Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homeschool on the Go

Another one of those times I'm supporting my shopping habit with a sponsored post. As usual, all experiences and opinions are authentically mine.

Madison and I both like to take our homeschooling on the go from time to time. Although it can be nice to sit around in our pjs to do school time, it's not something we do often. And while there are plenty of times that we spend our school time in the kitchen, it's nice to get out too.

Last year I was really adjusting to everything, from curriculum to scheduling to...well...everything. Like most of life, there's a decent amount of trial and error in homeschooling. I found out early on that homeschooling on the go was a necessity once a week or so, but I didn't do it in the most efficient way. I'd pile several thick workbooks and the iPad in Madison's backpack, along with all her writing supplies, and wonder why she whined about carrying it all the way into Starbucks and looked horribly overwhelmed when we started.

Clearly not my most intuitive moment as a homeschooling mom.

This year, we determined that whole workbooks aren't great, but that pages pulled out and broken up into sections in a binder are something that Madison loves, especially when that binder is sparkly. It also cuts down on the weight of the backpack when we take it on the go. One binder, a pencil box from the Disney Store, the iPad, and we're good to go. She can handle that backpack with no issue, and our work at Starbucks is fun and productive.

Another thing we've found we need on the go, whether it's Starbucks, the library, or even just the car, is a good pair of headphones. Obviously they're necessary when using the iPad on the go, but we've also found that Madison works best with music, and out in public, that means headphones. Groupon Goods is a great place to find quality, affordable, appropriate headphones, as well as almost anything else you can search for. We found a pair that promises safe volume levels, as well as being "cute" and good quality (ie, a pair that won't break when hauled around by an elementary student).

It's amazing how much better Madison and I work together when we sit at Starbucks together - even when her headphones are on. It's almost like parallel play - I type, she does worksheets; I sip coffee, she savors hot chocolate; and we both get out of the house for a morning. Afterward we leave, feeling productive and happy and ready to go on with our day.

Because after all, who says homeschooling can only take place at home?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Full Price is Forbidden

This is one of those times I'm supporting my shopping habit with a sponsored post. As usual, all experiences and opinions are authentically mine.

Back in July, Madison received several gift cards for her birthday. Madison is developing into quite the little shopper. A great reward for her is to simply go to Justice, or Claire's, or even Target. She wanders around and lusts after things she wants, usually asking me to take pictures so she can add them to her birthday or Christmas list. She had been desperate for "store money" so she could shop without begging or leaving unsatisfied.

This is one of those moments when I honestly believe she is my clone.

Once those gift cards were in her brand new wallet in her brand new purse, she wanted nothing more than to run out to the mall so she could put them to use. That's when I had to remind her of the other part of being a "savvy shopper". Not just spending what you have, but making those dollars stretch even further. Time for my rookie shopper to learn the fine art of sale + coupon shopping to get the most bang for her buck.

We looked online. We compared prices. We looked at sales alongside coupon dates. We worked during our  homeschool math time, figuring out which toy at which store was a better deal. We printed out coupons, and loaded coupons onto my phone, and were quite strategic in our methods.

By the end of the summer, the gift cards were mostly gone. But my little apprentice had nearly doubled the value of her gift cards funds (assuming she would have just gone and purchased whatever she desired at full price) and she never had to settle for anything she didn't actually want. When we pulled out the receipts and did the math, I knew she was hooked. And I love it.

I've recently gotten hooked on Groupon Coupons. I love Groupon (I'm always ready to pounce when they have the $5 for $10 Starbucks card deal). I obviously love coupons. So what could go wrong with combining them? Whether I'm shopping online, or I'm in the store with my phone at the ready, chances are Groupon has something ready to save me money. 

I was researching our hotel for next year's Nationals. in on there. I was doing a little eBay shopping. It's there. Barnes and Noble. Kohls. All on there.

If I'm going to preach it, I need to practice it. I've told Madison, time and time again, that a good shopper never pays full price. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

I'm Not a Commercial, but...

Back in July, when I was at Blogger Bash, I was introduced to all kinds of new stuff.

Great new finds for the car.

New toys for the girls that they've become obsessed with.

New stuff to use for homeschooling.

Clothes for Madison that are so crazy comfortable that I want to source them in MY size.

Clothes and gadgets and things for ME, which is so important when it feels like my life revolves around the kids all the time.

I'm trying to work out the best way to share them, because it is JUST TOO MUCH for one post. It's been six weeks, and I'm still loving everything from oils to bras to toys to car chargers. I don't want to be a commercial but it's like when you find something you love you just really want to tell everyone!

I'm mulling an idea right now that I think could be a lot of fun...stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Apps You Didn't Know You Needed

When I really stop and think about it, I am incredibly spoiled by my smart phone. I can order coffee from my phone. My GPS saves me from getting lost. I can listen to audiobooks in the front seat while the girls listen to their own music in the back. My phone can basically direct a road trip from start to finish, from the navigation to the entertainment to the planning of stops. It's AMAZING.

