Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm changing my mind, or Scope and Squence

I've been doing a lot of...nothing recently. 

I was feeling overwhelmed for a little while, but that has passed. Now I'm just in a phase where I am content to sit and play on the internet all day, or wonder around buying things I don't need. I haven't cleaned, or done laundry, or read a book, or written a blog all week. And I haven't had to work either, so basically I am just existing. 

This isn't totally a bad thing. I am absolutely not depressed, and I'm not feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I'm feeling a little like I've lots some purpose, or direction, but overall I kinda just feel content. Well, content and complacent. 

I had a long talk with a friend yesterday about all of this, and he made me feel better. He basically just told me that this is a step towards finding purpose and focus again.

A lot of things have changed in my life in the past 6 months. I saw a counselor to help with my stress and it absolutely changed my life. I started taking meditation classes and it absolutely changed my life. I have let go of some of the hatred I was harboring and now have a more fulfilling and stres-free relationship with one of my best friends.

And I started blogging. Blogging has taken the space in my life that debate used to fill when it was only my hobby (as opposed to now that it's my job). I started with no clear direction, have learned a lot through reading other bloggers, got two writing jobs, quit one already, and started to feel really stressed about something that was supposed be a stress-relieveing creative outlet. 

Therefore, I've decided I need to make some changes:

1) I took a lot of the blogs I have been following out of Google Reader and have reorganized them. Last night when I went to bed entries were at something like 180. This morning they were at 280. There is absolutely no possible way I can meaningfully absorb all of that on a daily basis. Besides, have of it I don't like anyway.

2) I'm letting go of the gardening idea for the A to Z challenge. I don't really want to write about it that much right now and I think I am instead going to join a CSA with a friend. I am going to use my April month of blogging to just talk about the things that are important to me. 

3) I'm going to stop shying away from writing about myself. I don't care to turn this into a business at this point, so I'm going to stop worrying about a market and SEO and making sure that I am attracting readers. Instead, I am going to write about the the things that I care about: how my son's daycare teacher super pissed me off today, how to be a better student, the things I am learning about teaching, so on and so forth. 

All of this revolves around the idea of scope and sequence. Scope and Sequence is eduspeak meaning the amount that you teach/learn at one time and the order that you learn new things. Thing of it as the width of a road in relation to each step on the road. 

I was going to fast in terms of what I was trying to make this blog into. It doesn't need to make money or be something grand with 40k followers. It just needs to be a place for me to share my ideas, because writing helps me sort out my thoughts. It's for me, and anyone else who wants to read it. I'm not going to develop an action plan to gain twitter followers and I don't care right now to learn how to use Google Analytics. When the time comes, and I have the time, these things will happen. 

So, consider this fair warning that the format might change a little, and the frequency of me writing (After April) will probably drop. But feel free to stop in from time to time to see what's going on. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don't work for someplace you wouldn't visit yourself.

I write recently about how I applied and was accepted to be the Akron Career Advice Examiner. After I got started I realized a few things (besides the content mill part) that I really don't like about the site. 

1) The design is add-based, not content based. 
The screen shot below is what displays when you first open the page. It looks like a normal web page (ads at the top, on the right, at the bottom), right?


The ad at the bottom of the screen is NOT the bottom of the page. They ask you to write in the inverted pyramid format and then cut off the second half of your content with an advertisement. If I hadn't written the article I wouldn't have even known there was more. And the article makes zero sense without the second half. 

2) Bad design tools.
I am pretty much required to use a picture, and they don't have the option for me to shorten the the attribution URL so that it fits in the box. I chose this picture because it was free as long as I linked directly to the creator's portfolio. Therefore, the url runs into the content.

This article was my first and needed to be physically approved before it could go live. And the person who approved this article did a few things that really make this complaint of bad design tools even more poignant: 

-Sent me a comment saying I only need to provide a link to the stock photo home page, not the individual portfolio. This violates the terms of me using the picture for free, but if I paid for the picture I wouldn't have needed to give a credit. Therefore, this is just dumb. 
-Approved the post without noticing (or caring) that the text of the photo credit ran into the text of the article. Either they didn't look at the layout or didn't care. Again, this is dumb. 

