Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Off the beaten path...

Recently, I found myself with my favorite companion (my husband) on an adventure we couldn't quite plan.  We had an appointment schedule in a town we only occasionally visit about an hour from home, and 6 hours in between visits... what does one do in a small town in the north in March when you have time to waste use in a meaningful way between appointments?  You visit the stores and other public buildings.  You drive around, trying to familiarize yourself with the architecture and the layout.  You check out the local restaurants to see what kind of fare you might have to choose from should you need a bite to eat.  You take note of business hours, because in small towns, there is not always a standard.  The library didn't open until noon that day, so that option was out for the morning.  You take note of where all the traffic in town seems to go.

Among the treasures?  A grocery store, a neat little library, several different restaurants, and a variety of big and little shops.  The biggest treasure of all?  The people. Everywhere we went, the customer service was amazing!  People treated us as wanted guests.  Offered suggestions and hints, knew their product lines well, knew their services well, and worked with us. 

The shareable treasure of the day was a neat little restaurant/cafe.  It was tucked in behind the gas station, and next to the pharmacy.  It had a worn spot near the door handle, which indicated a large volume of traffic in its lifetime, but not much else to stand out.  The place looked tiny and non-descript from the outside, blending in to the other facades.  We walked in, were greeted warmly and offered the specials, along with water and our choice of beverage.  Now, I have to tell you, we travel a lot for business and medical, so something as simple as that glass of water gets noticed.  It is amazing how few places even offer anymore.  Of the choices in town, this one was the hardest to find.  There were 3 different chain restaurants, and 2 delis attached to businesses, but we wanted something different.  We wanted sincere, honest to goodness food.  Not pre-packaged, reheated, processed stuff, but the good stuff.  We found it.  We found in that small town a treasure where the cooks still make everything, and I mean *EVERYTHING* from scratch.  Including the buns, dinner rolls and soups.  Not something you find every day, and not something you find a full meal for the comparable prices to most fast food meals these days.  We both ate full, stick to you bones meals for under $20.  Sure the ambiance was lacking.  It was rustic cafe, with worn carpets that have seen years of service.  It was still decorated with paneling.  But the service and the smiles?  Beat those details to the back door. 

Next time you are out and about, skip the chains and find that little hole in the wall place and see what treasures you might find.  Support a local business and see what response you get.  Sure the folks at the chains can be amazing, but sometimes, it is nice to know that your dollars are helping someone put braces on their child's teeth or paying the electric bill...those were two of the discussions among the waitresses at the counter that day.  It made me feel good knowing we helped them with those needs, not just handing money to a corporation that just added our dollars to the rest of the pile.  I wish I had taken my camera with me that day, but again, I am a total rookie photographer.  If you ever find yourself in Fosston, Minnesota, go ahead and look for this little treasure.  I had the liver and onions.  Not something that everyone appreciates, but if you are a liver lover like I am, you will be assured that they know how to cook it right.  Not dry and overdone, not burnt, not tough, but just right.  Served with plenty of onions and a strip of bacon for added yum factor! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

FamilyMint Money Management Certification Program- Review

Photo Courtesy of  FamilyMint.com

According to the FamilyMint website, 18-24 years is the fastest growing age group to file bankruptcy.  The lack of financial literacy is becoming more and more of a problem for society.   Robert Masterson, MBA and Jeff Eusebio, MBA saw concerns with financial education and developed the Money Management Certification Program for their own children.  They realized how important this was and turned it into a business for their families in 2010 with the introduction of the online program.  In the fall of 2012, they released their workbook.

The program is broken down into four parts and is expected to take about 2 months for completion, as the student needs time to practice and form new habits.  The program addresses: tracking your money, goal setting, budgeting, and earning (or paying) interest.  This program is geared towards 5th graders and older, but can be modified and used for younger students as well.  The online aspect is appropriate for ages 6-14 with parental involvement.

The Money Management Certification Program is available in several different forms:

The Introductory Offer Bundle (at the time of this posting) is available for $29.99 and includes a workbook and a Lifetime Premium account online with the mobile app access as well.  Additional workbooks can be purchased at 50% off for multiple students.

Premium Online Account and app: $24.99 per year or $4.95 per month (this price is per family, NOT per person!)

Free Trial account: online access only.

Pricing Details and purchasing options can be found here.

In our house, money is something we watch closely.  We have a household of home business and entrepreneurial spirit.  Many of the topics and tactics in the program really stuck out for me.  While there was not really anything that we hadn't covered already, it was nice to have things put together in an orderly format and review some of the finer details that we may have let slip or even forgotten. 

