Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thankful Thursdays -5/29/14 - Sunshine and blue skies

I want to be thankful for the big things (like Grace and Salvation) and for the everyday things (like friendships and food.) 

Sometimes it's easy to find a reason to be thankful, other days, I have to search for it. 

Today it's easy...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 5/22/2014 - Healing

Today I am thankful to be healing. Today I can sit up, and eat grapes & watermelon.

Yesterday, well, it was bad. I had a nasty virus of some sort and spent a lot of the night in the bathroom. Then I was so tired and achy I had a hard time just sleeping.

Today I am thankful to be better. I'm not well yet, but it doesn't exhaust me to type out a text. (Yes, yesterday was really that bad.)

Thankful for healing, and sunshine. That's me. :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Trident Case - KRAKEN A.M.S. for iPad Mini - a Crew Review

In the reality of everyday life, we usually need a case for our personal electronics. A case that protects from the elements, as well as protecting against our own clumsiness is best. The girls and I have been reviewing the KRAKEN A.M.S. case from Trident Case for our iPad Mini. This case can fit either the iPad Mini 1 or iPad Mini 2, is available in 7 colors (ours is blue,) and retails for $59.95.

Trident Case Review

This case can be used by all ages, but you'll need an adult with good fingers to install it on your iPad Mini. Once it's on, this is a sturdy case. It does increase the bulk of the Mini some, but not so much as to be a nuisance. We have found this to be quite the sturdy case. The KRAKEN A.M.S. case meets or exceeds military standards MIL-STD-810F. While I'd have a difficult time explaining that to you in layman's terms, you can visit this part of Trident Case's website to see all the specifics. What I do know is this, it's sturdy. If you're considering letting your young child use your iPad Mini, you want a case like this.

Trident Case Review

One part that sets Trident Cases apart from the competition is that they have the shock absorbing silicone layer on the inside, right next to the device. We have found two major benefits to this. 1- the device is cradled in the softest part of the case, and 2- having the hardened polycarbonate on the outside prevents wear, tear, and stretching of the silicone.

The two parts I didn't like about the KRAKEN A.M.S. case ? First, it was a pain to put on. Seriously. It took us four tries to get the silicone parts lined up exactly with the polycarbonate shell openings. In light of having used it for about 6 weeks, this now seems a minor issue. However, as I mentioned near the beginning, you'll need an adult with good fingers for the installation. Secondly, there is NOTHING over the home button. I'm not sure how well it will do long term with keeping dust out of the case when I can already see a little dust inside the screen protector near the home button.

The girls use the iPad Mini almost every day, for typing school papers, email, messaging their friends (& Grandma,) and sometimes, just playing games. The new case from Trident makes it easy to tote around the house. The girls like it because it's easy to spot on the shelf, and because they get to use it more since I'm not worried about occasional drops. We're not going to drop-test it ourselves, but the silicone inside should live up to the test.

Overall, I'd give the KRAKEN A.M.S. case for the iPad Mini a B-. The pros outweigh the cons, but you'll want to know both before you buy. Your Mini was an investment, and you'll want a sturdy case to protect it (especially from the kids and unforeseen drops- which is where Trident excels.)

Here's the short version:

-difficult to install
-no covering on the home button
-headphone jack plug is difficult to close
-volume button should stick out further - difficult to use at times

-super-duty sturdy
-fair price compared to other 'protective' cases
-Polycarbonate outside, silicone inside to cradle your device
-7 cool colors to choose from
-there is just enough of the silicone part on the corners to keep it from sliding around
-the outside is almost all polycarbonate so it can easily be put in your bag or backpack without sticking
-screen protector is built into the front piece of the polycarbonate - no extra installation steps
-polycarbonate shell snaps together, letting you know it's secure

We will continue to use the KRAKEN A.M.S. case from Trident. It is sturdy, and once it's installed, the other drawbacks are few. If the price were about $10 less, I would give it a slightly higher recommendation. Trident Case does offer a whole host of accessories to purchase that can be used for mounting, holding, and viewing your iPad Mini.

