Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to have a freaky fabulous Disney trip part 1

We've been to Disney twice now, so I'm far from an expert, but I do have some valuable insight to share about going to Disney with a family.

My first piece of advice would be to wait until your kids are older. 7-8 is a pretty ideal age.  We went for the first time when the kids were 8 and 12 and it was really great.  They are old enough to not need naps or strollers or to be carried all over.  Strollers are kind of the bane of my Disney existence and the more people I can convince to wait until their kids are don't need them, the better.  People use them as battering rams, they stop and block the whole walkway with them, they take up a ton of space on the buses.

This trip was even better because they are 10 and 14 and were very nearly independent.  WF could be done at the pool and head back to the room by himself.  MF was able to get her own food and drinks and could be told "we'll meet you outside the bathroom" and she could just go.

When you are thinking about your vacation, your best bet is the off season.  Once kids go back to school, the crowds tend to be smaller.  That means your kids will be missing school, but it is totally worth it.  Alternately, homeschool and don't take all the single days off and group them all together into your vacation week. You can also visit Hall of Presidents, Living with the Land, Ellen's Energy Adventure and call it a school day! :)

If you HAVE to go during traditional break times, be prepared for large crowds and long waits.  In the past few years, Disney has closed a few times due to capacity crowds during the holidays and summer.  Considering that MK alone can hold around 100,000 people at a time, you are talking MASSIVE amounts of people, so think long and hard before you chose to go during the peak season!

You can visit WDW Prepschool (my personal favorite Disney site) or Your First Visit for crowd calendars to see what week are predicted to be lowest.  Keep in mind, there really are no "off" weeks anymore.  There are weeks when crowds are lower, but Disney has been offering all kinds of deals and discounts to increase attendance during traditionally slow times.

You'll need to do some research about how long you want to stay.  This will depend on your family, your travel dates, and your budget. Two years ago, we went the week before Thanksgiving and if we had stayed the full amount of time we wanted, our return airfare would have more than doubled! We ended up cutting our trip short by two days and, although the savings were important, I regret that we tried to cram our full vacation into a shortened amount of time.  We only had 4 park days, which included a day at Universal and we were running for 12-15 hours every single day.  We were all totally exhausted and miserable by the time we came home.

This time, we had 6 parks days, no Universal and it was much better!  We had time each day to take short breaks.  We were able to have a couple of early evenings and a few later mornings, which made everyone so much less tired and crabby.  If you can take the time, once you get over 4 days, the price per day of park tickets gets much smaller.

You'll also want to consider your budget.  I figure about $1200 per person, including our airfare, but we stay and fly as cheaply as possible.  You'll need to research the various resorts and the amenities your family needs.  How many people are staying in a room is also a consideration because most rooms are sized for 4 and only some resorts offer family suites.

Personally, the key to a great Disney vacation is in the planning.  My family makes fun of me, but I create a lovely spreadsheet for our trips, that includes all the rides, shows, characters, meals, fast passes, plus a listing of restaurants in each area that my family would eat at.  3/4 of us are pretty picky eaters, so no world showcase food or just popping in to a restaurant and finding something we'd eat for us. I need to know ahead of time which places serve food that we'll enjoy.

This is one day of my spreadsheet.  On sheet one, I had the must do list.  Then I had a sheet for each day with just that information.  Breaking it down by day kept it from being overwhelming.  Yellow is food, blue is rides, green is characters, and red is anything that had a specific time. 

You'll want to start your planning at the Disney website.  You can also use the My Disney Experience app on your phone or tablet.  I feel like the app is better on the go, to see all of your plans in one place, while you are in the park, while the website is better for planning but your milage may vary.

I started by going through each park with the kids and asking them to list their "must-do" attractions, characters, shows, and food and I listed those things.  I polled the rest of the family and was told that whatever the kids wanted was fine with them.  It took us about 40 minutes to go through all 4 parks with both kids (I separated them, because they are contrary and would say that they hated something their sibling was desperate to do, just because). There was a lot of overlap, like everyone wanted to do Space Mountain, but even on the things only one person wanted, it made it on the list for everyone to do.

I know this seems like a pain and who has the time to do crap like that, but trust me.  Time is at a premium in the parks and you are paying a pretty penny to be there.  You will appreciate knowing what to expect ahead of time.  While other people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, you'll know when things are happening, how to get there, and you'll be able to make the most of your trip.

During the planning process, you'll also want to think about where to stay.  The first question is on property or off.  We stay on property.  I feel like the benefits FAR outweigh any minor drawbacks.  The benefits, as far as I'm concerned, are the Magical Express picking you up at the airport, access to Disney transportation to other Disney properties (including parks, other resorts, and Disney Springs), and access to the Disney dining plan.  

