L.A. at Home

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Category: Kids

Homework horror stories? We want to hear them

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced a new homework policy that says starting July 1, homework can account for only 10% of a student's grade. Anyone out there feeling relieved?

As Times writer Howard Blume reports in an article about the new homework policy, the philosophy behind the move is twofold: It is intended to account for the myriad urban problems facing the district's mostly low-income population who may have trouble fitting in homework between jobs, or long bus rides to school, or noisy households. It's also aimed at supporting L.A. Unified's increased focus on boosting measurable academic achievement.

In light of this news, we wanted to hear crazy homework stories from parents and students. Parents, have you ever jumped in and just did your son or daughter’s homework because it was late, or you wanted to boost a grade, or your kid was crying in frustration, or the teacher was asking for something far beyond his or her ability? Were you the one who ended up staying up all night to build that replica of a California mission? Do you think kids get too much homework, even over the summer? How much of it do you do, and why?

We're casting a wide net, so share your stories. You can leave comments or send an email to deborah.netburn@latimes.com.

We look forward to hearing your tales.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Jenna Latt helps daughter Alejandra Larriva-Latt, 12, with her sixth-grade math assignment. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.

M Brace Mini, a kit for kid-sized raised garden beds

M Brace Mini - Frog planted with modelFor parents, summer can be a seasonal conundrum. Kids don't want to go to camp. Parents don't want them on the computer. One possible solution: Get them outside. Get them gardening.

Last year I wrote about M Brace, a set of four steel brackets that allow you to build a raised garden bed in minutes. The line has expanded with the new M Brace Mini, designed with kids and small-space gardeners in mind.

M Brace Mini - Frog silhoThe do-it-yourself beds can be assembled using 2-by-4s from the hardware store, old fence boards -- pretty much anything that's 2 inches wide, sturdy and rot-resistant. Simply slide the material into the 7-inch-tall braces, add soil and start planting. It may not be the best time of year to plant, particularly for residents of hot inland regions, but at least the no-tools-required assembly makes the hard part easy.

The M Brace Mini comes in six powder-coated designs: frogs, bunnies, butterflies, snails, dragonflies and daisies. They're made from recycled steel in California. Price: $89.99 for a set.

M Brace Mini is also available in a natural steel finish that will rust over time. Price: $69.99.

M Brace is made by Art of the Garden, which creates plant stakes and garden edgers using the cutout remnants of the raised bed kits.


Seed Library of Los Angeles

DIY fire pit made of bagged earth

Community gardens: Our weekly series

The Dry Garden: Our column on sustainable landscapes

-- Lisa Boone

Photo: M Brace

People's Garden at Woodrow Wilson High School: Sowing seeds in a food desert

Community Gardens Dispatch No. 34: People's Garden, El Sereno neighborhood, Los Angeles

The People’s Garden at Woodrow Wilson High School sits at the lowest part of the sprawling campus, the sloping lot bound by a chain-link fence and a low wall on a quiet street. For years it was an informal back entrance to the school, a weed-covered place to ditch, smoke or fight.

Then last year, the nonprofit Asian Pacific American Legal Center worked with a Wilson class to study access to fresh produce in El Sereno compared with other communities. One conclusion: El Sereno needed another community garden.

Peoples-garden-pulling-turnip.299 “It’s a physical solution to a research topic about food deserts,” said Kevin Armenta, the teacher who has spearheaded the project.

Like the Micheltorena School and Community Garden, the People’s Garden represents a community-building tool. A conference on nutrition last month at Wilson kicked off with a dawn prayer circle in the garden led by Guillermo Hernandez, an elder from the Purepecha Nation, indigenous people from Mexico who represent just one element of El Sereno's cultural heritage.

Students and teachers do most of the physical labor -- planting, watering, weeding. They get guidance from volunteers with the Native Green Gardener Program, an effort to teach professional landscaping crews to use sustainable practices. But all final decisions at the People's Garden are made by a collective of students, teachers and community members. The focus is on growing plants that reflect  the communities of El Sereno. That means the "three sisters" of Mesoamerica (corns, beans and squash) and medicinal plants from China, among others. Nine raised beds for vegetables and flowers are scattered around the lot. Fruit trees are planned for the upper slope.

The seeds that students started in paper cups last winter are now in the ground, but some of the seedlings are struggling, mainly from lack of water. The closest spigot is 450 feet away, up the slope. Three hoses have to be connected and snaked through bushes and eucalyptus trees. In May, vandals hopped the low wall and burned holes in the hoses two weekends in a row. That left the garden without water for more than a week.