Trident Case has options to protect your phone and other tablets (large or small) so be sure to click the banner below and read the other reviews.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Micro Business for Teens - a Crew Review

Have your teens been looking for a way to earn some money, but you're not sure they're ready to get a traditional job? Maybe they should consider starting a Micro Business. Whether you think that's a great idea, or you're a little skeptical, please let me tell you about three books Emily and I have been reviewing from Micro Business for Teens. Carol Topp, CPA, wrote the books in the Micro Business for Teens series in response to NOT finding quality books to help teenagers with small (micro) businesses. Think of each book as the cheapest way to hire a Certified Public Accountant to help you start your business.

Micro Business for Teens Review
The three books we received are : Starting a Micro Business ($9.95 print, $4.95 Ebook,) Running a Micro Business ($9.95 print, $4.95 Ebook,) and Micro Business for Teens Workbook ($14.95 print, $9.95 Ebook.) We received the print versions of all three books and Emily got right to reading the first one.

Micro Business for Teens Review
Starting a Micro Business begins by explaining exactly what a Micro Business is, and encourages the reader (who can be any age, but 10-18 would be best,) to consider the benefits of a Micro Business over other options, like a traditional job working for someone else. What intrigued me was the focus on the reader considering a Micro Business not just for earning money, but specifically for learning about business. All of the books we received encourage the teens to think, plan, and record their thoughts and steps towards a Micro Business. The Micro Business for Teens Workbook is designed to be used alongside the other two books, as it lines up chapter for chapter with what is being learned. The Workbook is full of worksheets to help your teen brainstorm, refine, and plan their Micro Business.

Just in case you're still a little fuzzy about what a Micro Business is, it is a small- small business. Usually there is one owner-worker, they are simple (and usually fast) to start up, about half of them are home-based, and they have low-risk. Some examples you might be familiar with are Lawn Care and babysitting. If you're wondering if your teen really needs help with a lawn-mowing business --- the answer probably is:YES! Your daughter may be a wonderful babysitter, but with a little coaching from these books, she will learn to better manage her time and resources, maximizing her enjoyment and profits, while keeping her ability to complete her school work.

If your teen, or you for that matter, is considering starting a small or micro business I encourage you to purchase at minimum the Starting a Micro Business book. I know a handful of CPA's, and none of them will give you all this information for only $10, try more like $300-$500. This first book in the series really impressed me with how well, but how simply, it is written. I wish I had had this information a decade ago when I was starting MY small business! In the seven chapters your teen will learn a lot about choosing an idea for a business, then weighing the pros and pitfalls of each type (service vs product) of business, and writing their own business plan. The book is geared for teens, and has a lot of: www...look this up... advice! Carol Topp encourages the teen to seek help from mentors (Mom & Dad, local small business owners, even their competition) to help them refine and plan their own business goals.

Micro Business for Teens Review
I also like this book for its chapters about initial financing (and avoiding debt) and well as the chapter about regulations, and where & how to research your own state's laws. The Micro Business for Teens Workbook gives your teen a place to keep all their ideas and notes. It is not super-time intensive, but does take enough time that your teen will be prepared to know how to start their business and how to price their products so that they're not losing money. All throughout the books, your teen will be encouraged to learn, and given the reminder that if things aren't going as planned, or they're getting overwhelmed, a Micro Business is almost as easy to close as it is to open.

Micro Business for Teens ReviewRunning a Micro Business covers the topics your teen (or mature 10-12 yr old) will need to know about AFTER they decide they want to proceed with starting a Micro Business. Important topics covered in the chapters include Sales, Marketing, Record Keeping, Book keeping, and more. These are important topics, because not only does your teen want to have a great product or service, they want to learn how to get paid for their work, and keep their customers coming back.

You, as the parent, should want your child to learn something for the time they invest. These books keep your teen simply focused, and teach them how to step-by-step move their business forward. I appreciate that the books recommend keeping all Micro Businesses as sole proprietorships. I have seen adults struggle with the demands of having a partnership in business, and that is NOT something you want your teen to have to deal with.