I don't have many cons.  Some people don't want to be in the "Disney bubble" their whole trip (for whatever reason) and some of the hotels are expensive.  Other than a desire to just not be devoted to Disney for your whole trip, price is a major consideration for choosing a hotel.

That leads to researching the various Disney hotels and their prices.  There are three main levels of resorts: value, moderate, and deluxe.  Each has pros and cons and where you stay will take a lot of factors into consideration.  The "value" (read cheapest) resorts also have the smallest rooms.  If all you are doing is crashing there between parks, this is more than enough.  Moderate resorts have somewhat bigger rooms, potentially different transportation options, and more amenities.  If you are planning to spend more time in your room, the extra cost might be worth it.  Deluxe is the most expensive, it offers the most amenities, the most transportation options, room sizes vary by resort.  Rooms run $85-$2000+ a night, depending on the season, the hotel, and the room type.

We've only stayed at All Star Music which are pretty comparable to most low to moderate priced hotel chains (the other two All Stars, Movies and Sports are very similar, just slightly different themes).  Think Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn.  They have double beds, a single bathroom, and an in room refrigerator and not much else.  Each resort does have a pool or two and a restaurant.  The values have plain pools and food court style dining.  I think that is just fine, because we aren't there to hang out at the hotel.  I also prefer the food court style dining, because they have several food stations, each offering different options, so everyone can find something they like.  I ate roast beef three out of the four dinners we ate at the hotel and WF had a burger every time.  Other options, include salads, pizza, and snacks.  Some of the other resorts offer multi room suites, hotel specific water parks, and actual sit down dining. Since we go in the off season, we pay less than $100 a night at All Stars and got to take advantage of the free dining promotion as well.  For that price, I can't imagine staying off property and having to rent a car and pay for parking, as well as paying for food out of pocket, since only people who stay on site are eligible for free dining.

The other hotels in the Value category are Art of Animation and Pop Century.  Depending on the time of year, they can cost nearly the same as the moderate resorts.  Their theming is more elaborate and they may not be included in free dining, because of their popularity.

Part two is coming soon and will discuss more about transportation options, how to prep for your trip, and what to pack for your trip!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Disney DIY shirt

So, I didn't blog last week (or really the week before) because our schedule has been messed up and then we were on vacation.  I'm sure my mom was the only one that actually missed it, but she was on vacation with us, so she didn't really miss anything.  I'm working on a Dos and Don'ts of Disney post, but in the meantime, here is a Disney shirt DIY.

When we took the kids to Disney two years ago, we didn't tell them ahead of time.  We got them all the way to the airport before we broke the news and it was great! This time, since my parents went with us, we decided to let them in on it from the beginning, but I still wanted some surprises (that wouldn't break the bank, since Disney lets you do all kinds of in room celebrations, for a fee).

I decided to make everyone matching Disney shirts, in a color that matched their magic band.  After about 12 hours in Joann Fabric debating options (iron on? paint? sparkles for some?) we decided on bleach.  I don't have any pictures of this process, because it was a super stressful DIY project, that involved a lot of cussing and even a few tears and I was so focused on getting it right, I didn't take any pictures.

I used this tutorial for the basic stencil. You can use about anything, so long as it is a silhouette and doesn't have much in the way of details.

We bought our shirts at Joann's but anywhere that sells the color of shirt you want is fine.  You'll also need freezer paper, which is NOT freezer wrap.  It has to be the papery stuff and Meijer will look at you strangely when you buy the wrong thing and then return it! LOL

Pre-wash your shirts, for proper fit and to help the freezer paper stick and the bleach to work correctly.

Print out the design and trace it on to the freezer paper.  Cut it out carefully.  If you are using a more detailed design, you will want to use an x-acto knife and a self healing cutting mat.  The Mickey head in the tutorial above is simple enough for plain scissors.  Freezer paper is single use, so if you are doing multiple shirts, go ahead and cut out multiple stencils now.

Get your iron and set it on medium to high heat and iron the stencil on the shirt, where you would like it.  Make sure you put the shiny side down, because it warms up and sticks to the shirt.

We had some debate about the best location and finally decided front and center was the way to go.  Be super careful to get the edges sealed tightly or your bleach will bleed under and mess up your whole design.  Even though I recommend cutting all your stencils at once, don't iron them all at once.  This isn't a strong bond and the edges will peel up.

Now you need to mix your bleach.  It is going to depend on that shirt color that you are using how much bleach to how much water, but 50/50 is generally a good place to start.  Our shirts were red, blue, orange, green, pink, and yellow.  Blue and green worked REALLY well.  Red and pink were pretty good, orange was eh, and yellow sucked.  By the time I got to yellow, I was almost straight bleach and you still couldn't see it very well.

I've seen places online recommend using a pump type spray bottle, but I've never tried that.  I just used a cheap spray bottle I picked up at Dollar Tree. I wasn't able to get the "sprinkle-y" look that I was going for, with a solid outline of the head at the same time, so maybe a pump would have helped.