1.  The layout of the website and the book look very formal and "business like".  That somehow makes the user take it much more seriously.  Money is no laughing matter, and the creators of the program were able to capture that and portray it for me in their visual presentation of the products.  This is a formal program, not just a little practice exercise.  I am a visual learner by nature, so this really was the first thing I noticed.

2.  The tasks are clearly set out for the user with straight forward, step by step instructions.  I REALLY like the "SMART" acronym for goal setting!  When setting goals, you want them to be:

3.  The workbook was put together with ample practice sheets, and the authors had the fore-sight to allow for photocopies within your home for your personal use within your immediate family (I personally look for programs that allow this, and I know many of my fellow homeschooling friends do as well!  This is HUGE to us!)

4.  During the conference call that I was not able to attend, but listen to later on MP3 format, there were several who discussed how things fit their family, such as the use of this program to meet badge requirements for scouting programs.  I really appreciate when curriculum and programs are not singly focused and can fulfill multiple purposes for a family. {note here: there are also several significant endorsements of the program that can be found on the FamilyMint website.}

I do have to say that while I signed up my children for online accounts, we never once used them.  We are a pen and paper kind of family and are glad to have the workbook.   For our family, online learning has a time and place and this was just not a great fit for us.  While we do a lot of computer things, money isn't one of them for us when it comes to record keeping.  Having practice checks and deposit slips is something that is very helpful, and they were well done.  Having a formal ledger is great too.  For several years, we have kept the kids' "free spending money" in zipper pouches in a binder, along with an index card for recording transactions.  That made it easier for them to understand the ledgers in the workbook because it was a familiar process in a more formal approach.

I enjoyed the little trivia tidbits throughout the workbook, and appreciate that the answers are in the back of the workbook so that there is no separate teacher's manual to have to navigate and keep track of in our busy house.

I hate to say it, but this particular student didn't love that there was a workbook to do.  She will get over it.  She will appreciate the lessons she has learned along the way.
Her thriving cookie business at the farmer's market in the summer will give her good practice again in just a few short months.  Once she found some of the trivia and details, her attitude toward the workbook softened greatly.  Good thinking, putting those there for those who don't like numbers, guys!  It makes the book more interesting.  We have not finished the book yet, as we need more time to develop the drive needed to make realistic goals and to have steady incoming and outgoing money.

All in all, I really liked this.  I admit it, I am cheap.  The price scared me a bit, but to realize what is included, the price is VERY reasonable by common standards.  This may not be for everyone if your family already has a good grasp of healthy financial management, but I do think most any family could find something helpful in there and I highly recommend at least using the free trial to get a feel for what is in there and how it can help you. 

I look forward to seeing where this company takes their educational approach.  With the products being so new, there are things that they could add in future works.  This current material really doesn't touch on debit cards and the common trend of needing them more than checks.  I would love to see more detailed, intermediate materials.  These beginner level materials gave us a taste of some pretty exciting potential.  My high school age students are facing more than just checking and savings type questions in their finances, and I expect that the authors are facing this as well. 

Last but not least?  They have an active facebook page.  They post financial tidbits regularly and continue to educate and challenge our thinking about how to keep up with the best financial possibilities, along with adding a bit of humor when they can.  I really like a company that keeps up with customers and continues to offer service.  Go on over and "like" them...they have some fun stuff in there.

edited 3/26/2013 to correct my error, FamilyMint is one word, not two. 

Above and beyond...customer service at its best! Michaels craft stores

The originals in their box of doom....
I will admit it.  I am not always the most organized person.  I may forget things, lose things from time to time, but I am still a work in progress.  A short time ago, while helping a friend prepare a few of the more intricate details of her wedding, I helped with the flowers and her hair combs.  Through a series of unforeseen (comical later on) events, the first batch had a mishap.  I was headed out to the bigger town in our area so that I could pick up some other things, so I volunteered to pick up the replacement parts, along with a few other last minute items.  Just 2 weeks before the wedding, I wanted to make sure that nothing was misplaced or out of order, so as I left the store, I tied the bags shut and put them in my vehicle.  I got home, put the bags in a designated "safe" spot to protect the flowers and other delicate contents until the designated day we had planned for last minute items.