A Micro Business is not for everyone, yet for most teens, it can give them the flexibility they need to earn some cash, while learning about record keeping and taxes, and still being able to take time to study for important exams, or take time off for family vacations. As the business owner, you can decide how much business is enough, and, you can control your schedule and total hours spent each week. Perhaps your teen is great at playing the piano, if so, they might want to consider giving lessons. In these books they'll learn how to focus their desire, and turn it into reality. Adjusting costs, defining clientele, and doing basic balance sheets are all skills more easily learned in a Micro Business than when your entire savings account ( or a loan) is on the line as an adult.

I want to emphasize that these books are not JUST for teens. Many of the Moms I know could easily start their own Micro Business with what they would learn in these books. The workbook is not just an add-on, it takes what is being learned in the other two books and turns ideas into business plans. Don't discount the value in learning how to schedule your work/family/school/ other time each week. How many adults do you know who could use help with this? These books would be a great addition to an economics course, even if your teen decides NOT to start their own business. For $35 (about the cost of one hour with a CPA,) your teen can take their time (between 3 weeks and 3 months) learning a whole lot about business. Carol Topp, CPA, is the Mother of teens, so she knows what she's talking about on both fronts - parenthood and Accounting.

When Emily began reading the books, she asked me if it meant she HAD to start a Micro Business. My answer was "no." As she continued to read, she realized that she already had a micro-Micro Business through babysitting. She also realized that some of the local Mom and Pop stores might hire her as an independent contractor for short times of busyness, or specific projects, without being tied to a weekly schedule.

Here is what Emily (age 16) had to say after reading through all three books:

Starting a Micro Business gives a straight-forward approach to starting a business that is simple, easy, requires no outrageous loans, doesn't take much time, and works off of teens' pre-existing skills. All the chapters are short and to the point with real-life examples of real teens with actual working businesses. It covers many topics you may have wondered about or considered, and maybe a few you haven't, including inventory, marketing, pricing, customers, employees, partnerships, and more. It also teaches you how to make a good business plan and file taxes at the end of the year. The second book (Running a Micro Business) helps with the little things needed to keep your business going (and expanding if necessary,) while the Workbook helps you remember and write down what you have learned.

So there you have it, a great opportunity for you to invest $20-$35 in your teen's understanding of business, and maybe spur them on to start their own Micro Business. I personally would recommend this for ages 14 and up, but if you have a mature 10-13 year old, you could work through these books with them. In our house, Emily and I both read them independently and then discussed the material afterwards. At 14, Arlene probably won't read these for a year or so, simply because she is content with an occasional babysitting job, or helping me with alterations on occasion, as a way to earn some cash. When she gets to a point that she wants to earn more money, I'll have her read through the books and make her own business plan.

A lot of other Crew families also reviewed these books. You can read all the reviews by clicking the banner below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thankful Thursdays -5/15/14 - Apple Crisp

Life gets busy doesn't it ?! You don't usually try to overwhelm yourself with things to do (at least I don't) but sometimes it happens. That's one reason why I'm thankful for apple crisp. It's one of those go-to desserts (dare I suggest breakfasts?) that only takes a little prep work, and comes out nearly perfect every time. 

Another reason I'm thankful for apple crisp is because it has a short, inexpensive ingredient list. In this day of high food prices, it's nice to treat your family to a healthy dessert that won't break the budget. 

Today I'm especially grateful for Arlene, who made us apple crisp for dinner with a $0.99 bag of mark-down apples. The trusty apple peeler-corer-slicer took care of the few blemishes, and now dessert is ready early (and we can take a quick trip to the library) ! The total cost ? Less than $2!

In case you'd like to be thankful for apple crisp too, here is our favorite recipe: (Straight from Betty Crocker herself- LOL!)

