Build Your Child’s Reading Skills This Summer!

Looking for ways to get your child to read when school’s not in session? iVillage has partnered with PBS Parents to bring you a free, four-week reading challenge that will help you make reading a fun, easy part of everyday life for your kids.  Sign up today and starting on Monday, July 5, you’ll get daily ideas to help you turn everyday activities with your kids into adventures that build reading skills.

What I really like about the site is that it also includes great reading guides:

Kid’s guide to reading fun
Great books for kids of all ages
10 ways to grow a bookworm

What are you waiting for?  Sign up and get reading!

Disney World on a Budget

 

A Disney trip is at the top of the vacation list for most young families.  However, let’s face it, the happiest place on earth can also be  the most expensive.  Disney,  amongst all the various theme parks,  has marketing and promotions down to an art form and it can be hard to resist the pleas of the little ones as they hop up and down with glee.   But do not despair, saving money in a world designed to make your spend IS possible.  Here are some tips:

  1.  www.mousesavers.com.  The brainchild of Mary Waring,  MouseSavers finds and posts more than 300 pages worth of coupon codes and money-saving ideas on all things Disney whether it be Disney  merchandise or a Disney Cruise.
  2. Disney World DOES give freebies, such as free park tickets or free food during your stay.  http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers.  The only catch is in order to avail of these freebies you may need to stay at least 4 days AND time your trip during the off-peak season.  Be sure that concentrating your stay in Disney World is indeed what you want to do since it may come at the expense of seeing other worthwhile sites such as the Kennedy Space Center and Universal Orlando.
  3. Going as a big group?  Skip the hotels and rent a house.  You can take your pick of dedicated McMansions complete with pools, grills, and big-screen tvs.  Another big plus – you won’t be held hostage by hotel food which can eat a big chunk out of your wallet.  Take your pick of rentals from http://www.allstarvacationhomes.com/ and http://www.ipgflorida.com/.
  4. Can’t get enough of Disney magic?  The main hook of the Disney-run hotels are their extra perks – free parking and  “Extra Magic Hours”.  Be warned however – they cost at least twice as much as comparable hotels in the near vicinity.  You may still be able to get some discounts during off peak season.

With careful planning and budgeting,  your Disney vacation CAN be the best ever!  =)

Education for free

My one take-away LSS from Avenue Q was Trekkie Monster’s mantra:  The internet is for porn.

While that may be true for most,  the internet has proven extremely useful for geeky SAHM moms like myself to keep up to date with the latest global issues and trends.   The internet has shrunk the world to the point where one need not travel thousands of miles to see Thomas Friedman expound on his theory that The World is Flat or learn from Kamal Meattle the exact number of plants needed to grow fresh air in an crowded office environment.

Thanks to the internet and the generosity of certain think-tanks and universities, lectures by global movers and shakers are now accessible to the public:  for FREE.

My favorite sites at the moment are the following:

1.  TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design)

TED is a small non-profit organization which hosts annual conferences in Long Beach and Oxford,  bringing together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers  who  are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).    Videos of these talks are available online at www.ted.com.   I love their mission – to build a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.     Topics range from the environment to art to what makes us happy.

Must view video:  Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about “how we are educating our kids out of their creative capacities.

2.  FORA.TV
Hot on the heels of TED is Fora.tv whose mission is to “gather the web’s largest collection of unmediated video drawn from live events, lectures, and debates going on all the time at the world’s top universities, think tanks and conferences.   We present this provocative, big-idea content for anyone to watch, interact with, and share –when, where, and how they want”  Be sure to catch George Kembel’s lecture on Awakening Creativity.

3.  Academic Earth

There is a revolution happening in campuses around the world and this is being led by the edupunks who espouse a do-it-yourself philosophy with regards to education.   MIT was the first to lead the pack — posting videotaped lectures on  ocw.mit.edu.  Other Ivy League schools such as  UC Berkeley, Carnegie Melon and Yale have followed suit.

It was just a matter of time before someone had the brilliant idea of aggregating all these videos on to one website.  Academic Earth now allows you to audit classes from various universities in the comfort of your own home.

As Thomas Friedman said,  The World IS Flat.

Planning ahead? Try using a Financial Calendar

I’m sure that we’ve all be in similar situations — plotted out our budget for the next 6-12 months —  only to wonder why it isn’t working.  Well, in my case,  I realized early on that I had forgotten to account for seasonality — big ticket expenses such as yearly insurance premiums and quarterly tuition payments.    I adjusted our budget excel sheet accordingly so we can now heave a sigh of relief ala Joseph during the time of famine.   =)

For those who would like to do the same and take a calendar-based approach to organizing personal finances,  there is a fantastic website called PocketSmith which can help you get started.  If you want to repay your debt faster,  see your savings grow, and track your expenditures against forecasts,  then PocketSmith will do the job for you.   pocketsmithUsers simply input their scheduled salary payouts,  bill payments, etc and have each of these categories repeat weekly,  fortnightly or monthly which is made relatively painless through integration with Google Calendar, iCal (for Apple users) and Outlook.  PocketSmith then calculates all incoming and outgoing transactions to generate a six or twelve month forecast.