3) The push for journalism-style, third person writing. 
I am certified to teach journalism, I have taken journalism classes, I am confused on why they would title a position "advice" when they are seeking unbiased and impersonal content. This just seems like two generic decisions that don't' work together. 

Needless to say, I am not impressed. 

So, overall, I wouldn't visit a sight that looked like this, so why would I want to write for one? 

I sent my resignation e-mail today. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Getting ready for the A to Z challenge

A long time ago when I started my monthly area of opportunity project I had already decided that I wanted to do the Blogging for A to Z April Challenge. The goal is to write 26 posts in April all themed sequentially around the letters of the alphabet. We get to take Sunday's off, click here to see the schedule, and there isn't necessary a theme requirement. But, since I do monthly themes anyway I decided my A to Z Challenge was going to be based on my research into starting a garden. I mean, usually April is still not gardening weather, right? 

Apparently not this year though. 

The tree in my front yard is already blooming, which is making me feel a little panicked. 

So, instead of waiting for April to start researching I'm starting a little early and am just going to schedule my posts ahead of time. 

I already researched an epic post about compost and fixing the sorry excuse for soil that we have. Be prepared for lots of info on soil amendments and compost prices and such. I'm excited. 

I also got an organic gardening book from the library, but it is a little overwhelming since I have never done this before. So today at Five Below I found The Gardeners Year by Jane Courtier which is divided into sections for each season of the year. I'm starting to read and write about the early spring section already today. 

How has this funky spring affected your life? 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Opportunity Cost: Part 2

 Yesterday I wrote about opportunity cost and calculating the true cost of decisions. This is based on the idea that the true cost of something also includes the time and resources it takes to acquire, maintain, and use the product.

If you are unsure of where to start in applying this concept to your life, consider the following questions the next time you ask yourself “is this really worth it?”.

If you are asking yourself “is this really worth it?” that implies that you are already unsure if something is valuable to you. First ask yourself: What is it that I am questioning the value of? Something that is already in my life or something new?

 If it is the “something new” then this is an excellent opportunity to simply explore opportunity cost. If it is “something that is already in your life” then this is a question of priorities. Either way you can still apply the idea of opportunity cost, you just have to approach it a little differently in each situation.

A) If you are questing adding something new to your life, ask yourself the following:

1) What is the actual value of this? Think not just in terms of money it saves you but also in terms of the amount of time it will free up, the amount of enjoyment you may get using it, and the amount of stress it might relieve.

2) What is the actual cost of this? Think not just in terms of the money it will cost but also in terms of the time it will take up, the amount of stress or frustration or future costs it might cause, and the amount of stress it might create.

3) What are some possible negative implications of this choice? Will it possibly cost you repair charges in the future? Will it possibly cause unnecessary stress in changing to a new system? What other possible negative effects might happen?

4) Does the actual value outweigh the actual cost? And does the actual value outweigh the actual cost enough to make it worth changing your routine and risk causing unforeseen negative consequences?

If the opportunity cost seems worthwhile to you then go for it.
If you are still unsure, you might want to continue to the priorities questions before you move on.

B) If questing the actual value has brought you to a question of priorities, ask yourself the following:

1) What are the priorities that are in conflict? Family time vs. personal time? Saved money vs. convenience? Or is it something else?

2) Is there an alternate solution that would eliminate the conflict? Could you purchase a less expensive item or spend a little less time on something to balance the conflict, or is there another way you could eliminate the conflict?

3) Could one priority be used to support another? Personal well being is a prerequisite to being able to take care of others and convenience is a prerequisite to having more time to increase income. Could you reframe this problem in a way that eliminates the conflict?

4) If you can not find a way to balance the priorities, you may not be ready to make an opportunity cost decision. Take some time to review your priorities in general and when you feel you have a more focused sense of what is important to you then revisit the opportunity cost conflict.

All of these questions about your priorities are based on the idea of reframing. If you are interested in now reframing can visit my post on stress management techniques.

All in all, opportunity cost is about determining what is really important to you.