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Spotted at E3 2011: Super Mario Bros. inflatable seats


E3, the video game trade conference at the L.A. Convention Center this week, is a riot of big-screen televisions, loud noises and neon lights -- not exactly the place one expects to find cute kids-room decor. But what can I say, I'm in love with this set of inflatable poofs with iconic Mario Bros. imagery. If there had been anyone manning the booth when I walked by, I would have snapped these guys up for my boys' room faster than a gamer can murder 23 people in Halo.

The poofs are made by Atomic Accessories, based in Italy, a company better known for making video game accessories such as guns and remote controls. They are marketing these poofs as small chairs for gamers, but that feels like a stretch. I'd just sprinkle them around a play room or child's room.  Playon

I wish I could tell you more about where you can buy these poofs and how much they cost, but unfortunately, the Atomic Accessories website is not very helpful. I determined that Atomic Accessories is indeed the maker of the products, but I could find few other details. An email inquiry to the company's PR department has thus far gone unanswered.

The poofs appear to be available for purchase in sets of four on Amazon UK for 39.99 pounds (about $66) starting June 17.

No mention of the poofs' U.S. release at E3.

InnitAcapulco MORE SHOPPING: 

24 picks for patio chairs 

The Look for Less: designer furniture versus budget knockoffs 

Shopping for decorating ideas? California homes in pictures 


-- Deborah Netburn

Photo credits: Top photos, Jason La / Los Angeles Times. Product image courtesy of Atomic Accessories.

Corporate sponsorship of a community garden? At Proyecto Pastoral, it's not a question

Community Gardens Dispatch No. 33: Proyecto Pastoral

Just 2 months old, the tiny Proyecto Pastoral garden in Boyle Heights is going through a growth spurt, like a grade-schooler who jumps two shoe sizes in one season. In the salsa bed, the tomatillos are already fruiting, and some of the cilantro is starting to flower. The first batch of strawberries already were harvested, eaten communally as a sweet lesson in healthy snacks.

Such a perfect picture gets a little more complicated, however, when one hears that the new community garden was funded largely through a corporate sponsorship -- and that the sponsor was Scotts Miracle-Gro.

Skeptics may say Scotts Miracle-Gro's planting a community garden is like a fast-food restaurant teaching a nutrition class. But the company is moving ahead with plans to build 1,000 public green spaces in the U.S., Canada and Europe by 2018 through its GRO1000 grant program. GRO1000 gardens have broken ground at the Homegirl Cafe in L.A., as well as sites in Chicago; Houston; New York; Tampa, Fla.; Ontario, Canada; and Lyon, France.

Here in L.A., the garden at the Proyecto Pastoral after-school community center serves 80 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. Most of the kids come from the nearby Pico-Aliso housing development, and their garden is set on a busy section of Mission Road, next to a printer, behind a chain-link fence.

In March a city public works crew tore up 700 square feet of asphalt in the community center’s parking area. Then a team from the Guadalupe Homeless Project, a nearby shelter, built the seven garden beds with organic soil. They excavated under the walkways as well, laying down sand, then garden soil, then a 6-inch-deep layer of mulch. Ornamentals were planted around the perimeter, and a “reading garden” went in under the tree by the front gate.

Continue reading »

In touch too much? Kids head off to college -- with mom and dad just a text away


For plenty of parents -- and I am likely to be among them -- the temptation will be great to write a quick email or just shoot a sentence in a text message to a child who's gone off to college. After nearly two decades, letting go won't be so easy.

In fact, many parents and students are not breaking their ties the way they did a couple of generations ago. " 'Good' parents believe that they must always be involved in their children's lives and available to them," Barbara K. Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore write in the book "The iConnected Parent." But, they say, it's not the same to be the parent of a child or adolescent as to be the parent of a young adult.

The college students, too, play a role in how much contact -- and what kind of contact occurs between home and campus. The Home section takes a closer look at the relationship this week.

Hofer and Moore suggest setting some goals and ground rules together over the summer. I, for one, will try to keep my hands off my BlackBerry -- at least some of the time.


The Bond: Why can't some parents let go?

-- Mary MacVean

Illustration credit: Stephen Sedam

Kidscaping: Motherhood alters one landscape designer's plans for her garden


For proof that parenthood does change everything, just look at the Mar Vista garden of landscape designer Elizabeth Low of Elow Landscape Design and Build in Los Angeles.

Getprev When Low and husband David Cash purchased their first home in Mar Vista two years ago she envisioned a minimal, low-care garden for her family. But after finding herself home more than ever with her daughter Violet, now 2, Low’s priorities changed. "I wanted everything to be soft and pretty and attract wildlife," Low says. "I found myself looking at the garden at all hours of the day."

