but luckily he knew what he was doing. 

I added some fabric, a little yarn, lots of paint, and a pink poofy thing, and then my elephant head was done. For as big and solid as it is, it was remarkably light. I tried the head on several times and wore it around the house a bit (because I thought it was funny) and didn’t get uncomfortable despite the size.

horton on stageThe clay would be fantastic for making lots of different Halloween masks or costume accessories. Heck, why not make some pumpkins to decorate your house, or a cauldron for candy? It’s not Halloween-rleated, but one of the commenters on that site’s blog was making toadstools for preschoolers to sit on. How cute would that be?

If you want your items to last, you’ll want to shellack them. Even though they dry rock-solid, they’re still mainly paper and flour. Those can break down over time, and bugs sometimes eat stuff like that. Yuck. It’s also important to note that the clay is supposed to go over a form, just like regular papier mache. It’s not intended to be used like modeling clay, although I suppose if you model in 1/4″ layers, it could work.

So go grab yourself some toilet paper and joint compound, and whip up something cool!