Next you are going to want to line the shirt with something.  Originally, I used just a sheet of aluminum foil.  We eventually settled on a piece of cardboard, covered with aluminum foil (because the bleach soaks in and the cardboard gets soggy). Whatever you pick, LEAVE IT IN THE SHIRT UNTIL THE BLEACH IS DRY or at least rinsed out.  We didn't do that the first time and the design bled through to the back, but only sort of and it looked kind of terrible.

Be sure to protect the parts of the shirt you don't want bleached.  You won't be able to control every drip and drop of bleach, so tuck the sleeves, bottom of the shirt, neck, etc underneath the liner.

Hold the spray bottle about 6-8 inches above the shirt and mist the bleach on the shirt.  Watch the process and make sure you have as much of the shirt covered as you want.  Make sure you dab the bleach off the freezer paper, or it will soak through or run off when you pick up the shirt.  Mist a second time, if the color isn't where you want it to be and dab again.  Let it set for a few seconds, and peel off the freezer paper.  At this point, you can either dunk the shirt in cold water to stop the bleaching process or you can set it aside to dry.  We decided we wanted the higher contrast, so we set the shirts outside to dry.  You don't want to put these on anything that can be damaged by bleach and we wanted to keep them away from the pets, so we stashed them on the patio for a couple of hours.

Once they are dry, wash them on cold, by themselves.  There is still bleach on these, even if you rinsed them instead of drying and you don't want to ruin other clothes.  Dry normally. Finally, sneak them into your carry on luggage and surprise your family with new shirts on your first park day!

Keep in mind, you are working with bleach, so don't spray these on the living room rug or while wearing your favorite black sweater! I did them on the kitchen table, one at a time because of overspray, but if the weather had been even a little bit warmer, I would have done the whole thing outside.  The fumes were pretty strong and, although I'm a weirdo that likes the smell of bleach, it was a little overpowering for the rest of the day.

Some notes, I had a hard time getting my stencil to stick right.  Mostly, I just cranked the heat on the iron and pressed really hard.  I've read online that some people used a glue stick and then ironed it.  Spray adhesive and even Karo syrup have been suggested as alternatives as well.  If you use any of those options, let me know how they worked.

You can see here that the yellow didn't work well.  Part way through the day, I whipped out my Sharpie and traced the head, so it would at least show up some.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's all about the money

Before we started homeschooling, I worked part time.  We had decided that the amount of money I would make at a full time job wouldn't offset the amount we would spend for child care, plus part time allowed me to do all the volunteer stuff and handle all the appointments  and school stuff that I did.  I was a lunch lady, working 2 hours a day, only when the kids were in school.  I didn't make a ton of money, but it was enough for all of the extra stuff that came up. Because it was lunch, it was directly in the middle of the day and there was no way I could be gone for 2 hours and get anything done at home, so I had to quit, but giving up that bit of extra has been hard.

There are several things that I've been doing from home to help earn a little earn.  It should be noted that this isn't "quit your job and move to the south of France" money.  This is, legit, a LITTLE extra.  It also requires only a little time and no kind of set schedule, which works well for me, right now.

The first thing I've been doing is SwagBucks.

This is a points program.  You earn 1 cent per point and can cash your points out for gift cards to all kinds of places likeAmazon, Walmart, a prepaid Visa gift card, or even a Paypal credit. If you sign up through the above link, you get 150 free points to start! You can use it as as search tool and occasionally, you will get rewarded with points for searching for the things you search for anyway.  You aren't awarded points for every search and the results aren't that great, compared to Google. I did just earn 31 SB by searching this afternoon, so it can be done, it just requires several searches to get anything.  I wouldn't count on searching to earn the bulk of your points, but there are a lot of other ways to earn points and those are all pretty easy.

The EASIEST way to earn points is download the SBTV app to your phone or tablet.  I have an old iPhone that I have the app running on and it just runs off to the side while I'm doing other things. It mostly shows movie trailers, which can actually be kind of interesting.  I have found that some of the ads that play between videos can require interaction and hang up the process if you aren't paying attention.  I've found that the ads tend (although not exclusively) to hang up more on the weekends, which is a little weird.  You can earn up to 36 points a day through that app, although a lot of times I qualify for a bonus, which means I just keep letting it play.  There are other apps, including EntertainNow, MovieClips, Sportly, and LifeStyles that are all associated with SwagBucks.  I only use them when all other methods fail me, because you have to watch a LOT more videos to earn SB than the SBTV app and you max out at 10 SB.  I've also found that a lot more ads require interaction and shut it down.

You can also earn points for your regular online shopping.  It is places that you shop anyway, like Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, Target, plus tons of other sites.  I don't do a lot of online shopping (I'm all about the instant gratification), but you can 3 or 4 SB per dollar spent if you shop online.  You just have to remember to go through the SB portal to get to your site to make sure you get your points.