Heta oven to 325 degrees F
grease square pan 8x8"
peel/core/slices 4-6 medium apples
arrange apples in pan

make topping (ingredients below) and sprinkle over apples
Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden brown & apples are tender

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 tsp cinnamon
apple crisp, inexpensive desserts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Moms worry too much - part 2

In case you missed it, back in April I shared the first in a series of (probably many) posts about Moms and worry. This is installment number two. If you want to read them in order, click here to go back to Part 1.

I see Moms worrying about perfection, or at least the appearance of perfection, in two huge areas - schoolwork and housework. First to tackle: schoolwork.

What Mom hasn't cringed a little at some point in her children's lives as they struggle with what seems a basic school-age task ... like writing their name? 

Mom - chill out. Learning to write, is like learning to paint, only harder! It takes time to learn the mastery of the tool (pencil, crayon, pen) AND it takes time to master the technique (manuscript or cursive.) While some of you may laugh now and think "Oh, I'm past that!" ... are you really? As Moms we see the details, and some days they yell at us "This is sub-par, and it's YOUR fault!" Let's think about this together shall we? 

Our children are growing and maturing at a fast pace. Each day brings a new skill to learn or master, each day brings new ideas to ruminate on, and each day brings a host of new or continuing assignments, books to read, or math problems to solve. So take a deep breath, and stop expecting perfection. Your child does not need you grading their penmanship/ writing/ reading comprehension every single moment of every day! 

It is exhausting to them (and probably not much fun for you either!) As your child matures, it is reasonable to expect their skill set to improve, and it is your job to encourage them to do their best work every time, BUT it is NOT a reflection of something lacking in you as a Mom if they don't progress as rapidly as the kid next to them in school, or across town, or as compared to their cousin.

The work of children is play. As they get older, we focus on specific education to hopefully help them become mature, responsible adults. This takes somewhere between 5 and 20 years. Seriously Moms, you've got to stop expecting your 4th grader to have penmanship like yours, or be able to do math problems and always get them right like the college professor you know. They're just kids.

Don't take this as an excuse to do nothing about expecting your child to improve or helping them perform to the best of their ability, use this knowledge as a freedom to love your child right where they are! Rejoice with them when they master (or at least improve upon) a tough skill. Encourage them, don't belittle them. Be the Mom that they'll remember as "always helping me, always encouraging me," not the "that's not good enough" Mom.

Some of you may say "but I'm a perfectionist by nature!" Are you truly? They realize not everyone else is, and creative people are often messy in the process, but wonderful in results. It is more important to teach your children the life skill of being able to clean up after themselves than to teach them 'don't make a mess, it'll make Mom mad.' 

For those of you who are still sure you're a perfectionist, does it paralyze you? Do you spend more time analyzing how big of mess that Art project will make than actually doing it and having fun? Our lives are so often filled with stress - that we make OURSELVES! How about instead of messes, we look for grace? How about we decide that tying heart-strings with our children is more important than what Great-Aunt So-and-so thinks about the final science fair project! If your child doesn't win the Science Fair, but still knows you love them, it makes it much easier to have discussions with them about good sportsmanship and being genuine in rejoicing for others' successes.

Now that we've had a little heart-to-heart about schoolwork, please allow me a few minutes to share my heart about expecting perfection in housework. (If your house looks like an episode of "Hoarders" or like the evening news shot that reads "23 dogs found living in squalor" - you need to stop reading right now and go clean something!) For the other 99.99% of you, feel free to keep reading!

As Moms, we can get this idea in our heads that our homes should look like a cover of "Better Homes and Gardens" or some other highly-staged, not real-life, magazine cover. Please change the picture in your mind to one of real-life, where toys don't always end up back in the toy box, and kitchen counters get messy - often! 