Have you ever weighed the true cost of a decision? What were some of the things you personally took into account to help you make the decision?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Evaluating opportunity cost: Why I don’t do couponing

 I have two coupons in my purse and two stapled in my planner right now. That is actually a lot more than I usually have saved. I love the IDEA of couponing, and I love the thought of getting 49 tubes of toothpaste for only  $.11, but I don’t have the time or the desire to sit down, clip or print coupons, match them with sale ads, and then go to different stores. And I have no need for and no place to store bulk items. For me, couponing is a matter of opportunity cost, and the cost is greater than the benefit for me. 

I am by no means an economics scholar, but one of the lessons from high school econ that has had a profound impact on my life is the idea of opportunity cost.

According to The Economist, Opportunity Cost (also known as shadow cost) is the true cost of something. It is based on the idea that you must deduct the price of what you give up from the price of what you gain to discover something’s true cost.

Let me give you an example...

If I spend 1 hour in the kitchen making homemade tortillas, for those tortillas I am actually paying for:

1) The ingredients
2) The equipment I used to make them, including utensils, cookware, the ingredients, electricity and water.
3) An hour away from my son, or an hour that I could be doing other (probably more pressing) things.
Or I could buy a pack of tortillas for $.99 at Aldis.
In this example, which I got from the Money Saving Mom, making my own tortillas is not worth my time if the only benefit is having homemade tortillas.
But, if I also get the enjoyment of cooking from scratch, the satisfaction of knowing exactly what goes in my family's food, the enjoyment of cooking with someone I care about, etc, the the opportunity cost could come out on the positive end.
The formula for opportunity cost is simple:

      What is gained
-      What is spent in the process
=     The true cost of something*

*What does this number tell you? Is the monetary value enough to justify the work? Are the emotional benefits great enough to offset other lost opportunities?

Opportunity cost is something that is individual to you, your family, your priorities, and your life.  

Only you can decide if something is worth your time. And is is for precisely this reason that you MUST actively consider the true cost of an item or an activity in terms of what your needs and wants are.
Some of the things that have a positive opportunity cost for me but probably not a lot of other people are:

1) Driving an hour to work. This has a positive opportunity cost because I have an excellent opportunity with my foot in the door at an amazing school. Also, I live far enough away from my students that awkward social encounters are avoided, I live very close to my family, and I enjoy the hour in the morning to gather my thoughts, relax, and listen to audio books.

2) Being a vegetarian. This is a LOT of work. It makes going out to eat frustrating and causes problems when I want to cook for friends who have other dietary needs. Ultimately the cost is lower, because meat is expensive, but I also have the benefit of knowing that I am doing something that is very important to me.

3) Sending my son to private school (well, when he gets old enough to go to real school he will go to private school.) I teach at a private school and have taught in public schools.  Both my son’s father and I went to private schools for part of our education and public schools for part. The difference is something that is far beyond faith or class size, and that difference is very important to us.
The school I currently teach at costs $25,000 a year to attend. The school I attended costs $3,000 a year. There are many options and finances will definitely be a part of us deciding where to spend our son, but the answer will absolutely positively be some sort of private school.

4) Freelancing for a content mill. Okay, this is a complex subject, but to get some background on the topic visit Freelance Switch. I know that this is not a huge money making opportunity, but I also know that it is a chance to get myself out there and to hone my writing skills. Everything is that you make of it, and I see this as an opportunity for me to grow. The low financial return I expect is balanced by the experience I will gain and the fact that I enjoy writing.

5) Living with my mother. I live in a house that my mother owns. Three years ago my sister and I rented it from her because she was not living in it. 17 months ago when my son was born my mother came to stay with me “for a week” and never left.

I am adult and a parent myself, and my mother has some very different ideas of what an acceptable level of clean and organized living looks like. It is stressful, but it has made me much closer to my mother and sister, it has allowed me to help my mother through some medical problems, and it has allowed me to have other adults in the house to help with my son. This has been an interesting situation that I would say has definitely been an overall positive experience despite the stress it also causes.

All in all, opportunity cost is all about what is really important to you. It requires you to make decisions based on what you have already established as your priorities. It also assumes that you already know what some of your priorities are.