The way I earn the bulk of my points is by taking surveys through the Swagbucks website.  There are different surveys throughout the day, every day.  They have various levels of points and time required.  Unless I'm really hurting for points, I try to stick to the short ones that have mid level points.  There was one the other day that wanted 72 minutes for 45 points.  I passed.  I may not be making SuperPAC money, but my time is worth more than 45 cents an hour.

Some days, my dashboard looks like this, with lots of choices.

Other days, it is empty or close enough, and I have to check back several times.  The majority (all? Although I wouldn't swear to that) of the surveys have an unpaid screener associated with them.  For the most part, it is a handful of demographic questions and only take a matter of minutes to complete. I've had a few that went on forever, but mostly they are short enough to not be a problem.  I get rejected from as many surveys as I get accepted for, but I still get accepted for enough to get my daily goal every day.  

You also get messages, that have stuff like download an app for 45 points or watch ads online, that can help you make your goal each day.  

The site has a daily goal, that if you meet it each day, they give you bonus points and if you make your goals for several days in a row, they give you more bonus points.  The more days you hit your goal, the higher the goal becomes.  It started out with 40 or 50 points a day.  Since I hit 14 days in a row, I've been having goals between 70 and 100 most days.  I've been doing this regularly since late August and I've made about $100.  Like I said, you aren't getting rich, but I've set a personal goal of earning 100 points a day or hitting the daily goal, whichever is higher.  

You don't want to go into this with no plan though.  You'll want to set a daily goal and figure out something that you are saving for.  It isn't enough money to keep you motivated on it's own, so you need to know what you want the money for.  I'm saving for Christmas presents but you could totally do it for your Starbucks fix or extra grocery money each month.  Since I started late in the year, I'm not going to have a ton for Christmas this year, but if I can earn an average of 100 points a day, I can save over $300 for Christmas, with a time commitment of less than an hour a day.

The second thing I do each day is MTurk from Amazon  They have you do small tasks for small pay.  I have my dashboard sorted by the tasks (called HITs, or Human Intelligence Tasks) that I'm qualified for and that pay the most first.  

These can and do change day to day.  I'm terrible at transcription, so I generally pass on those, although they are much higher pay per piece than what I normally do.  There are data entry type tasks, which are a few cents per item, like 1-5 cents per piece. I actually kind of enjoy those, although they are pretty mindless.  I do try to find ones that pay a minimum of 10 cents because a penny each isn't really enough.  There were ones a few weeks ago that were entering information off scanned hospital records, that the computer couldn't read.  I did a bunch of those and really enjoyed them.  

Mostly, I end up doing academic surveys, which can be pretty interesting.  I shoot for earning a minimum of $2.00 a day.  Some days, I'll get a couple of decent pay ones and be done in no time.  Somedays, I'm scratching together a bunch of 40 cents to add up to $2.00.  Once you do a survey for a group, you will occasionally get invited back to do additional surveys and those are generally much higher pay per survey.  

Finally, I do Perk  This is the same deal as Swagbucks.  You download the app and watch videos for points.  You can also download apps for trivia, games, etc to earn additional points.  They offer the same search as well.  The points on this one aren't nearly as good as Swagbucks, so if you have to chose between the two, do SB first and leave this one out.  PerkTV earns 1000 points per dollar instead of 100 points per dollar.  I started it at the same time as Swagbucks and I've earned almost $10, instead of closer to $100.  The thing Perk TV has going for it is that some of the channels are actually kind of interesting.  I have one running right now about DIY and crafts and I'm kind of enjoying it.

If you are  looking for something that pays real money check out Real ways to earn money online.  She has lists of "side hustles", stuff like I've been doing but she also has lists of real work from home jobs.  Stuff like call centers, virtual assistant gigs, free lance writing, etc that let you work from home.  Most of them require more hours a week than I'm willing to devote to it or need set hours that don't work with our schedule, so I haven't looked into most of them.  She does reviews of many of the companies and most of them seem legit.  

The links I included for SwagBucks and Perk should be my referral links, which should get you points to start off.  If it doesn't work, and you want to sign up, leave me a comment on here and I'll send you a direct invite.  Might as well get all the easy points you can! :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Curriculum choices

Seriously, that title is garbage, but I got nothing.  I'm willing to take suggestions, if you have any!

Last year, since we were totally new, I just made things up as I went along.  Homeschooling sort of happened on the spur of the moment and I didn't have much time for research before we were in it.  It was a little like jumping off the high dive without taking swimming lessons first!  We survived it, but it was kind of dicey.
Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I didn't want to start throwing money around, only to find out that I hated what we bought and needed something different, so I used free resources off the internet.  There are several sites that offer free full curriculums but I wasn't sure where we were going and I wasn't able to wrap my head around them at the time.  Mostly, I printed free worksheets from a million different websites and didn't have much direction because I wanted them to learn all the things.