Much to my horror, that day came, and we got busy, and worked on all the other details.  Then it hit me, I had one project left.  The hair combs.  And those flowers were nowhere to be found.  I assured her they were at home, I must have taken them out of the bag (funny how the mind plays tricks on a person when stress hits!).  I had my family scouring the house, searching for them up and down, did they end up with these items?  In *that* bag with the other stuff we bought that day?  Did they fall out of the bag in the vehicle?  Three people searched under, between and behind seats to no avail.  I resolved myself to having to make the 50 mile trek back to the store to buy more of those two little $1.99 beauties that were so essential.

The next morning, I decided there was one option I hadn't thought of.  "What if...."  Maybe.  Just maybe, they never actually made it with me.  I found my receipt, and they were on there. But they were nowhere to be found.  I took the chance and called the store.  It had been almost 2 weeks, surely they were long gone.  But it was worth a phone call.  First I talked to the operator, not knowing who exactly to talk to about my predicament.  They sent me to customer service.  I explained to customer service that I could not find them anywhere but they were on my receipt, and asked if there was *ANY* chance that I may have left them there.  I was informed that items that are small that are left are returned to the shelf, but was then referred to the manager. 

I happily talked to the manager and explained my predicament.  He was very kind, very reassuring, and very understanding.  He asked if I had the item number from the receipt, and I gave them.  He asked how many I had, and asked me to hold for a moment.  He came back a few moments later and said "We have 7".  I started frantically thinking, in that short moment, "Oh, great!  What does it matter to me if you have 7, I just need the 2 I bought that I can't find, I don't care how many you have, LOL!"  And then he said "We are only supposed to have 5.  Apparently, yours got left behind.  Would you like us to ship them to you?"  We discussed the options, and now, being 3 days from the wedding, it didn't seem safe to ship them and risk them missing the deadline.  He asked for name and phone number, and we agreed I would pick them up the next day.  All for $4 worth of merchandise.  Thank you, Michaels of Grand Forks, North Dakota!  You've got some amazing customer service going on.  I now have my flowers and the bride should look great with her flowers tomorrow.  No one had to go out of their way for that small of a purchase, but they did.  And I am one happy customer.  When I went to pick them up, the gal at customer service knew exactly where to find my package, she met me with a smile.  Thank you.  All of the team who helped me in my little adventure.  I still don't know how it happened that I left my most precious part of the purchase there, but I did.  And they helped me fix my error.  Being a crafty nut, I will be back. Hopefully, never to repeat this sort of adventure!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nothing completes the day for me more than...

The "big" guy trying to be bigger at Grandma's.
 The snuggles and hugs of my little ones.  Now that they are all old enough to use the bathroom by themselves and eat without help, the physical touch moments have to be planned and intentional more often than not.

I can't tell you how full those little 4 or 6 year old hugs feel when it has been a day or two for the real, deep, meaningful hugs that say "My world is safe with you here!".  In a house with several boys, it seems those hugs went away faster and faster with each one.  Our recently turned 4 year old seems to have given them up earlier than any of the others, now that he is "big".

At the end of each day, when I have set aside time for writing, this little "big" guy will now slip out of bed, wander to wherever I am working, and "sneak" onto my lap (I can't quite call it sneaking, but who am I to burst that little bubble of his?!?!).  I can't help but to cherish those moments of guaranteed time.  Sure, I may not get writing done when I want.  I may not get to bed as fast.  He may not be in bed quite on time.  But those last snuggles are worth every moment.  Once in a while, there is chance to steal a kiss, but they are not nearly as sweet as the little, soft hands, reaching around you and letting you know that you are important in this new world of independence. 

Cherish all those little moments if you still have young ones.  I know I sure do.  Those moments are numbered...and the number shrinks more and more each day.  Don't let work steal those moments from you, they do have a shelf life. The memories will never expire though.  Take the time to stop and embrace the moment.  Give a little extra squeeze.  Writing and work can always wait an extra 5 or 10 minutes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seizing the moment and letting go...

My kids have something to teach me more often than I seem to be able to learn.  They take the chance and capture moments and use them to the fullest.  Our winter weather has produced a lot of this beautiful, heavy frost this year.  My girls have commented about how it reminds them of Narnia.  Magical.  Mystical.  Enchanting.  You get the idea, I am sure.  Their list is always growing.

Not long ago, they seized the moment and took off on a grand adventure with my new camera.  The pictures they snapped were fun and interesting.

Never mind there are snowmobile tracks, that just made easier walking.

Don't mind the dog, she just wanted her share of the spotlight too!

