Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bytes of Learning UltraKey Online Review

 Finding good curriculum that has to do with getting letters and words out of Madison's brain into a form that others can read has been a real trick for us. She's a great talker, but she's not a great writer (yet). Some of her frustration comes from trying to combine one of her weaknesses (handwriting) with what she's actually composing in her head. Many people have suggested that we teach her how to type, so that she has another vehicle, but naturally, we've jumped around trying to find a good fit for that too. We were lucky enough to try out a new and fun typing program: UltraKey Online Family Subscription from Bytes of Learning, and so far, I think this is going to be a good one that we can stick with.

UltraKey Bytes of Learning

This curriculum is recommended for ages 8 and up. Madison is 7.5 (grade 2), so I sat with her and guided her through the beginning of our work with this program. After the first couple of sessions, I didn't need to. The pacing is fantastic. It is far superior to other keyboarding programs we've found. I feel like we find programs that want kids to start typing words and paragraphs before they've really mastered hand placement, and this program doesn't do that. They can work at their own pace, as slow or quick as that might be, and the program makes certain that they don't move faster than the individual learner.

UltraKey Online Family Edition

The program was very simple to set up for Madison. She went in as a complete newbie, starting at the very beginning. All the reports were easy for both of us to read and understand. Our goals were just accuracy, with no speed expectations at all, and the program worked well. If an older student with some keyboarding experience started, the program would be able to meet them at their level and work on different goals (better accuracy, faster speed, etc).  This program also includes numbers, which I really liked.

An older student would probably have completed the program within a few weeks, and would be able to go through it as many times as necessary to continue building speed and accuracy. Madison is still young enough where we're building slowly and spending only a short time per day with it, and I'm happy that we're still able to get something out of it. I don't think keyboarding should wait, and I'm glad Madison is able to do this, even just bits at a time. Even at her level, she loved getting into the game zone to see what her goals should be!

Other great features?
  • NO plug-ins required
  • Operates on every browser (a big pet peeve of mine with other programs)
  • Available on iPad as well as the PC
  • Posture and fingering movies to really SHOW students what they should look like
  • Not babyish, but not dry. A good balance to fit all students.

Overall, I was really impressed with this program. It is reasonably priced at only $29.95 per year for three students (they also have five and eight student packages). The customer service is excellent, the reports are informative and easy to read, and Madison stuck with it happily, pleased with the progress she was making. Reagan still has fingers that are a little bit small, but I'm happy to let her experiment with it as well. It's nice to have the extra student account so her playing doesn't impact Madison's progress.

UltraKey Online Family Edition

I love finding how students of all ages have used this program successfully!

UltraKey {Bytes of Learning Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, February 19, 2018

Setting Myself Up for Success

After waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting my new car is finally able to reserve and order. I still can't SEE it in person, because that would just be crazy, but the light at the end of the tunnel is ON. This is happening. I'm actually getting a brand new car that won't have chocolate milk stains on the ceiling or sticker residue all over the doors or skittles ground into the leather because they got trapped under a car seat. My car will smell like NOTHING and look SO CLEAN and I won't be embarrassed when I have to have someone else in it. I'm so excited.

Of course, now that it's real, my concern is the same as it was when we got the new furniture and carpet. My children will undoubtedly try to destroy it. It's just a matter of when.

Yes, yes. You're going to tell me to just make rules about it. Food and beverage doesn't leave the kitchen, we don't color in there, and blah, blah, blah. I said right away that it's just not practical. I wish we were those people...but we're not. It's our main living area, we do school there, we watch movies there, the adults are allowed to yeah, we can't make a hard and fast rule. We just put parameters in place (clear liquids, use the trays, no messy stuff), try to catch the girls when they inevitably "forget", and cross our fingers.

So I'm sure that will be life with the new car. I'd love to make a blanket no food or drinks in the new car rule, but it just isn't practical. Between activities and field trips and dance weekends, we eat in the car. We spend time there. It's like our mobile family room.

So now I need to figure out how to set things up for success. We're doing pretty well with the family room so far, so I know the potential is there. Maybe I can't rely on trays from Ikea, but I can get mats to go under the booster seats. I can insist on closed lids on all beverages (hey, it's worked in the family room so far).

I'm determined. It's time to have nice things again. All it takes is the right set up for success!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Memory Lapse

I am in the midst of this winter brain fog that will just NOT go away. It's incredibly frustrating because I want SO BADLY to be productive with a completed to do list and organized school work and a clean house, but when it comes down to it, I just curl up and do something totally mindless and unproductive. It doesn't even make sense, how I come to do these things. I realize that putting in thirty minutes of effort would make my life much easier, but somehow I just keep scrolling through instagram while watching reality TV. Will they Love it or List it? What is random college acquaintance doing with their kids? Totally appropriate use of my time.