This year, we've narrowed our focus quite a bit and I did purchase some curriculums.  I also had time to review some of the free sites and make choices that work for us.

For math, we've started using Virtual Homeschool Group and I really like it.  It works like a coop, with teachers, but all online, at our own pace.  They use Saxon books and do a video for each lesson, so the kids can watch those, read the lesson in the book, and email the teacher or attend open office hours to get help.  They automatically grade all the assignments, there are review questions from previous assignments on each lesson, and there are weekly tests.  It doesn't require much from me, other than answering questions they have during the class or tech trouble shooting.  They have a lot of classes in other subjects, including live classes for discussions, that I'm going to look into for the future, but for now, I'm digging the math.  This is completely free and run solely by volunteers, although they do accept donations to cover the costs associated with running the site.  Parents can also volunteer for various jobs, but it isn't required.

Price: Free.  Donations and volunteers accepted. Book is sold separately. Full set, including tests is about $70 on Amazon.  Student edition is currently running about $3.00 on Amazon. 

Term: One school year, online but book would be reusable.

Writing is something both kids struggle with, so I wanted to make sure that we had something that provided them a solid writing foundation.  Besides their general struggles, I feel like they both have massive gaps in what they SHOULD know about language, because mechanics of writing just isn't taught in public school any more.  I did some research and polled a few homeschool groups I'm part of and settled on Winning With Writing, which is part of the Growing with Grammar series.  I went with the 4th grade curriculum, even though it younger than either of them.  It wasn't so young that they felt insulted but it started at a point that they need practice at.  It is really the basics of writing, including paragraph creation, planning what to write, writing quotes, etc. I like that it still has the dashed lines to help them get control of their handwriting before moving on.  It is a grab and go curriculum, divided into lessons and days.  These are workbooks, so they aren't reusable or shareable, but the price is totally reasonable for a full year of writing instruction.  It comes with an answer book, but the reality is, you still need to know the basics yourself.  Most of the lessons involve actual writing and you have to grade them, since answers can vary.  It is just the basics though, so it should still be easy enough to grade. 

Price: $26.99 for one student.  $24.99 for additional student books.

Term: One school year, not reusable. 

Spelling is another subject that the kids struggle with.  WF is dyslexic, which causes him to have a hard time with spelling correctly.  I did a lot of research on spelling programs for dyslexics and the general consensus was All About Spelling was the way to go.  Pretty much everyone loves it and I can see why.  You need to get a teacher manual, a student kit for each level and a single interactive kit.  Teacher manuals and interactive kits can be used by multiple students, but they recommend getting each child their own student kit.  Since each kids needs to practice different things, it would be difficult to keep track without having separate kits, but it could be done if money is a major concern.  It comes with magnets to stick to the backs of the letter tiles and we use an old white board to hold all of ours but you can just store them in a ziplock bag and dump them on the table each day.

This is a multi-sensory approach, so they are saying things, hearing things, moving tiles with their hands, writing things, etc.  We started with level one and the words are too easy.  I'm not disappointed that we started with the very easy level, because we flew through it and I know that they have a solid base to continue.  

MF does it in the spirit it is intended and has made some serious progress in her ability to spell.  WF is a typical teenager and gripes about how "baby-ish" it is and we've had a few arguments about how he just needs to do it in order to move on.  He's doing better now, but he still growls and rolls his eyes about it pretty regularly.  Besides the multi sensory (which is good for my fidgeters), I like the repeated practice, including periodic reviews of things they've mastered.  I also love the "rules" for spelling, like C says /s/ before E, I, Y and /k/ the rest of the time.  I don't ever remember being taught stuff like that, you just memorized that celery and cake both started with C.  

After you pop out the cards and organize them in your storage box (you can get official AAS boxes that fit perfectly or 4x6 photo storage boxes hold all the cards nicely), with the included dividers, it pretty much grab and go.  The manuel tells you exactly what to practice, the concepts you are teaching and even provides a script for how to teach it.  It is very easy to execute from the teacher perspective.

They also have All About Reading for younger learners, but those are way way too young for my kids.  I looked at them, but they just didn't have any real value for us.  They dovetail nicely with the spelling curriculum though and there are notes in each spelling lesson about what reading lessons to use, so if you have young, non readers, they would be perfect together.

Price: Level 1 material, including teacher manual and card set $29.95. Additional card sets for additional students $14.95 each.  Interactive kit $22.85.  Materials are reusable for younger students. 

Term: We completed lesson 1 in 4 weeks and will likely complete lesson 2 in a similar time frame.  Younger students would need to spend more time on each lesson and levels would take longer to complete.  I'd venture to guess probably 1-2 levels a year for younger students.

