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Notebook Lifestyle

Hillery Smith Shay/Genesis Photos for WORLD

(Hillery Smith Shay/Genesis Photos for WORLD)


Sounding out

Many toys make too much noise for the health of the children who play with them

Baby Einstein Farm Friends (Play-A-Song). Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Learning Letters Mailbox. LeapFrog Learn & Groove Counting Maracas. What do these toys have in common? They are noisy and designed for toddler play.

Julee Sylvester works at the nonprofit Sight & Hearing Association in St. Paul, Minn. Every autumn since 1998 she's gone shopping at a local toy store, sound meter in hand, to test the noise levels of various toys. She pushes buttons and takes a quick reading. Then she buys some of the toys for further testing. Last year she bought 19 toys, including the toys above. University of Minnesota researchers tested the 19 toys in a more rigorous fashion, measuring the noise level close to the toy's speaker and 10 inches away, to imitate the different ways a child might play with the toy. Fifteen of the 19 toys emitted sounds louder than 100 decibels (dB) at the speaker and above 80 dB at a distance of 10 inches.

Sylvester estimates that 75 to 80 percent of toys intended for young children have buttons, which mean noise. Is the noise loud enough to be harmful? Pam Mason, head of the audiology practices section of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says anything above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. It's not just the intensity, she says, but duration and repeated duration. Kids who listen all day long to loud sounds face "a greater risk of getting a noise induced hearing loss."

Since 2004 some toymakers have followed a voluntary standard that suggests toys should not exceed 90 decibels at 10 inches from the speaker. There's no requirement that toys meet that standard-and the standard is silly when applied to toys meant for babies and toddlers whose arms aren't much longer than 10 inches. They aren't going to hold the toy in an outstretched arm, especially if it is a cuddly toy like Tickle Me Elmo.

So what should parents do? Most parents don't go toy shopping with a sound meter, so Sylvester says they need to use common sense: "If the toy is too loud for you, it is too loud for your child." She also recommends that people buy toys without buttons; your kids can make their own noise. Look for toys that have a volume control and set it at the lowest volume. Take out the batteries. Sylvester says at her house she sticks clear packing tape over the toy's speaker to muffle the sound.

Mason says parents need to understand that well-meaning gifts can be dangerous: "Even a mild hearing loss has huge negative consequences" for a child, especially since it can affect speech development.

How did Baby Einstein and the other toys score? The Baby Einstein board book (which a child is likely to hold near her ear) scored above 111 dB at the speaker and 81 dB 10 inches away. The Fisher Price mailbox scored above 113 dB at the speaker and 91.5 at arm's length. The LeapFrog maracas (intended for babies 6 months and up) scored above 102 dB at the speaker and above 85 dB 10 inches away. Sylvester says she's tested toys from all major manufacturers in different price ranges: "There's no rhyme or reason why one is loud."

The origami option

Next time your child complains that it is hot outside and there's nothing to do, check out a fabulous website that has instructions for doing origami, the Japanese paper-folding craft. The website provides animated instructions as well as diagrams for hundreds of different creations, divided into 25 categories. Under the animal category were 53 different critters, including pandas, hamsters, pigs, hippos, chameleons, snakes, and swans. The site is, but if you want the English rather than the Japanese version, use this address:

Stormy weather

Hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, is here. Experts expect as many as a dozen hurricanes and two dozen storms big enough to name.

Since 1950 the Weather Bureau has officially named hurricanes according to the letters of the alphabet. The World Meteorological Organization keeps a six-year cycle of names, so this year the storms will carry the same first letters as storms in 2004, which was a bad hurricane year. Four major hurricanes-Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne-hit Florida that year. Those names are now retired to the history books, but Colin, Fiona, Igor, and Julia will take their places.

According to the Census Bureau, 12 percent of the nation's population lives in coastal areas stretching from North Carolina to Texas that are most vulnerable to hurricanes. The population in those areas has increased from 14 million in 1960 to 36.2 million in 2009.

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Bargain bliss

Wedding planner helps couples 'make the main thing the main thing' on their big day

If you've watched TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress," you know that many a bride considers her gown to be the one crucial ingredient for a happy wedding, and by implication, marriage. Who wouldn't spend a small fortune to get that guarantee?

When New York wedding planner Mary Hines sits down with a bride and groom she tries to get them to change their perspectives, to ask, "What's going to matter in 30 years?" Most of her couples are Christians going through marriage counseling. They share her belief that marriage is a covenant and that vows should be at the forefront, but they also feel the pressure to have a gala event.

I asked Hines how she advises brides who have limited resources. What should they be thinking about? Her answer is simple: "Make the main thing the main thing. Spend your time and money on the things that are most important. Don't compare yourself with others. If your day is to honor God and the marriage, yes you want it to look nice, but it's not the most important thing."

What would that mean practically? She tells brides to concentrate on their vows, the photographs (since they'll want to remember the occasion), and their wedding night. "We get so caught up in decorating the house we forget what's actually happening," she says.

Many brides complain afterwards that they can't remember the day, so Hines advises them to pad their wedding day timelines, leaving enough time to enjoy friends, family, and out-of-town guests. "Plan for traffic," she says. She said in Florida more couples are taking photographs before the ceremony, renting a limo, and heading out with the bridal party to scenic locations around town before going to the church. (She says the superstition about grooms not seeing the bride until the ceremony comes from the days of arranged marriages when the bride's family feared the groom would bolt if he wasn't pleased with her looks.)