                    Sometimes, the "moment" is as much about the preparation as the final destination. 
  Boy, am I glad we have plenty of dress up clothes!  This formal has been in the girls' stash for a number of years now.  They have sure made the most of it!  I don't think I want to know what the plum trees may have done to the fabric.
                                    What grand adventure lurks on the other side of those trees?
                               A snow princess is never complete without the white gloves, you know!
 When all was said and done, there was no "perfect" shot.  No grand picture with the perfect pose.  No amazing portrait that is worthy of a spot on the wall for the sake of art or beauty in the photographic elements.  What there WAS in all of those pictures was an imagination.  A passion.  A moment, seized by the young ladies of the house with a sense of adventure and enthusiasm to jump in and enjoy what is around them.  A chance to bond and build memories that I can't give them.  The kind they have to find on their own.  Without the barriers of mom's rules to squash their imaginations.  While I could be fussing over the lack of a coat or the use of my camera or the danger to the dress or any of a number of things along the way, I am letting go and enjoying the adventure. 

Look at that amazing place they found in our own back yard!  I wish you could see how brilliant those trees sparkle in the sunshine!  How heavy those branches get with the weight of the frost.  How it feels and looks like it is snowing big, frosty flakes when the wind shakes it all off of the trees.  What a magical place to live in!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Seed Starting ebook REVIEW

I have a love hate relationship with starting seeds.  I hate having to follow steps and rules, but I love having the satisfaction of knowing I did it all on my own and those plants are growing because I did the planning ahead, the nurturing, the preparation for the "perfect" garden. 

I recently had the chance to review the e-book Seed Starting The First Step to Gardening by Gary Emmett.  It can be found on Amazon.com for $2.99 or for Prime members, it can be loaned for free.  Seed Starting can be found here.  While I am not new to gardening or seed starting, I am always aware that there is new information that comes out all the time and that methods change, information gets updated, and my techniques and plans could always use improvement. 

This book is a very short read, with details that should be able to be understood by the most inexperienced gardeners.  Mr. Emmett has taken the process and broken it down to bite size steps, and addressed several common problems for those starting their own seeds.  He shares links to some reputable seed sources, discusses lighting needs in thorough detail, and even clearly explains the differences in the various seed starting soils and additives available to gardeners.  His education and work experience, combined with personal experience show through in his various explanations.  The no frills, no fluff content made it easy to see that this book was written by someone who not only writes about what he is teaching, but uses the information for himself.  His mention of starting seeds and using old cookie sheets for trays won me over instantly, showing that the author is not focused on formalities and sales, but on making your garden your own and taking pride in those seeds.

When I first got the chance to review this book, I wasn't sure how much I could really learn from it.  It seemed very basic, and probably self explanatory for someone who has had years of experience.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could still learn a number of things from this book.  I had never seen a clear, detailed explanation of the different types of soils and their possible additives in this format. I had also never heard the explanation of the different sizes of starting tray inserts.  I really appreciated how the lighting needs and options were so thoroughly addressed as well.  It was nice to be able to give myself a bit of a check up on my methods and see where I can improve and what I am already doing the best that I can.  I have already recommended this ebook to several of my friends who are just getting their fingernails dirty for the first time. 

I would love to see more work from this author in the future, especially if he is able to address things for the gardeners with a bit of experience or even a "DIY" attitude.  He really didn't touch on things like starting seeds in home made pots from newspaper or the like, but I really think that is beyond the beginner level anyway.   With the viral nature of social media, there are hundreds of gardening tips and ideas, and I believe Mr. Emmett's background and personal experience could help the average gardener make the most of what they have around them and harness the best ideas for their own situation.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Itching for spring!

A few weeks ago, during one of our beautiful blizzards, I started getting the itch.  You know, that "Spring Fever, can't wait to get my fingers in the dirt and see those amazing little plants start from that teeny tiny seed" itch.  The one that starts well before the frost is out of the ground.  The one that makes you dream of all the hard work that makes you wish it were winter when you are bent over and digging out weeds in the middle of July.  Yeah, that itch. 
We sorted out our seeds, took inventory of what we have and what we want and need.  Each year we start hundreds, if not thousands of seeds.  We find it hard to wait until the specified time of the year.  Each year, we learn new things, reinforce things we've learned in the past, and get new ideas for the next year.

A couple of months back, I got the chance to review a garden planner to help me figure out when each of my seeds should be started inside for the best chance to plant outside, and it even gives the dates when one can reasonably expect to harvest produce if all goes as it should.  I can't wait to try that out.

Tomorrow, look for a review of an ebook on starting seeds.  While I have had years of experience, I also have enough experience to freely admit that there is ALWAYS more to learn.  I am excited to share this one with you because it even answered questions for me that I hadn't ever thought to ask.