For Social Studies, we are learning about all the countries of Epcot in anticipation of our trip to Disney.  This is the most boring thing I've ever done and I hate it.  I DREAD teaching social studies each week and I CAN NOT wait until we go, so we can do something that doesn't suck, when we get back! I was a history major back in the day.  I love social studies and this is killing me.  Once we get back, we will be using Easy Peasy All in one Homeschool.  I told the kids they could pick what they wanted to study and I just went to the website and assigned the section of history.  MF is going to learn about the Civil War and WF picked World War II.

We are also using Easy Peasy for Science for both kids.  Again, they picked the subjects they wanted to learn about, MF picked zoology (shocker, I know) and WF picked Biology.  The lessons include a variety of activities, like reading, videos, and hands on learning so they aren't getting bored reading and answering questions every day.  

The thing to note about Easy Peasy is that it is Christian based.  For social studies, that hasn't presented any problems but science is a little more of an issue.  I've tried to preview the stuff they've done so far, but I've also cautioned them that they might run across something that is contrary to our beliefs and that they should take it with a grain of salt and continue with the lesson. 

Easy Peasy is free of charge and besides covering multiple topics in science and social studies, they do offer full curriculum for grades K-8 and have a high school site they just recently started as well.  

Price: Free. Donations are accepted.

Term: One school year. Everything is online, so multiple students could use it.

The elective they picked this year is French.  MF wants to live in Paris when she grows up and WF wants to know what is being said in his video game (he is not the first homeschooler that picked a language based on a video game LOL).  Neither took into account that I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and know like three words in French! :) I've decided to learn it with them and we are using Duolingo.  I do exactly zero with this, except tech troubleshooting.  Because I don't speak it, at all, I'm no help to them.  I do like the website.  It provides lots of positive feed back when I get things right and the characters are cute.  

It is free, which is great, but the language selection is somewhat limited.  They have some user created languages that they have added, but I decided to stay with the actual language courses, which kept us to a handful of European languages (much to WF's annoyance, since he was looking at Russian or Irish originally). I do have issues with the microphone portion of it but I'm not sure where the problem lies.  I don't know if I have a microphone problem or if my accent is bad or what is going on, but most of the spoken portions get rejected a few times before it will accept my answer.  The kids don't seem to have the same problems, so it might just be me.  

Price: Free
Term: Lifetime or fluency in the language.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I'm totally into fitness

Fitness whole cupcake in my mouth!

Photo credit: Joanna Strauss 

As a homeschooler, it is really easy to sit at the kitchen table in my jammies all day long.  Finding time to exercise is tough and every time the kids have a snack, it's pretty easy to have one too.  When all you wear is yoga pants or pajamas, you don't even get the feedback of your clothes not fitting, until one day, you step on the scale and you are 100 pounds over your ideal weight (which is based on BMI, which is total bull, but that is another post entirely) and 50 pounds over a comfortable weight.  

2 years ago, we went to Disney.  I was near the lowest weight I'd been in my adult life and at the best fitness level.  I worked out 4-5 days a week, for an hour at a time.  Both kids were in school and I was only working a few hours a day, so I had tons of time to do that.  I ran on the elliptical, I did 5Ks (mostly walking, but I still did them), I lifted weights.  I felt great and coming home from Disney, I still felt like I'd been hit by a truck.  We pushed it to the limit, every single day we were there, and I needed a vacation to recover from my trip.

We are going back soon and when planning started for real (we decided while standing in line for Soarin' at Epcot that we'd be going back in 2 years but planning wasn't started until early this year), in February, it occurred to me that I would die if I tried to go back at the weight I was currently at and the fitness level (or lack there of) that I had.  I hadn't been to the gym in months and I had gained 50 pounds and none of that was ok.  

I started a low carb diet to lose the weight and I started trying to add steps to my day.  The diet was less hardcore than the low carb diet I did before.  It is maintainable for a longer term, averaging 1000 calories a day, instead of 700.  I drink my coffee for breakfast, which is carb free but does have heavy cream, so it isn't calorie free.  I have a protein shake for lunch and vegetables for an afternoon snack.  Generally, I have plain meat and vegetables for dinner.  Chicken, steak, and hamburgers, mostly.  I've done some low carb pizzas (they're fine, they just aren't real pizza and they are super labor intensive).  Vegetables are mostly salads, occasionally RF will make green beans with bacon, or a pepper cooked and mixed with my meat.  It is a low variety diet, but I'm a low variety eater and I prefer to live in my tiny little food box.  Although I do prefer when my food box includes ice cream.  

When I started walking, I was averaging between 1200-1400 steps per day.  I started slow, adding extra steps when I got up to go to the bathroom.  I'd make a lap through the kitchen on my way and then a lap through on the way back.  When the weather was decent, we'd walk around the park near the house after RF got off work.  It wasn't too far and it was nice to get out of the house and walk the dog once in awhile.  I'd do the cliche of parking at the edge of the lot when I went places.  I'd take the long route through the grocery store, instead of going directly to check out after picking up an item or two. When we'd go places, I'd pace.  The looks people give you, when you walk laps around a small space are pretty funny.