Anyway, I've been taking vitamins that are supposed to help clear that winter brain fog. Vitamin D. B12. Iron. Apple Cider Vinegar (granted, that's more immunity, less brain fog, but I'm not getting picky). Are they helping? Maybe. I can't really tell. Especially because sometimes I forget. So there's that.

Besides a slightly cluttered mess and a never ending to do list, I really haven't suffered too much for all this. I mean, I'm a hot mess, and I've done things like leave my keys in various places and realize I brought the wrong bag, but I always manage to get myself together with no fallout.

Then today, I almost got Madison and I trapped in Target.

So I've finally moved from the giant mom purse to a small clutch. I still HAVE a giant mom purse for when it's necessary, but now, when I'm doing things like running into Target, I can just have a clutch dangling from my wrist, and it's so much easier. Most of the time I slip my phone into my pocket, either attach my keys to the clutch or stick them in my coat pocket, and I'm good to go.

Well today I messed with the routine. It was mild, so I didn't wear my coat. And because I was juggling a lamp I was returning, I didn't clip my keys to my clutch, I just put them around my wrist.

I did the return with no issues, chatting away with the woman. Then Madison and I grabbed a basket, I dumped everything I was holding into the basket, and we went off to do our Target stuff. Starbucks, vitamins, grocery, random wandering. I went to self checkout, and as I put my basket away, I realized that my keys weren't in it. Or attached to my clutch. Or in my pocket.


We made an initial stop at the service desk, because I was PRETTY sure that's where I'd left them. I knew if I'd had a basket, that's where they'd be. However, it was a different guy, and he went through a drawer and definitively told me I had NOT left them there. So we wandered all over the store, trying to remember where I possibly could have left them. I even walked out to the car in the rain to see if I'd tossed them on my passenger seat or dashboard (totally opening myself up to car theft and would mean that I'd totally lost my mind) and nope. Not there. At first, things were just annoying. Now, I was starting to worry that I wouldn't be back in time to pick Reagan up from dance. And how I could have possibly lost my mind SO COMPLETELY.

I couldn't imagine another place my keys would be. We'd walked the ENTIRE STORE and checked everywhere our feet had touched. The only place that made sense was the service desk and the guy kept saying no.


As I walked up to the service desk for the third time, about to ask if I could look myself, the guy there said "Hey! Is it a Subaru? They were here the whole time and I knocked them to the floor when I was doing a return. I'm so glad you didn't leave!"

( would we leave?)

So...lessons learned.

1. Maybe I need to go back to a big purse.

2. Clearly the vitamins aren't working quite as well as I hoped.

3. The Target guy appears to be having the same problem.

I think it's time for spring.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Fresh Start

Ever get that feeling where it almost makes more sense just to let it all go and start over?

I mean, people joke about it with laundry (which I totally get, especially since I currently have five overflowing baskets of laundry waiting to be folded). When the job just seems overwhelming, it makes sense.

I used to think about that with piles of correcting at school too. When the piles got too big, it was just too tempting to recycle the whole stack and pretend it never existed. Start over with an empty to do list.

One of the more satisfying experiences that came out of something awful was what happened after we'd lost power for five days. Everything in our deep freezer and fridge needed to be tossed. EVERYTHING, from frozen meat to that ketchup that had been sitting in the door of the fridge for ages because we don't use it often. It had been too long. So we threw EVERYTHING out, deep cleaned the fridge and freezer, and (thankfully) used our insurance check to do a massive shopping spree. In one day I knew exactly what we had and exactly how old it was. No more guessing if that mayo was still good or if we had chicken in the freezer. A fresh start was awesome.

A friend of mine admitted recently that as annoying as dealing with the aftermath of a fender bender was (no one was hurt, but an inconvenience of dealing with repairs and insurance can feel like a big deal), it was awesome to trash her crumb filled, juice stained, tried to clean but were never totally clean, car seats and replace them with new models - guilt free.  Yes, you do need to do that after an accident, even a minor one.

Adam and I have talked about and ultimately decided against hiring someone to clean our house, but there are weeks when I want to grab some cash and hire someone to just get us to square one so I feel like I'm starting from a good place again.

Catch up, clean out, those are emotionally exhausting places. 

There's something so satisfying about a fresh start. A clean slate. Starting over with something that's clutter free and stain free and backlog free, knowing that you have a new start and a license to walk away from the mess? I love that idea. Everyone knows that money can't buy happiness, and waste is totally irresponsible, but I'd love a big pile of disposable money and a clear conscience, just to do it once in a while.