If you have kids who help make the messes, then have them help you clean them up. NOTE: it will NOT look like a cleaning job you did yourself for a long time - maybe even a few years, but it is SO worth it! Employing your children in the care of your home is essential to your sanity. There are some chores your preschooler is not ready for- like scrubbing the toilets, but there is no reason why your 10 or 12 year old can't learn how to properly clean a bathroom! Give the preschooler an appropriate chore, like putting away the clean washcloths, or picking up his toy trains before you vacuum. Each time you teach your child a new home-skill, there will be a learning curve, just like when she learned to write her name. Work with them, encourage them, and... if the job is done poorly simply because they're being lazy, make them do it again. 

It takes a long time to learn a skill like folding a fitted sheet, but each time your child tries, they are improving, and they are taking some of the housework load off of you. The Moms I see struggling with this 'perfection in housework' idea the most are the ones who think too much about what other people think. Wouldn't Grandma rather hear a story about how "I helped with the biscuits" from little Susie than hear you be terse with your child because you feel 'stuck in the kitchen?'

I am not a perfectionist, nor do I play one on TV, but I will tell you it took a lot of time for me to learn to let go in the areas of schoolwork and housework. Once I did, I discovered what wonderful things could be done by children. True, sometimes there is a dish that needs re-washed, or a spot doesn't come out of someone's shirt, but for the  most part, our girls are great at doing housework. Moms, it's OK if your child doesn't vacuum all the way to the edge of the room every week. Can't you just be thankful that someone is vacuuming every week?! If the corners really bug you, then once a month, offer to do the vacuuming yourself. Trade and let your child make lunch - (after all, pbj isn't that hard to make) - while you do the sweeping!

We might have just forgotten the grace that was extended to us as we grew up. If so, go find some to extend to your children! If your parents demanded perfection out of you, and didn't extend any grace... I'm sorry. If you have bitterness about your childhood, you might be pushing it off on your kids. Stop it now, so your kids don't grow up resenting you.

So Moms, the next time you're tempted to yell across the house about something that isn't perfect, stop, think, pray... and then come up with a plan that balances a decent education and a livable house with your life. God wants you to bring your problems to Him, where you often find out, they're not that big of a deal after all. God is big enough to take your worry away, trust Him.

Now about that messy kitchen? Sometimes it comes with benefits. Like this morning, when I came home to these yummy, warm scones, made by the girl who often messes up our kitchen. They were so totally worth the flour that needed cleaned off the counter!

Stop worrying, start trusting God, He's got this!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thankful Thursdays 5/8/14 - Civics lessons

Can you be thankful for trials and struggles? I hope so. I'm not asking you to always be joyful for the struggle, but finding joy in the knowledge that God doesn't abandon us, and choosing to be thankful for His work in your life.

I think I've seen this the most recently in the area of civics.

civics |╦łsiviks|pl.noun [ usu. treated as sing. ]the study of the rights and duties of citizenship.

With the primary elections earlier this week, and several things going in our city and nearby ones that cause struggles, and sometimes disappointments, I have found a reason to be thankful for Civics lessons. The girls are taking a civics course, and we've done lots of discussing as a family about the various topics that have presented themselves recently. 

I am thankful to see our girls maturing into young women who can analyze more than one point of view. This helps them understand their own responsibilities as citizens... and it gives them lots of opportunities to extend grace when they see a decision made that they don't think is in the best interests of the community.

Civics can be a great place to teach your children about "speaking the truth in love." Learning how to share a viewpoint, while still respecting those who hold opposing views, is a sometimes hard-learned lesson. Why not spend some time NOW with your children, so that when they grow up, they have knowledge AND self-control? This is what we are focusing on in our girls' course.

I'm thankful for a lot of things today, and especially thankful to share these struggles together, looking to God to guide and protect us!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 5/1/14 - Spring Edibles

I am reminder once again how thankful I am for Spring edible plants. As I look around our yard I see many things that are ready to enhance our dinner table.

Chives (salad, eggs, potatoes...)

Garlic chives (for our mashed potatoes)

Lemon Balm (great for tea, or ice cream!)

Oregano (Italian anyone?)

Redbud blossoms (taste like grapes)

Violets (flowers for my salad)

What do you see in your yard? I'm sure you can find something to be thankful for! :)