L.A. at Home

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Southern California Living

Category: Family

DIY speed bumps: Traffic control for neighborhoods

Modern Family Claire bullhorn
Take note, drivers who treat pretty much any stretch of asphalt as a highway despite the kids, the pets or the speed limits: Throughout neighborhoods far and wide, fed-up residents are reclaiming their streets, or at least trying to. It’s something of a global obsession, actually, and the solutions go far beyond the much derided speed hump, which some traffic experts say actually encourages bursts of speeding between the braking.

In West Vancouver, Canada, traffic safety groups painted holograms on the ground so that as cars approached, a child appeared to rise from the ground. (Never mind that detractors have said the holograms could cause cars to swerve and hit something real.)

In London, artist Steven Wheen converts potholes into miniature versions of English gardens. The idea: guerrilla landscaping as traffic-calming tool.

Here in Southern California, some other strategies are gaining traction:

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The new house rule: No work at home

Wes BausmithOnly recently did Parrish and Tom Chilcoat realize just how bad the habit had become. As soon as they would get home in the evening and reconnect with the kids, they also would go back to monitoring work. “I'd be trying to check work emails while making spaghetti in between,” Parrish said. “Tom would be in the living room ‘playing' with the kids, but I knew he was checking emails, work projects, not to mention Facebook! It all felt wrong.”

The result, Tom said, was that “after long days at work we'd come home to this chaotic and unorganized time at home.” So a few months ago the couple agreed to ban all electronics in their Los Angeles home between 5 and 8 p.m. Now that time is devoted to board games, reading and making dinner with their kids, ages 3 and 6.

“No more checking email or Facebooking during that time,” Parrish said. “It's a work in progress, but I'd say we are more focused, unified and happy as a family.”

Families who declare laptop-free zones or phone-free periods have company. House rules may vary — no iPad at the breakfast table, no laptops during prime time in the living room, no BlackBerries in bed — but the goal is the same. Stop work life from seeping into family life and be fully present for one another.

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Behind-the-scenes tours of Carpinteria flower farms

Carpinteria-flower-farm-2The Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tours are Saturday, a chance for gardeners and flower fans to get an insider's view into the world of cut flowers by taking a greenhouse or field tour. Participants also can buy flowers directly from the growers.

The fourth annual self-guided tours are hosted by eight flower farms and the Santa Barbara County Flower & Nursery Growers' Assn. The Carpinteria valley is one of the most prolific cut flower-growing regions in the state, and on the drive north from Los Angeles toward Santa Barbara, it's impossible to ignore what seem like acres of greenhouses lining U.S. 101 -- polychromatic explosions of blooms destined for florists, supermarkets and farmers markets.

Erik Van Wingerden of Myriad Flowers said visitors to his family's farm will see one of California's last major rose-growing operations, where more than 10 million rose stems are produced annually.

"Seventy-five percent of what we grow are roses," he said. "We have hybrid teas, sweetheart roses and spray roses. As for the rest, we grow pompom chrysanthemums, dahlias, ranunculus, solidago, sunflowers, gladiolas and irises."

Gerbera grower Winfred Van Wingerden, Erik's cousin and president of Maximum Nursery, said when visitors tour his greenhouses and see jelly-bean-colored blooms covering 4.5 acres, "there's a wow effect -- it's totally magical."

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Coming soon to baby's bottom: 100% compostable diapers

"The Human Footprint"When Linda Naerheim gave birth to her first daughter, she wanted a high-performance diaper that was convenient to use and made from sustainable materials, but finding that combination was a challenge.

"Not everybody can do cloth," said Naerheim, who, like more than 90% of U.S. parents, preferred disposable diapers because they are so easy to use, even though she cringed at the environmental implications.

Now, five years later, the 38-year-old mother of two is hoping she can help other new parents who want to do right for their children as well as the environment. This week, Naerheim's company, Elements Naturals, is introducing a 100% compostable diaper at Expo West, the annual natural products extravaganza in Anaheim.

The plant-based diaper is hypoallergenic and chlorine- and fragrance-free, Naerheim said. Its absorbent core is made from wood pulp encased in a waterproof outer layer made from a plant-derived starch known as Ingeo. The stretchy leg cuffs are also made from Ingeo. The repositionable tabs that secure the diaper in place are paper.