In June, I bought a fitness tracker, the Garmin Vivofit 2. 

 Prior to that, I had been using the motion tracking on my iPhone, which was fine, but it meant I had to carry my phone with me, all the time, instead of just laying it on the table most of the day.  I did a ton of research before I decided on this one.  I needed something that doubled as a watch and something that was waterproof.  This met both requirements and had the added bonus of not needing recharged.  It uses a standard watch battery and they claim it lasts a year between replacements.  I haven't gotten there yet, but so far, I've been very pleased with it.  The only drawback is that not nearly as many people have it as have Fitbits, so there isn't much competition.  The app is useful, but kind of plain.  I don't have fun colors or snappy badges, but it is accurate does what I want. 

I also started house walking.  Our house is laid out so the kitchen and living room create a loop.  I figured out a pattern and instead of going directly anywhere, I'd walk a few laps around.  My lap was about 50 steps, but it adds up eventually.  My first goal was 5000 steps a day.  It was hard.  I felt like I was always walking.  Eventually, I was hitting 5000 every day, comfortably and I decided to increase my goal to 7500, but several things happened all at once that made me go ahead and jump straight to 10,000.  My plan had been to increase by 1000 steps a month until I was regularly hitting 15,000 by the time we left.  That wasn't sustainable and I've settled in at 11,000-12,000 regularly.

I peaked in August, with 473,530 steps for the month!

Once school started, I decided that I wouldn't allow myself to goof around on the internet until I had 10,000 steps or I was walking.  So to check my email or play on facebook, my phone and I walk laps around the house. Sometimes, I'll watch a show while I walk, once school is done or I'll read.  Whatever, to keep me moving! 

Between the diet and the walking, I am 5 pounds from my final goal. Which means that I actually need to lose 10, so I can stay under it, comfortably.  Of course, that still puts me in the overweight BMI range, but like I said before, BMI is garbage.  My clothes fit better (actually, they fit terribly, I've had to take in ALL my pants, so they stop falling off).

This is a terribly unflattering picture of me in a skirt I made myself from a men's polo shirt. It was taken in April, shortly after I started getting serious about getting in shape.  Ignore how gross the mirror is, it is on WF's door and gets touched a lot.

Same skirt, picture in August.  33 pounds lost. 

At this point, I've lost this same weight 2 different times and I HAVE to make it stick this time.  Which means I'm planning to eat what I want on vacation (it's Disney, if you don't eat the food, you are crazy pants!) but then I have to get back to it.  When the holidays roll around, I have to take the day and then get back on the wagon.  I can't throw away a week or a month because I ate a whole pie on Thanksgiving.  I have to stay on track with measuring my food and tracking what I eat, even when it is off plan.  

As a homeschooler or as a mom, how do you stay on track with your fitness goals?  How do you find time to work out and what motivates you to keep at it?  Since I'm in the habit, I just have to stick with it and not let that slip.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

That plan is week

I am a huge supporter of planning.  I like to color code, I like to schedule, I like things to be predictable.  When we started homeschooling, I figured I might as well apply my love of all things organized to that aspect of our lives as well. I've shared the planners I bought the kids to keep them on track each day.  But where do they get the information to put in their planners and how do they stay on track when the day doesn't go as planned?

That's where I come in.  Last year, I used an excel spreadsheet to lesson plan.  It worked fine, it was flexible enough that I could make it look like how I wanted it to look and it kept track of stuff.  The problem was it didn't allow life to happen.  If something happened that prevented us from getting work done, I had to cut and paste the information forward, which was a pain. I would plan several weeks or months at a time and anytime life happened, like someone got sick or a fun field trip opportunity came up, hours of careful planning went out the window and I'd pretty much have to start over.

This is a screen shot of my spreadsheet. Each day had it's own color and I also included the chore of the day, so they'd always know.

The thing I did like was that I would do the majority of my planning a few times a year and then be basically done.  Every Sunday afternoon, I would sit down with my spreadsheet and verify that everything was accounted for, for the whole week.  I would go through each subject for each kid and see what they were doing each day, so even if I wasn't teaching it directly (like math, that they do online), I would still know what they had scheduled.  My spreadsheet had all of the URLs of online resources and I would go through each one and make sure that everything was printed off.  Then, I printed a copy of the spreadsheet.

Last year, they used plain three binders to organize their papers.  Mostly, it was because we had them from public school.  Even just being used at home, they took kind of a beating and they might have made it a second year, but I'm kind of doubtful.