I've found some apps that are amazing, and some that are basically battery suckers trying to give me viruses, but this summer, I found some that I love now. Here are a few new favorites.
  • Waze: There are always options to avoid traffic and delays, and Waze is the app to help you find them. On a recent road trip, we found out just how true this was. We used Waze to get to our shoreline destination, and arrived with almost no traffic slowdowns – even over the Hudson! We loved the route so much that we just decided to reverse it, and didn’t bother to open the app on the way home, and our travel time doubled. We ran into rush hour, construction, accidents, vacationers, anything that can slow you down. If we’d only bothered to use Waze we would have realized that there were better routes to take us home. Waze updates in real time, and not only that, gives information on gas prices, speed traps and everything else we needed to know.

  • Along the Way: Perfect guide for day trips in unfamiliar territory. Find parks, bars, shops and landmarks along your route without wandering.

  • Songza: Is Pandora too limiting in your station searching? Songza lets your search for playlists by mood, genre, decade, activity, or artist. Want a playlist for “driving in the left lane” or “starting a new chapter”? This is the place to find it.

  • Gas Buddy: We all know the service stations right off the highway aren’t the best deals, so gas buddy is there to help you find a great price on your route.

  • Audible: Music playlists can be great, but I’m a huge fan of audiobooks while I’m traveling. Audible has over 150,000 audiobooks and plenty of deals to keep them affordable. And since it’s on your phone, you don’t have to wait until you’re back in the car for that resolution in a great story – just pop in your headphones and “finish your book” on the beach!

  • Sit or Squat: Thinking you have your pit stops planned out is all fine and good, but sometimes traffic or that extra large drink can leave you hoping for a restroom before you get there. Sit or Squat is the ultimate bathroom app that lets you know the cleanest locations (where you can sit with ease) or the less desirable “squat” locations. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, but at lease you’ll know where you’re going!

  • TV Food Maps: There’s more to road trip dining than fast food or chain restaurants. This app lets you search for spots that have been featured on popular Food Network shows, like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Man v. Food, and No Reservations. You can search by your location, but you can also get notified when you’re near a spot that has been featured, which is a great way to discover perfect travel meal spots! 
From potty breaks to a reference book, travel is so much more relaxing when I have an app for that!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Fine Print

I hate, hate, HATE being proven wrong.

Sure, I'm actually wrong from time to time. Or more than just time to time. I'm definitely not perfect, and I wouldn't ever claim to know everything.

But I hate thinking I'm right, arguing that I'm right, and then being proven wrong. By the fine print, hidden there in the details, ready to take me down.

I love finding deals when I'm shopping. I love when I can take a sale and a coupon and combine them into a fantastic bargain I can crow about.

Until I get caught at the register by the fine print and realize that my fantastic bargain has been thwarted, but something that was glaringly obvious, and clearly written.

I love thinking that I've caught a company in a mistake, until I call, disputing a bill, and realize that...nope, I was wrong. I am arguing a point that is very clear stated, right there, for anyone to read.

You want to make sure you're getting exactly what you want, and to differentiate the "sales speak" from the "actual speak".

Fine print.

Fine print is EVERYWHERE, just waiting to trip you up and make you feel stupid.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was working with Madison on her reading. Madison is becoming quite the reader, which is awesome. When that reading code is finally, really, cracked, and moves from decoding into really reading, it's amazing to see. She loves that feeling of independence and the world of stories and information open to her, and I feel like she's really growing up.

Anyway, she was reading aloud the other day, and I realized that her brain is starting to read and skip those "filler words". Rather than "Jill went to the store," she might read "Jill went to A store." Basically, the same thing. The meaning didn't change. And in isolation, she can certainly read the sight words "a" and "the". She's not misreading...

Except that she is. This stage is where fine print reading starts. You need to combine the new skill that new readers love - fluency - with the original skill of reading every word. 

No, no one is waiting in the wings to scam her out of a good deal or a warranty. I pray that it is a long time before she's buying a car or signing a lease.

But careful reading is a skill that we all need to have, whether we're six or ... no longer six. And it might be frustrating to slow down to get it right, but it's much better than a frustrating phone call when you realize that your six year old probably could have saved you the trouble.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Benefit of the Dry Run

At the beginning of the summer, I took a picture and posted it on Instagram.

It was a picture of a packed trunk, perfectly organized and ready to go. With one little exception...

Every bag was empty.  Every single one. I had a trunk, fully packed with empty bags and suitcases, and it was so ridiculous that I had to share it.

Most people good naturedly agreed that I was ridiculous, but I had a few people who got me.

Dry runs are important. I knew that packing for this particular trip was going to be tricky, it needed to be well planned, and I didn't want to stress about it once it was time to leave. So I took the bags I knew were going to use, and I did a dry run.

I was a performer. I was a music teacher. I like dress rehearsals. I like having a chance to see where the bugs are, and a chance to shake them out.

I remember that I was giving a presentation to an empty room when one of my colleagues walked in and started some good natured teasing on my "captive audience" of empty desks. But I presenting to my grad school class that night, I had thirty minutes on a broad topic, and I wanted to make sure that I filled the time effectively without running over. So I grabbed my talking points, grabbed a timer, and did a dress rehearsal during my lunch.

Maybe I'm a dork, but at least I'm a prepared dork!

And packing a trunk of empty bags? I'd do it again.

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