Naerheim said the diaper can break down completely in 90 days. Composting is recommended only for diapers with urine.

Recognizing that many parents won't compost the diapers but put them in the trash, the diapers' packaging -- also made from compostable, plant-based starch -- recommends flushing solid waste down the toilet to reduce the amount going to landfills. But even if the diapers are tossed, rather than composted, Naerheim said they "won't take forever to break down."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a disposable diaper will take more than 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill. Estimates vary, but as many as 27 billion disposable diapers are used in the United States each year.

Elements Naturals' compostable diapers are the second sustainable, disposable hygiene product from the Bend, Ore., company. In 2009, Elements Naturals introduced compostable, plant-based baby wipes.

The compostable diapers will launch in two sizes -- Midi (for newborns up to 18 pounds) and Maxi (for infants and toddlers 6 months to 2 years old). Midi packs hold 28 diapers, Maxis 26. They will retail for $16.99 to $17.99 depending on the location.

The diapers aren't yet available, but they can be pre-ordered online beginning in May through the Elements Naturals website and will be available in many natural supermarket chains, including Whole Foods, in late June.

Elements Naturals compostable diapers are manufactured in Italy and are already available in Europe. Naerheim said she wants to set up a manufacturing facility in the U.S. within two years.


The Garbage Maven: On the tail end of animal waste

The Garbage Maven's Goal: A kid's party with no trash

The Garbage Maven: Recycling old clothes

Malibu elementary school opens zero-waste campus

-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: Scene from "The Human Footprint," a 2008 National Geographic Channel special about American consumption. Credit: National Geographic Channel

Parents' finances: When the family secret is Mom's bank balance

Conversations we loathe: Telling a spouse that it's over. Explaining sex to our kids. Asking our elderly parents about their finances. How do you broach that last subject without sounding greedy? It's an important conversation to initiate, experts say.

“It's not a question of age,” elder law attorney Danielle B. Mayoras says. “Whether you're 30, 50 or 90, no one is promised tomorrow. It's important to have these conversations sooner rather than later.”

Relative financesEarly in the year is a good time to start fresh, Mayoras says. She is well-versed in the subject: She co-wrote an estate planning guide, “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Hunts,” with husband Andrew Mayoras, a probate lawyer. The book uses well-publicized courtroom battles to illustrate the bitter clashes that often follow the death of a parent.

You can avoid such wrenching problems by persuading your parents to plan ahead, she says. And there's no better time to start than the present.

You never know what you might find when you start asking questions. I found that my parents had more than $120,000 — a huge chunk of their savings — stashed away in a checking account drawing no interest. I talked them into visiting a financial counselor with me, and eventually my father moved the money into low-risk investments. It marked the beginning of a long-range plan that eventually kept their estate out of probate court.

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New baby monitors stream video, connect via Wi-Fi

Ibaby monitor

The cry has been heard: After 30 years with little change to baby monitoring devices, new designs premiered this month at the Consumer Electronics Show promising Wi-Fi connectivity and high-definition video that streams live to a smartphone.

Some new monitors will have two-way audio, allowing parents to whisper comforting words in their baby’s ear without stepping foot in the room. Other monitors will text messages when a baby starts to cry, and still others will allow parents to shift the camera's view up, down and around the room remotely, using an iPad.

The next generation of technology represents a leap from most of today's monitors, which consist of a radio transmitter equipped with a microphone in the baby’s room, and a receiver in another room, often no more than 1,000 feet away. When the baby stirs, or coos, or cries, mom and dad can hear and decide whether or not to intervene.

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Celestino Drago's haven at home, his backyard kitchen

Celestino Drago beehive
Walk in the front door of chef Celestino Drago's Sherman Oaks home, through the soaring foyer and the wide-open designer kitchen and out the back door, and you might think you've shape-shifted your way to the Italian countryside.

Celestino Drago pizza“The best thing for me is when it's Sunday and I am here with the kids in the garden, picking what I want to go and cook,” says the chef, whose restaurant Drago Santa Monica just celebrated its 20th anniversary. That could mean a simple pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil. Or vegetables to grill with chicken or fish.

PHOTO GALLERY: Drago's backyard kitchen

Drago seems fairly indifferent to his indoor kitchen, though it's the sort of room that agents use to sell a house. “To be honest, we don't use the one in the house much,” he says.