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This year I got them expanding pocket files from Mead which are pretty neat. They have a "turn in folder" in the back of the binder, because I don't want them handing stuff in piecemeal and I want them to practice being responsible for knowing where something is for a few days at a time.

I take all of the print outs and file them by the day they will be starting working on.  So if they have a spelling list that they use all week, I'll put it in the Monday folder or tab and then when they complete Monday's work, they move that paper to Tuesday.  I put the weekly schedule printout in the front (last year, I put it in the inside pocket of the binder, this year, it goes outside, so they can always see it) pocket and then I put their folders away in their rooms.

This lets us be fairly mobile for school.  Anywhere I can get the internet, we can get work done, just by grabbing the binder and going.  So if we have a doctor's appointment or something, we don't have to throw away our whole schedule.  They both work better at home, but work can be done pretty much anywhere.

The biggest benefit for week at a time planning reared its ugly head last winter.  I got sick, like so very very sick.  Not only did I not feel like teaching, I could barely get out of bed and I couldn't talk at all. My brain was total mush and the most energy I could muster was dragging myself to the bathroom a few times a day.  There was no way I could teach them anything or even pull together materials for them to work independently.  Instead of letting it turn into Lord of the Flies around here and throw out the whole week, they already had their assignments, including websites for online, plus all their printed materials, on the day they needed them.  They weren't able to get everything done.  There were some subjects that did require my input.  There were a few technology glitches, that prevented certain things from getting done, but they finished the majority of the assignments for the week and it wasn't a total loss.  The week still counted towards our 180 days, so we didn't have to go an extra week into June.

I'm a stickler for schedules and I like sticking to them as much as possible, but sometimes things happen.  Planning for the entire week, up front, helps us stay on track when those things happen.

How do you stay on track with your schedule?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I can rise and shine, just not at the same time!

To say that we are a family of night people would be an understatement.  My favorite job was working overnights at the grocery store when I was in high school, because it meant that sleeping until 2pm was totally legit.  Because I am now an adult and live in the daytime world, I have to get up earlier than I would like, but we make it work.  When we were in public school, the first bell rang at 7:35, which meant we had to be up by 6:30, to get everything done and be at school on time.  It was awful and everyone hated it. Fighting, crying, and yelling were all common occurrences before 7am.  Not the shiniest way to start the day. :(

Now, since I'm setting the schedule, it is totally different.  RF gets up around 7:30 and gets ready for work.  Some mornings, I wake up, but more often than not, I'm still crashed out.  My alarm goes off at 8.  I throw the dog outside and wake MF up.  She complains about how tired she is and then gets on with her morning stuff.  Bathroom, teeth brushing, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and feeding the cat all need to be done before 9am.  If she gets done early, she can get online, lay around, go outside, or anything else she would like to do.  She also has the option of getting started early on school work.  For the first several days of school, she picked that one.  Recently, she has been choosing the internet, which is totally fine too.

During that same time, I'm also getting ready for the day, including getting dressed, and then I spend the rest of the time house walking.  I've also made myself the deal that I won't waste time on the internet, unless I'm walking, until I make 10,000 steps, so I use my phone to check email and browse facebook, while I'm walking.  That way, I'm killing two birds with one stone and I've checked in, so I'm not tempted to be online while I'm working on school.

At 9, MF starts school and WF gets up for the day.  This lets him sleep the recommended amount and helps prevent conflict by not having them trying to share space in the kitchen and bathroom each morning.  It also gives me time to work one on one with each of them, while the other is self-sufficient. He has to get himself ready for the day, eat breakfast, feed the dog and clean up any messes the dog made during the night.  We'll see how this changes over the next few years as she starts to require more sleep each day.

While he is getting ready, I work with her on spelling.  We do a lot of stuff together, but spelling really needs to be one on one.  We are using All About Spelling and, while I really like it, I can see why it isn't used in public schools.  It just isn't suited for group work, even small groups.  Once her spelling is done, she goes to her room to work independently on things.

He has the same options she does during "breakfast" time. If he doesn't choose to get started early, I continue with my walking until he is ready to start or 10, whichever comes first.  When he does get working, we do spelling first.

Depending on where she is at with her work, he will either work independently in his room or we will come back together to work on a shared subject.  While they work on things on their own I will walk, which means I'm passing their rooms at least once per minute, so I'm able to monitor their work and be available to help or answer questions they might have.

Most days, we are completely done with school by lunch time, so our "morning routine" encompasses our whole school day, but some days, there is stuff to finish up after lunch.

The only day this is different is on Fridays, when I occasionally have coffee with some friends.  I've found that our days don't run nearly as smoothly on those days and, although I love seeing my friends, I'm seriously considering giving that up.  I'll miss my friends, but it is more important that school goes well and the kids are learning like they are supposed to.  The days are still a lot easier than when they were in public school, but it is more difficult than the days when our routine is in place.

What does your morning look like?