What are some of the things that make sense for your family that wouldn't necessarily have a positive opportunity cost for others?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Announcement: I got another job

I wrote a while ago about things I was doing to increase my income. One of the things I mentioned was some freelance writing work, which I am really excited about. It is really filling a gap in my professional life and helping me use all of the skills I have.

Well, in addition to the study guide website and personal finance blog I am working for, I also am now working for as the Akron Career Advice Examiner.

This is kind of a new writing style for me because it is more of a news style (third person, etc) rather than the blog style, but I have journalism training so it isn't foreign to me. I actually am enjoying the variety in my work. Also, they are looking for a local slant as opposed to the universality that I usually seek here. Again, I like the variety.

So, come check out my first article about free computer classes in Akron, and subscribe to my channel , and keep reading as I keep growing my writing portfolio.

Here is a snipit of the article: 

Free computer classes as the Akron Public Library
A lack of information technology skills and computer knowledge is an undeiable roadblock in today's workforce. Those who are unable to perform basic software operation and technology troublshooting find decreased job stability. Though professional development is also the job of an employer, it is extreamly important for professionals to take responsibility for their own learning.

According to CompTIA’s State of the IT skills gap study, after hardware improvements, U.S. businesses see an ability to use technology investments as a top priority in employees. This means that employees who are unable to utilize security-enhancing systems, data storage systems, networking programs and other technology tools will find that their value to a company will decrease.

Those who fail to maintain their technology skills will feel it in their paycheck.

Continue reading on Free computer classes at the Akron Pulic Library.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WWW Wednesday

I'm never writing another real post on Wednesday again thanks to Should Be Reading.  I love books too much to pass up a blatant opportunity to talk about literature. 

To play along, answer the questions below by either commenting below with your answers or post on your own site. If you post on your site feel free to send me the link; I would love to know what other book worms are up to. 

1) What are you currently reading? 
2) What did you recently finish reading?
3) What do you think you'll read next? 

What am I currently reading? 

This is a loaded question. As an english teacher I tend to be reading a billion things at once. Right now the thing I am reading the most diligently is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

This is officially my first vegetarian book, and I'm so glad I picked this one. Rather than offering another piece of veggie propaganda he truly explores what it means, both universally and culturally, to eat animals. 

What did I recently finish reading? 

I just finished The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I am a huge Green fan and I loved Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns in sitting on my book shelf waiting patiently. However, this was not one of his best books. If you are not a Green fan I would not suggest starting here. 

What do I think I'll read next? 

Oh man, this is a ridiculous question as well. I just ordered a few books last week and some of them came today, but I am still waiting for the one I really want. I already have Understanding by Design which is an educational psychology book about backwards design and essential questions.  The summarized introduction I received when I started at my new job has made a gigantic impact on my teaching philosophy and has very much changed the way I teach. Therefore, it is only a natural step that I look to the primary text to continue expanding my skills. I found the textbook for really cheap and bought the workbook for something like $11, but I am still waiting on the workbook to come in the mail. 

I also need to find myself a new audio book for the hour long drive to work, but right now I'm really enjoying just listening to music. 


1) What are you currently reading? 
2) What did you recently finish reading?
3) What do you think you'll read next?  

Monday, March 19, 2012

The world's most difficult block sorter, or, adapting toys to be more developmentally appropriate

The world's most difficult block sorter. 

I call it this because the baby, who is a year and a half, obviously can't count to figure out how many sides the shape has to match it to the corresponding hole with that same number of sides. 

This would be different if the holes were color-coded, but they aren't. Therefore, this activity is simply impossible at at his age. 

Yes, he has another block sorter that IS color coded, which is more developmentally appropriate. But, in my frustration with this toy and in response to his love of the snap beads that are too easy for him now, I made him a new toy. 

This is obviously just snap beads in an egg carton. But he LOVES it. 
Snapping the beads together is something he likes but it isn't a challenge anymore, so this makes snapping them together and taking them apart just a part of the process of getting the carton open, putting the beads together, taking them apart, and then putting them all back in the holes and getting the carton to stay closed. 

It is easy to take toys that a child is growing out of and modify them in new ways to build on the skills they already have. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Menu Fail, regrouping for next week.