No wonder. Outdoors, he has a huge beehive-shaped wood-burning oven, a massive dining table and everything else necessary for cooking and eating. Drago can look out, past the pool, to the hills. Or he can sit and watch one of two flat screens set high on walls at either end of the long, rectangular, open-sided room.

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Her gift to her 90-year-old dad: a trip to the strip club

Strip Forty Deuce Hollywood
I confess. I took my 90-year-old dad to a strip joint as a present. It wasn’t my idea; I have a crazy friend who dreams up stuff like this. But it turned out to be one of the silliest and most memorable things I've ever done. Though people may cringe at the very thought of a strip club, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the outing for everyone, there’s something to be said about the benefits of laughter and about celebrating holidays and birthdays with gusto, regardless of age. Creating memories is wonderful, even if some of the people involved end up forgetting the experience by the next day. (That was sort of a joke.)

A friend of mine who loves extreme celebrations hired a high school marching band to parade around her dad's nursing home playing “Happy Birthday” and other sprightly party tunes. She gave out kazoos to residents so they could play along. Her only regret? She forgot to make a video; she thinks it would have been funny enough to go viral.

Another friend organized his family into an acting troupe and performed a vaudeville show at his mom's senior center as a Christmas gift. The audience laughed uproariously — mostly because the group was so bad.

Not everyone can pull off a vaudeville show or afford a marching band. But we all can still plan a special celebration. One woman I know made short video clips of friends telling their favorite things about her dad. She played it at his birthday. It revealed the kind of sentiments that unfortunately aren't usually heard until a funeral. In this case, her dad got to enjoy the words of praise and laugh along at the jokes and stories people told about him.

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Artist Emily Green's playful L.A. home

Emily GreenEmily Green's Los Angeles home is all about art and childhood. “It's a house where you can play with everything,” Green said. “I want kids to feel like they can be themselves here.”

The playful interior of her small apartment is filled with handmade objects. A puppet hanging in the kitchen has coffee cup lids for eyes, a Gatorade cap nose and forks for legs and hands. In the bedroom of daughter Daisy, 10, tooth fairy boxes have been crafted from tinfoil, bright paper scraps and other throwaway items, pictured below. In Green's bedroom, a portrait of her was painted by a former student on the back of a ukulele.

PHOTO GALLERY: Artist Emily Green's home

“My house is filled with things that inspire me,” said Green (not to be confused with L.A. at Home's gardening columnist of the same name). “These are my resources. I want to make heirlooms using things that are simple to have around.”

That also means pieces of nostalgia as decoration. A bookcase in the living room is stacked with relics from Green's childhood — “Madeline” books, a cash register, board games and Richard Scarry titles. There is no TV set, only her “imagination bucket” filled with scraps of fabric, toilet paper rolls, pipe cleaners — you name it.

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Daniel Monti design: A behind-the-screens look

Daniel Monti house exterior
In designing a home for his parents in Venice, architect Daniel Monti wrapped the second story in a sculptural steel screen that mimics the way a majestic Italian stone pine in the backyard filters light, offers privacy and shades the interiors. The screen, made of 4-by-4-foot panels of Cor-ten steel, was bent and perforated by laser-cut circles in six sizes.

Daniel Monti house interior“I liked the idea of using a timeless material,” Monti said. “Cor-ten steel develops a natural rusty patina when exposed to the elements. It’s beautiful today, and it’ll be beautiful 10 and 20 years from now.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Daniel Monti's steel screen in Venice

To prevent the resulting 3,000 steel cut-outs from going to waste, Monti devised an equally stunning indoor feature: a decorative guardrail for the staircase.

The gunmetal-gray circles were welded together in random fashion to form a thin wall. As the sun moves across the sky and throughout the house, the exterior screen and interior guardrail cast shifting shadows that are the negative and positive images of the same circles.

“We have such amazing light here,” said Monti, whose firm is Modal Design. “This was all about bringing light into the house to augment the spaces.”


Good Idea doorPunchouse Ecodesign Group's house in Santa Monica

Good Idea Studio's mini-modern in Echo Park

Homes of the Times: More profiles

-- Emily Young

Photos: Benny Chan / Fotoworks



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