Getting photos out of the way before the ceremony allows the reception to start earlier, which means the newlyweds can leave before they are ready to pass out from exhaustion.

Places to economize? "I can't tell you the number of wedding favors I've thrown in the trash," she says. People rarely remember the music played before and after the ceremony. She recommends using the internet to find ideas-and getting married on Friday or Sunday, when venues are cheaper.

In Hines' 14 years in the business she's done 60 to 70 weddings with budgets ranging from $100 (family and friends donated just about everything) to $250,000. Nothing major has ever gone wrong, although a couple of episodes make for vivid movie scenes (and good memories). Once a mother-of-the-bride hired for $50 a videographer she met at a homeless shelter, thinking it was a good thing to do. When he showed up drunk and realized he'd missed the ceremony completely, he sat in a corner and cried.

Another time the couple forgot the rings. One of the attendants managed to tell Hines as they processed up the aisle. She had time to grab a fake silver ring out of her emergency bag, where she also carries smelling salts, along with her husband's wedding ring for use during the ceremony.

When one groom had his heart set on an outdoor reception in his backyard in Florida in September, Hines didn't argue with him. Instead, she arranged a planning meeting outdoors in the summer sun. When he wanted to move the meeting indoors with the air conditioner, she said no. Better yet, he should go inside and put on a suit and come back out. Once he realized how hot it was, and how tents with air conditioning would take away the charm of an outdoor wedding, he was able, Hines says, "to get over his idealism."

That's the point: "Getting through the idealism to realism and being content while realizing it won't matter in 30 years."

Weddings and the web

Mary Hines recommends several websites, including . . .

Other helpful sites . . . has many shops selling wedding-related items, and has many links to wedding treasures.

Wedding stats

26 . . . Average bride age

28 . . . Average groom age

$50 billion . . . Amount spent yearly on wedding-related purchases

$22,000 . . . Average amount spent on a traditional American wedding

80% . . . Percentage of traditional weddings performed in churches or synagogues

60% . . . Percentage of brides who say they'll be changing their surnames

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Phil McCarten/Reuters/Landov

(Phil McCarten/Reuters/Landov)


An open book

With policy changes, Facebook brings users' information before many more eyes

Facebook is at it again-and internet privacy advocates aren't happy. Two recent changes make available to "everyone" information that the social networking giant previously considered private. According to the site, "Publicly available information includes your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and pages."

But the definition of pages has changed. Previously businesses, movies, bands, magazines (WORLD has one), retail stores, and nonprofit groups established fan pages, sometimes offering discounts to people who became fans. You could set privacy controls so only your friends or even subsets of your friends could see those pages.

Not any more. Say when you signed up for FB you listed five favorite movies, six favorite books, and two hobbies. Maybe you also said you graduated from Michigan State and became a fan of some sports teams and a couple of bands. Several friends asked you to become a fan of their small business or organization. And Dunkin' Donuts offered a discount if you became a fan.

Now all those fan pages and interests have been converted to the new "community" and "connections" pages. All of them are now public. You might limit who sees them on your profile, but all of your public information is available through those public pages.

But that's not all. Last month FB revealed to developers a plug-in that extends to other websites (The Washington Post and CNN, for example) FB's social aspects. Those who visit plug-in equipped websites while still being logged into FB carry their FB public information with them.

This has worrisome privacy implications, an article in the (London) Times explained, because "in effect, the 'identity' of Facebook users will follow them where ever they roam on the Internet, as long as they are already logged in to Facebook."

Some information will only be activated, though, if you click a "like" icon. "Personalized" websites, including Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft Docs, will have instant access to your information in order to customize your experience.

FB's help pages are notoriously difficult to understand. They convey a reassuring message that FB is merely trying to expand the social web-but critics claim that the website is trying to cash in on the mountain of data it now possesses.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently published a timeline showing the evolution of FB's privacy policy from its inception in 2005. At that time the site pledged, "No personal information that you submit to The facebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings." In April 2010, FB's policy had shifted: "When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends' names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting." (The EFF's "Handy Facebook-to­English Translator" explains the new Facebook terminology and how to control some features.)

What to do? One simple solution is to log on to FB only for short periods of use, and then be sure to log out. Otherwise, FB users have the frustrating job of making sure their privacy settings reflect their desires-and that's hard when FB policy changes so often.

Here are other suggestions: Check your privacy settings (listed under the "Account" tab). Check each setting, including "Friends, Tags, and Connections" and "Applications." To see how your profile appears to non-friends, click on "preview my profile" at the top of the Friends, Tags, and Connections privacy page. It is possible that Facebook will change things again before this article goes to press. That means you need to stay vigilant. Some people are glad to share everything, but for those of us who aren't: Pay attention.

Copied & stored

Here's another threat to privacy: information stored on digital copiers manufactured since 2002. Most businesses aren't aware the copiers have hard drives that carry an image of every copied document. When they sell the machines, they transfer sensitive information as well. A CBS reporter purchased four used machines that contained Social Security numbers, addresses, and even health reports. One of the machines had come from the sex crimes division of the Buffalo police department.


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