So Low tossed out plans for the minimalist landscape. The result can be seen in the spot for drawing and doing letters, as well as the artificial turf behind Violet, shown above, and in the pots that put succulents out of reach of little feet. The grown-ups are attended to with plants that bloom all year, a patio deck off the master bedroom and an appealing fire pit, shown above, right.

“I had this maternal, feminine side which I wanted to express,” Low says now.

For a look at the garden -- which will be included in the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase on April 30 -- and how the outdoor areas now serve as an extension of the 900-square-foot house, check out the full story and accompanying photo gallery.

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times


Bugaboo Donkey, the baby stroller that kicks its way past the $1,000 mark


The luxury stroller brand Bugaboo this week launched a double stroller called the Donkey. It can be used as a single stroller with an attached shopping basket or as a side-by-side double stroller. It pushes great, it folds up not so great and it is insanely expensive, retailing for $1,200, $1,499 or  $1,659 depending on what configuration you get.

One might assume the price tag is a deterrent for new parents in this uncertain economy, but as I've learned while writing a column about why parents buy what they buy, one should never assume anything when it comes to baby gear. The publicist for Bugaboo said the new stroller was selling out and triggering waiting lists at the select stores where it is sold. (In the L.A. area, that includes Bel-Bambini in Beverly Hills, Giggle in Pasadena, Juvenile Shop in Sherman Oaks and Traveling Tikes in Century City.)

"We already sold out of most of them," said Jodi Cristi, a sales associate at Bel-Bambini. "And we just got it yesterday."

"Did anybody balk at the price?" I asked.

"Not at all," she said.

Over at Traveling Tikes, store owner Brian Pulice said he's been getting daily calls about the Donkey for weeks and sold his first shipment before it even arrived.

If, like me, you are are wondering what's so special about this stroller and who is willing to spend that kind of money, keep reading the full story on Bugaboo's Donkey stroller: The $1,659 ride for tots.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: The Bugaboo donkey in three configurations. Credit: Bugaboo


The off-to-college spending spree

The baby sleep coach

The modern baby carrier

The status teether

The Deal: Blik wall decals 25% off


No money for a headboard?  No problem.

Mina Javid's peel-and-stick Wrought Iron Headboard design for Blik is a colorful alternative to the real deal, regularly $40 for a twin bed, $55 for a queen and $70 for a king. The removable decal comes in nine colors and -- even better -- is 25% off as part of Blik's Spring Cleaning Sale. The main downside might be installation, which in Blik's ratings scheme is classified as a "grab a pal" project as opposed to a "cakewalk."

The 25% discount applies to Blik's entire inventory: whimsical decals for kids including pandas, monsters and "Tron" scenes, as well as more grown-up designs by David Bray, Ilan Dei and Keith Haring.

The online sale continues through midnight March 27.  The "SPRINGBLING" code must be used at checkout.

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credit: Blik

At Micheltorena, a hybrid school-community garden rises where the Priuses used to park

Community Gardens Dispatch No. 23: Micheltorena, Los Angeles

The community garden at Micheltorena Elementary School broke ground just four months ago, replacing seven parking spaces with dwarf fruit trees and kid-friendly, low-profile raised beds. Visible through the 8-foot chain link fence that separates it from Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, to passersby the garden may seem to have arisen almost overnight, like a mushroom after the rain.

Micheltorena-L-1-H“It’s given a prettier face to our Sunset side,” says Susanna Furfari, the principal. “The neighborhood forgot about us and didn’t even notice the school was here anymore. It’s made us stand out again. This is an opportunity for the community to welcome us back.”

Turns out the school has a lot of friends it didn’t know it had. Local businesses, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, the Friends of Micheltorena parents group and volunteers have donated money or labor to get the garden operational for spring. It’s a hybrid, on school grounds and for classroom use but also open to the community. (That's Joseph Zavala at the top of the post.)

Now open Wednesdays and Saturdays, the garden (check out the site's "kids garden weblinks") is communal and has no private plots, no interior fences and, for now, no hard-and-fast rules. Deciding what will be planted is up to whomever is working on a planting day. The garden has more than 100 volunteers — some parents, some just neighbors.

“We decided early on that we were going to plant together, tend it together, and have harvest festivals together,” says Charles Wurmfeld, a volunteer and early organizer. Some plants are in the ground. The three sisters -- corn, squash and beans -- went in first, along with mint in sunken 4-inch pots to keep it from spreading.

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