 Last week I wrote about how I was actually going to try menu planning for real. I made my pretty menus, got sick, ate noodles for two days, didn't feel like cooking the next day, and still have enchilada filling in my fridge.

However, this does not feel like a complete failure for a few reasons

1) Even making the menu for this week showed me how many extra groceries I have been buying. My list for this week is super short so is super exciting.

2) I learned that when cooking for one adult and a toddler it makes sense to plan on eating last night's left overs for lunch the next day. Cooking for one and a half is supper hard as it is, and by changing up the sides I think I can feel better about spending more time cooking and then good about eating the same thing again.

3) Keep sick food in the house. The one thing I can't get away from as a vegetarian is Ramin noodles. When my stomach is upset (which is about once a week) there is nothing more satisfying then warm liquid, noodles and nothing else. The problem is that there is only one kind of Ramin that I have found that doesn't have a meat bouillon: Cheddar Cheese. Well, it's not really healthy, but the cheese is fake enough that it doesn't make my intestines feel worse when they hurt anyway. They only come in the Instant Lunch cups, so that way I don't feel compelled to buy a billion and eat them every day because they simply take up too much space. I have always kept powdered Gatorade at home, so this this will be an addition to my sick food stock.

I'm really excited for this coming week. I'm cooking the Boca Burgers that have been in my fridge for 2 weeks, trying a corn casserole recipe to get rid of the 4 cans of creamed corn I somehow acquired, and am finally going to get to try the zucchini burger recipe I've been lusting after.

Hopefully this week will be more healthy than last so I can eat better.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Protein Myth?

Part of The Vegetarian Starter Kit talks about "The Protein Myth":

"While individuals following [a high protein diet] have sometimes had sort-term success in loosing weight, they are often unaware of the health risks associates with a high protein diet. Excess protein has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers" (4). 


I have spent my life ingesting a large amount of protein because I am hypoglycemic, which means that I need things that burn slowly so that I don't end up with extra insulin in my body. I was really disturbed by this fact.

So I did some more research. cross-posted an article from WebMD (okay, two trusted sources) subtitled: Find out how consuming too much protein can harm your body.  

"Medical research shows that consuming too much protein -- more than 30% of your total daily caloric intake -- could actually harm your body, says protein expert Gail Butterfield, PhD, RD, director of Nutrition Studies at the Palo Alto Veterans' Administration Medical Center and nutrition lecturer at Stanford University. 

She says that a diet containing excess protein can have the following adverse effects:
  • Adding more protein but not more calories or exercise to your diet won't help you build more muscle mass, but it may put your other bodily systems under stress.
  • Eating more protein and increasing total caloric intake while maintaining the same exercise level will build an equal amount of additional fat and muscle mass, according to a study published in 1992 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society."
Not awesome, but still this seems more to refer to people who are drinking protein shakes for every meal. So I kept looking. 

Davey Wavey (Seriously? Who would name their child that?), a certified personal trainer, states that protein isn't harmful, but too much protein, just like too much anything else, can be harmful. In his article 8 Side Effects of Too Much Protein Wavey writes:

"Protein isn’t particularly dangerous, but an over-consumption of protein may be associated with:
  1. Weight gain. Excess calories from excess protein may be stored as body fat.
  2. Intestinal irritation. Too much protein has been linked to constipation, diarrhea and/or excessive gas.
  3. Dehydration. Experts advise drinking a half gallon of water per 100 grams of protein.
  4. Seizures. Seizures have been linked to excess protein intake – but only if insufficient amounts of water are consumed.
  5. Increase in liver enzymes.
  6. Nutritional deficiencies. Just focusing on protein intake causes some high-protein dieters to overlook other nutrients. Ensure that your diet is balanced and nutritious.
  7. Risk of heart disease. This is a bit misleading. A healthy high-protein diet is not associated with heart disease. But if you are getting all of your protein from unhealthy sources that are loaded in unhealthy fats, obviously the risk for heart disease will increase.
  8. Kidney problems. Some believe that high protein and low carbohydrate diets – when done long term – can possibly cause kidney issues, but more research needs to be done."
Okay, again, unusual circumstances. Lets keep everything in moderation of course, right? So I kept looking and found an article on Today Health by Madelyn Fernstrom of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The article, Protein 101: how much do you need?, continued to make me feel better.