But for now, I make my two page to do list, with every little thing on there, certain that if I can JUST finish this list, I'll have that clean slate and fresh start, but knowing, in the back of my mind, that by the time I finish those two pages it'll be followed by two more.

And little by little, I'll get my fresh starts.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Never Too Late

I ran into an old colleague at Target (where else) and after looking with amazement at each other's kids and how nice it is to run into each other in real life instead of Facebook, we started talking about where we were in life right now.

After all, we used to work in an elementary school together. I knew she'd taken some time off to have her kids, and she knew I'd done the same, but it's always interesting to know where people land after that sort of break.

I definitely feel like I'm someone who reinvented her adult life. When I first took that teaching job, I figured that I would teach my thirty years and retire. I loved my district and loved my school and loved my role in it. I had great colleagues and an amazing district that supported the arts.

Now, after a dozen years in and six years out, that isn't my path anymore. I opted not to renew my certification (more of a timing thing when the decision was made - it seemed like a frivolous $500 when I couldn't imagine getting the hours of professional development in on my own). I started blogging, which turned into a (very) part time freelance job. I started homeschooling, which is my life right now. If you asked me what I do, those are the roles I'd give you. Part time writer, full time homeschooler. Unless you asked about my life right after college, I might not even bring up the fact that I spent twelve years teaching music. Most of my co-op friends are surprised to hear that my music suggestions for classes come from a very real place of expertise.

I'm not the only one who has gone off in a different direction. Adam's path is less dramatic, but people are blown away that his degree is in music. He's a senior director at a huge technology company now, spending time on the road selling platforms to customers and dealing with partners. It's less dramatic because his change came early in his 20s. He saw that a music career wasn't for him, started working, and worked his way up over the years to become a true expert in what he does.

I have friends who worked with animals before their maternity leaves, and now took jobs as lactation consultants, or doulas, or CPSTs. I know people with years and years of time invested as ICU nurses, who are now web designers or social media managers or published authors of best selling books. Teachers turned into business owners. Office workers turned into amazing, full time photographers.

This old colleague and I chatted away next to the discount movies, and I realized that it is truly never too late to figure out another path. My plan was to take some time off and go back to teaching, definitely by the time Reagan was in kindergarten if not sooner. Now, I can't imagine that life again. My friend also found her way into a different path. Working in a school can be so hard on a working mother, but working in a clinic gave her great flexibility and a new way to adapt her training and expertise.

It's inspiring to think of. Right now I'm fortunate enough to be able to freelance and homeschool, but if I had to go back a full time job, I'm already thinking of what I could reinvent for myself. Because it's never too late to think of what you want to be when you grow up.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Check Up

I am way overdue for some check ups.

Oh, I feel like I've talked about this so many times before. When it comes to everybody but me, I'm on top of appointments. But I've got my GYN, my eye doctor, and my dentist hounding me to make the stinking appointments right now, and I know I really need all three. But yet, I hold off for some reason that doesn't make sense even to me.

When it comes to some things, I know that the pain in the neck part of scheduling and keeping the appointment is a small price to pay to know that everything is just as it should be. It's nice to actually know that the new carseat fits in the car and that Madison doesn't actually need braces yet and that Reagan's hips are so beyond fine six years later that we can cross that particular doctor off our to-do list.

My head is not logical here.

But I know that it's a normal thing. We get it when it comes to other people. I can make objective arguments for the girls.

Yet, as I was on the phone, scheduling Reagan's six year well check (and putting it as far off to avoid a flu filled waiting room as possible), Reagan was in my other ear, begging me not to make the appointment. She knows it's not a big deal. No shots at this one, just a basic height/weight/all clear thing, and yet she does NOT want to partake. And when I thought about it, I remembered that Madison approached her yearly physical last summer with the same level of enthusiasm (none). Totally not a big deal, yet she was not the least bit interested.

If we know nothing SHOULD be wrong, it should be cake, right?

So I guess the avoidance is that, since our heads figure that nothing SHOULD be wrong, instead of getting validation, we're there to see if we'll be getting an unpleasant surprise. A cavity we didn't want. A test we didn't think we needed. A correction that makes us feel stupid. Logical? Absolutely not. Do I get it? Yeah, I do.

As a kid, you don't get a choice. I know my girls don't. Even if it's not my favorite part of the day, I get them where they need to be.

As an adult?

Looks like I'm going to need someone to go ahead and schedule these for me, and make me go.

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