What I particularly like about this online tool is that you can pick any given date and receive a predicted bank balance for that day.   If you see yourself being “in the red” right after Christmas,  you can adjust your scheduled ‘financial events’ and immediately see the changes reflected in the projected cashflow.    There are even dynamic, animated graphs which will give you an illustrated breakdown of your coming year’s finances.  It certainly helped us in finding ways to help us achieve our financial goals.

The basic version of PocketSmith is free, and subscribers can sign up for more premium versions at USD 5 and USD 12 per month.

A great idea for parents: Online Group Buying for New Parents

New parents quickly realize that with a new baby brings with it a whole slew of accessories from diapers to baby rails to car seats.   With safety concerns being raised on a fairly regular basis on various items,  we are deterred from sifting through garage sales to get bargains.  Fighting my way through the horde during sale day isn’t my cup of tea either.  I would rather sit in the comfort of my own home and click a buy button.  =)

Thanks to Springwise.com,  I discovered a wonderful site which focuses on new & expecting parents – helping them enjoy the benefits consumers can enjoy when they team up and buy baby & children’s goods as a crowd. 

CrowdSprout lets groups of consumers interested in purchasing the same item band together to get a better price.

purchase_sequence

Product categories on the site include car seats, carriers, diaper bags, furniture, high chairs and strollers; for each product included, the merchant lists a reduced price, the minimum number of buyers needed and a deadline. Consumers then spread the word about their planned purchase, with the goal of increasing that group’s size. Once enough buyers have joined the group, they then make their (reduced) payment through CrowdSprout and receive the item they wanted. If, on the other hand, the minimum number of buyers is not achieved in time, no one pays and the group disbands.  Not bad,  not bad at all!

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Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. ~Meryl Streep

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A special invitation for guilt free luxe shopping at Gilt.com!

Have you ever pushed and shoved your way through a sample sale?  Endured the crowds at the mall looking for the perfect bargain item?  Waited patiently until your favourite designer or luxe brand has an end-of-season sale? 

Well,  that could all change courtesy of gilt.com.  This wonderful website features fairly current items from your favourite designers and brands at a fraction of its retail cost.   Get that gorgeous Donna Karen Tote you’ve been drooling over at over 60% off.  How about  that Valentino dress at 75% off?   Items range from dresses to shoes to jewelry,  children’s items and even stationary.    The only hitch is that shipping is currently only offered within the U.S.    

How does Gilt.com work?

All sales (women, men, children & home start at Noon ET/9amPT and last 36 hours.  You’ll receive an email  when each day’s sales start.  Additionally, each Monday,  a digest is emailed to all members of that week’s upcoming sales to help you plan ahead.   All items are available at the beginning of all sales and prices don’t change, so log on at the start of the sale to get the best selection.  [I kid you not.. it’s like ebay at its peak]

 

Membership is by invitation only.  Our sister site has been extended a special invitation which we would like to share with all our readers.  Go to this page to sign up.  =)

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Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. ~Meryl Streep

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2009 Goal-setting: Keeping promises

My past is littered with broken New Years resolutions.  Let’s see…  I’ve gained additional poundage (not lost them),  dipped into the emergency fund, busted my budget for discretionary expenses and  gained additional poundage procrastinating in front of the boob-tube (there’s a reason why they called it the idiot-box!).  Lists will only work if they are followed and my New Year’s lists have tended to gather dust on the bulletin board.

 

This time it will be different.  Really. 

Over the past 2 years, I’ve come to realize that the core principles used to run a successful business may also be applied to our personal lives.    If we can set measurable goals (with matching midyear performance appraisals) in the line of work, surely we can do the same for ourselves and our family. 

 

Ok, so that may be easier said than done.   Thanks to Chris Guillebeau’s remarkable blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, over the next few days, I will create a personal roadmap for 2009.  His self imposed “Annual Review” is a much more grounded alternative to making vague New Year’s resolutions.  What I especially appreciate about Chris Buillebeau’s blog is that he was generous enough to share the excel template he uses to systematically organize and track his categorized goals.    There are provisions for quarterly and full-year reviews + metrics used to track progress.  I love love love the level of detail and flexibility of the template.  

I should note that what can be applied to us personally may also be applied to our families.  After creating your individual roadmaps,  sit down with your spouse or life-partner to piece together the family’s collective goals for the year(s).  Remember:  Collaboration is the key to success of any relationship.  =)

 

What about the children?  Frannie Daez,  in her book Keep It Together (available exclusively at Fully Booked) wrote that writing goals for her children “gives me a clear picture of what each of them is like at certain stages of their lives, helps me create meaningful goals for them, and helps me determine what it is I need to do in order to help them get there.”   

She lists the following steps she uses to set goals for her children:

1.       Write down the name of your child.

2.       Write down the date and age of your child.

3.       Write down a description of that child.  Start with the positive traits, followed by behaviour that you would like him or her to improve.

4.       Write down what you would like your child to do more.

5.       Write down what you would like your child to stop doing.

6.       List down the things you have to do to help your child reach those goals.

 

Too much?  It may seem to be tedious process but I agree with Chris that if we take some time to do this right,  you’ll thank yourself later.  Let us all have the best year ever!

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Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. ~Meryl Streep

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