The author states that about 10% of your calories should come from protein. So, in doing some math, we can conclude that a normal person on a 2,000 calorie diet could drink 4 protein shakes and be just fine. Fernstrom also stated directly that unless you have a liver or kidney disorder (or are drinking nothing but protein shakes) that you can't really get to much protein as part of a regular diet.

Fernstrom then explains the differences between the two kinds of proteins.

"Your body needs all the amino acids. Depending on amino acid composition, proteins are either “complete” or “incomplete.” This is the real difference between the vegetable and animal protein sources. Animal protein has the complete profile of all the amino acids. Beef, chicken, veal, lamb, port, fish, eggs, are all complete proteins. Eggs are the most ideal protein — and the standard to which others are measured regarding “usability” by the body. Vegetable proteins are typically “incomplete,” meaning there are either missing amino acids or too few of them to maintain the body’s total needs. Vegetable proteins come from nuts, seeds, and legumes. Vegetable proteins need to be combined, but not necessarily eaten together, to make sure all amino acid needs are met"  

But she does make some suggestion on how to use vegetable proteins to make complete proteins: 
Vegetarians must use “complementary” vegetable proteins together to make a single complete protein source. For example, they need to eat beans with rice, a rice cake with peanut butter, or hummus, which is made with chick peas and sesame paste. Soy is a great low fat source of protein. Most protein bars use soy protein, casein or whey as their base. All are complete proteins. The same is true for protein powders.

Finally, she explains that adults have a whole month try make sure they are getting all their amino acids in. 

Okay, so this whole "Protein is not actually good for you" thing is mostly just propaganda. 

This is an interesting topic to explore as a vegetarian. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Three days week of vegetarian cooking in two hours

No, I have not adventured into the realms of vegetarian freezer cooking yet but tonight I came home and was on a roll when it came to pre-making food for the weekend. Now I definitely have enough food to not have to cook (except breakfast) until Monday. 

This is what I made:

1) Two Cheater Pizzas

I topped them with Roma Tomatos and fresh Baby Bella Mushrooms. I usually add black olives to this combination but I didn't have any. Remember, these are the party sized pizzas that have about two servings each so this will feed the baby and I two meals. 

2) A single batch of Chick Pea Salad
I tried finely diced carrots instead of grated carrots and it worked well. This could be probably 4 or 5 pita pocket sandwiches but I will probably eat half of it straight out a bowl as a snack and the rest will be sandwiches or salad toppers. This is a super versatile recipe which is why I like it so much. 

3) Morningstar Farms Veggie Corn Dogs
No, I did not make these from scratch and yes I am planning on eating corn dogs. I'm still trying different types of meat substitutes and this one was pretty good. I was a little surprised that these are sweet, like cucumber and tomato sweet not like cake sweet. Definitely yummy. 4 in a box, one for dinner tonight and then three for me for later. I don't give the baby my fake meat products because they are expensive and he eats the real stuff. 

4) Biscuits to make egg and cheese biscuit sandwiches
For a little while at the end of the speech season I was really stressed and tired and hadn't had time to make breakfast burritos without sausage. I found myself going to McDonalds and getting an egg and cheese biscuit with a scrambled egg rather than that frozen folded...thing. It was decent, and bad for me, and almost $3.

 Last week I bought a tube of dough for big, not flaky biscuits, made a few eggs and pre-made a few sandwiches. They are great after just sticking them in the microwave and then putting them in my lunch box to eat in the care.

 Tonight I made 8 biscuits which we will pick at over the weekend in addition to me making a few sandwiches for next week. I get bored after too many days in a row of the same breakfast so I'll be mixing them in with cream cheese or pb&j bagels. 
I'm also thinking about making Nutella and Fruit waffles in the morning, but I don't know if I have any frozen waffles left. I'll figure that out in the morning. 

Nutella and fruit topped waffles

All in all I would say this was a very well spent 2 hours. Now I just need to clean the kitchen...

What are some of your favorite foods to pre-make? 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Start thinking ahead to summer fun memberships

It costs $10 for an adult to get into the zoo that is 20 minutes from my house. Therefore, for me, a friend, and my son to get into the zoo it would cost $20 (the baby is free). I just paid $61 for a membership that lets me, a guest and the baby into the zoo as many times as we want for the entire year. We can take in as much food as we would like, and since my son isn't old enough to ask for things out of the gift shop I could easily spend zero more dollars on the zoo this year. If we go three times the membership is paid for. 

We will make sure to go way more than three times. 

I've looked into a lot of other summer activity memberships so I can pay now (while I am working on my tax return budget) and use it all summer long. 

Think about things like
Pool memberships

Amusement park memberships
Zoos and Aquariums
Science Center
Gulf or tennis club

For me none of these are logical after the zoo. The baby is too small and his dad has a pool nextdoor that he has full access to. 

But, I do plan to utilize the parks and playgrounds in our city, the baby is already signed up for swim lessons (yes, toddler swim lessons. It's mostly splashing around but he loves it and its cheaper than paying to swim) and we have a nice fenced in backyard he can explore this year now that he is walking. 

What types of summer membership activities do you and your family plan to invest in? 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cheater Pizza

Cheater Pizza
I am a big fan of the semi-homemade school of thought when it comes to cooking. The following is one of my favorite recipes because it is so fast and so delicious. It is definitley a week night staple in my house. 

General ingredients
1 frozen pizza; the cheap $1.25 party pizzas work great
Spaghetti sauce
Cheese (I use cheddar because it's easier on my tummy)
Your favorite pizza toppings

Take the cheap, boring pizza out of the box and cover with additional sauce, your favorite veggies and then more cheese. The cheap pizzas tend to have a thin crispy crust that is great with lots of veggies on top. Bake according to directions.

One of my favorite pizzas used to be finely chopped broccoli, chicken and onions. I think the broccoli and onions might feel a little lonely without something else to keep them company now that I'm a vegetarian so I'm going to have to find something else to add to this yummy combination. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting ready for the changes of college: 5 ways to ease the transition

I know college is a long way off for those who will be graduating from high school this year, but now is the time you need to start thinking about who you are as a person and how you are going to carry that person on into the next stage of your life. 

The following is a list of 5 things you should commit to implementing in your life this summer so that by the fall you will already have tools for success in place. These are based on things I wish I had known before entering college and things I watch other struggle with as a teacher. 

1) Don’t drop everything about your old life
This is absolutely positively the most important piece of advice I can give someone getting ready to enter college. Yes, there will be new opportunities. Yes, there will be new friends and new jobs and new things to do and see and experience. However, don’t drop everything that you were and run. This will leave you feeling like you have no idea who you are which can lead to depression and anxiety and just generally terrible feelings.

Make a commitment to retain the things that are most important to you. This can include committing to keeping up with friends who are at different schools or intentionally maintaining close contact with your family. It might mean continuing parts of your routine like sports or exercise or other activities. Or this might mean identifying the values that are most important to you and then developing strategies for maintaining these values.

Take 30 minutes today to brain storm the parts of your life that you feel make you most like "you". Then decide how you will commit yourself to retaining those parts of yourself for the summer and then into the fall. 

2) Have a stress relief system in place

Yes, high school was stressful. And college will also be stressful. But, without a productive and consistent way to relieve stress in your life you will end up overwhelmed, miserable, and possibly with horrible grades before Christmas break. 

The most important aspect of this is that you should developed a system, which means a set of strategies you draw on when stressful situations may arise. The point o this pool of strategies is that you have enough experience with all of the tools that you can intentionally choose a tool that will be helpful in just about any situation. 

Take 30 minutes tomorrow to read through my suggestions for stress management tools as well as to do a quick search for other lists that might apply to you. Choose one strategy to put into place this week, one for next week and one for the week after. That way in three weeks time you can have three solid strategies you have practiced and you can keep adding to your list of tools.

3) Pick organization tools 

I know that high school students were busy, but the inconsistent nature of college class schedules mixed the the accompanying inconsistent job schedule can cause a lot of unneeded stress. 

After you have analyzed the parts of your life you plan to keep and brainstormed some stress management tools, take 30 minutes to read through my list of different types of organizational tools. Choose one (or a few) that you feel will really help you and commit  to using one of the systems all summer long. If it doesn't work, adjust. If it does work, stick with in when school starts.

4) Seriously, utilize Facebook

I know this sounds like a no-brainier. I know you have probably had a Facebook for years. But I also know you are going to miss the people you are used to spending every day with in class.

There is also a lot of bad press out there about the negative effects of social media. However, they thing they forget to mention is that pretty much every new "thing" in history every has gotten bad press in the beginning. I want you to take some time this summer to make sure you are ready to actually "utilize", as in make it work for you, Facebook rather than just haphazardly "using" Facebook.

Read more about how to really utilize Facebook.

I'm not going to give you an assignment for this one because it should really be a life-long commitment to making sure you are ready for both the professional and social role that Facebook and other social media does play in our world. Take it upon yourself to make these tools work FOR you instead of simply letting them keep you from doing homework. 

5) Commit to proactively prevent stress
This goes back to number 2. But, I believe that this is so important that I put it on the list twice. In #2 you can find strategies so what I want you to do for number 5 is RIGHT NOW, before you start college and the avalanche of life changes and homework buries you, figure out what works. Over the summer try out different strategies and see what makes YOU feel better.

Commit yourself to taking steps this summer to make yourself a more productive, organized, and relaxed person so that when college (and the subsequent caffeine) try and take their tole you will be ready.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Seriously, utilize Facebook

Since it’s conception, Facebook has come under fire because it is seen as distracting, because of the amount of personal information that it makes public, and because of general fear of what a hyper-connected world means for kids. As a teacher and a parent I understand these fears, but I can also see the amazing potential that is held in a hyper-comected world. The following are several articles that advocate for different aspects of Facebook.

A) First and foremost, Facebook for Educators is an awesome. It provides a resource guide for teachers and numerous sample school policies that help schools make meaningful guidelines.

They base their educator guide around “7 Ways Educators Can Use Facebook”. These include:

1.  Help develop and follow your school’s policy about Facebook.
2.  Encourage students to follow Facebook’s guidelines.
3.  Stay up to date about safety and privacy settings on Facebook.
4.  Promote good citizenship in the digital world.
5.  Use Facebook’s pages and groups features to communicate with students and parents.
6.  Embrace the digital, social, mobile, and “always-on” learning styles of 21st Century students.
7.  Use Facebook as a professional development resource

They also have an affiliate site called Facebook for Parents that provides resources to help parents understand how to effectively utilize the tool and how to teach their kids to do the same.

B) Next, ReadWriteWeb has an article called How to use Facebook: 5 tips for better social networking. I know you know how to navigate Facebook, however, there are some things you can do to fully utilize it’s potential.

They explain that in order to use it effectively you should do the following five things:
Tip 1: Update Your Status Regularly
Tip 2. Use Groups (a.k.a. Lists in Facebook Terminology)
Tip 3: Add Your Content From Other Sources (Carefully...)
Tip 4: Brighten Up Your Profile With Photos and Videos
Tip 5: Search Out the Best Facebook Apps

C) Now on to the juicy stuff. We have all heard about schools who want to ban teachers from Facebook all together or parents who feel that it has no purpose other than to encourage predators. However,  EdTechSandyK talks about how baning Facebook is not the answer. She explains that the reason many people want to ban Facebook is because of the potential for (and the proven existence of) negative social interactions, such as bullying.

Sandy specifically talks about a single school in Florida that encouraged their parents to get their student’s off of Facebook. She points out that even if Facebook is taken out of the equation the potential for negative social interactions is not eliminated. Other types of technology would allow bullying to continue; Facebook is not the problem, the bad behaviors it is being used for are the problem.

Therefore, in order to fix the problem she says we must “Model, Supervise, & Create Positive Opportunities for Social Media Use”.

Overall we can see that Facebook, just like any other media tool, has the potential for evil. However, the networking benefits and information sharing possibilities far outweigh the potential for negative social interaction. And, negative social behaviors are something that should me addressed regardless of the medium of transmission.