Monday, October 29, 2012

Giveaway At Work Save Live

Jason at Work Save Live is having his 1-year anniversary giveaway this week.  I've been searching for new personal finance blogs that inspire me and give me fresh ideas on making my money stretch, and Jason does that.  I've enjoyed reading his postings since I first found him earlier this year, and I hope he has an even more successful second year!  Click the link below to enter for a chance to win an iPad Mini, Amazon gift cards or Paypal cash.  Then take a few minutes (or a couple of hours!) and explore his site.  You won't be sorry!

Blogoversary Giveaway

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Traveling with Teens

Traveling with teens can be, um, interesting. :-)  It's really not that different from traveling at any other age - you have to keep them fed, interested and distracted enough while in the car that they don't start Armageddon with their siblings. :-D  haha

We haven't done a lot of overnight travel in the last few years where we have stayed in hotels (we've stayed a lot with friends), but that changed earlier this month when we took a side trip on the way to DD's college visit.  We've been to Niagara Falls before, but knew even before we were home from that trip that we wanted to return, and 5+ years later, we finally did!

It's about a 6-hour trip from our house to the falls, and just like when they were little, teenagers need something to pass the time on the drive. Music, books and DS video games were essential.  They both also did some driving and got valuable interstate highway experience.  We also packed snacks and scheduled a gas fill-up break about halfway into our trip.  With the leaves changing, we all enjoyed the scenery.

In our family, to solve a lot of arguments, we go by the "day" system.  DS was born first (1) so he gets first choice on odd days; DD was born second (2), so she gets first choice on even days. This solves who sits up front in the car, chooses the radio station, gets to pick the restaurant for dinner, etc., even who gets in the shower first!  Even as teenagers, this simple system has saved us lots of headaches.

While we were still in the planning stages, I let the kids each pick an activity they wanted to do - DS wanted to go back to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Lake Ontario, and DD wanted to go back to Journey Behind the Falls.  I also wanted to be sure we stopped on the American side of the falls to get that view as we didn't stop there before.  We also did a spur of the moment trip into Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, which again was a repeat visit.  I had planned for most of our spending and was pleased that I didn't go nearly as overbudget as we did the last time.  We were there for 2 nights, so the kids each got to pick a restaurant to eat dinner at.  Keeping the kids involved in planning and decision-making is definitely an easy way to get them excited about the trip and upbeat while we were there.

One thing that I didn't plan on but turned out to be essential was getting a rollaway bed for our hotel room.  Two to a bed worked when they were younger, but not as teenagers, and a rollaway bed was much cheaper than a second room!

I'm fortunate that my kids love to travel, whether it is a day trip or a weeklong vacation far away from home.  Starting when they were babies and not letting "having children" hold us back from enjoying different places and experiences has been a little nerve-racking at times, but definitely worth any temporary loss of sanity or minor inconveniences incurred along the way. :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Applying for College

This past weekend, we visited DD's college of choice, and during her admissions interview, she took the opportunity to formally apply.  The admissions counselor was very impressed with her organization and neatness as not all students are as well prepared as DD was.

What did she do?  Simple, really.  She had all the required forms, they were filled out properly and legibly, and she kept them in a folder so they stayed nice and neat.  You would think that would be a no-brainer, but the admissions counselor told us of one student who pulled his application out of his pocket, where it had been wadded up, just like a paper you throw in the trashcan.  That student made an impression all right, just not the kind he probably wanted!

Most schools allow you to send your application in with your transcript sent by your school and your reference(s) sent by those who are writing them for you; however, DD took everything with her.  We felt better knowing that we had those requirements in hand and that her admissions decision wouldn't be delayed because a transcript request got lost in a stack on her guidance counselor's desk.  If you are having forms sent in separately, I would recommend attaching a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the form so that you know the address is correct, and especially those writing the reference don't have to supply a stamp, too.

There are definitely advantages to applying early.  At DD's college of choice, the application fee is waived because she applied before a certain deadline.  She will also find out in about 2 weeks her official status, and once she is accepted, she will be at the head of the line for financial aid.  (Most need-based aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.  If you wait until March to apply, there may not be many funds left.)  And obviously, by applying early, and being accepted, she can concentrate on finishing up her senior year without the uncertainty of where she will be spending next year weighing on her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quick Meals - Roast Beef Pizza

We had this last night, and it dawned on me that I had it on the table in about 20 minutes from start to finish. Something to remember on nights when time is of the essence. :-)

2 cans crescent roll dough
1 package deli roast beef (or 8 ounces thinly sliced)
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
8 ounces mozzarella cheese

Spread the crescent roll dough out on a pizza pan or cookie sheet, pinching seams closed.  Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes.  Turn oven to broil.  Top crust with roast beef, onion, pepper and cheese.  Return to the top rack of the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, watching until cheese is melted.

You can slice the onion and pepper while the dough is baking if you like your vegetables crunchy.  If you would rather, slice the onion and pepper first, and while the dough is baking, saute the veggies on the stove top until soft.  I have also cut the recipe in half, using just 1 can of dough, which seems to work well for our family of 3.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

While You're on a College Visit

What exactly are we looking for when we visit a college?  A number of things, really, and while some are the same, somethings are unique to each of my kids.

With DD, her first criteria was that the school was an evangelical Christian school.  Second, she confirmed that the school offered her major or a study course that would qualify her for grad school.  Once she settled on a school, and we went to visit, this is what we looked for:

1.  Was she comfortable with the location of the school?  This particular college is out of state.  It's close enough that we could drive there and back in one (long) day, but not close enough that she will be coming home on weekends "just because."  It's also a very remote school - the nearest Wal-Mart is 26 miles away!  Being out in the boonies suits her just fine.

2.  Was she comfortable with the size of the school?  The college has about as many students as her high school.  Not a problem.  The main part of the campus (aside from the athletic facilities) is centered around the quad, and it took us 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other.  Again, not a problem at all.

3.  Was she comfortable with the atmosphere of the school?  We heard over and over and over about how the students and faculty are family, how they really foster a sense of community and togetherness.  DD was excited to see all the Scripture references in the academic buildings, and she really, really enjoyed the chapel service we attended.  One moment that sticks out, at the end of the day, we were waking to the admissions office to get her school excuse, and there were students playing Frisbee on the quad and a small group on the steps of one of the buildings, with a guy strumming a guitar.  DD was awestruck because she thought those things only happened on TV.   I think she was walking on air at that point! ;-)  Most importantly, she felt at home.  She was relaxed and felt totally at ease and would have easily stayed if they would have admitted her that day.

4.  Would DD like the food?  DD is rather picky, to put it nicely.  ;-)  And the town itself only has 2 other restaurants besides the school cafeteria - Subway and a Chinese buffet.  So it was important that she like what was served, and she did.  She tried a few different things at the luncheon, and to her surprise, she liked all of it!  That was a relief!  haha

5.  Could she find activities and interests outside of class to get involved in?  DD has not been very involved in extracurriculars in high school.  With the school being so remote, so far from home and so small, it will be crucial that she "put herself out there," so to speak, and find a few things to invest her time in.  She loves the idea of learning out to cross country ski and go hiking in the woods that surround the school, and she thought there were a few clubs and Bible study groups she would like to check out once she is there.

6.  How would the classes prepare her for grad school?  DD wants to be a vet.  Not a small animal vet, but to work on a rescue ranch or facility for exotics.  If she returns closer to home for vet school, she will need to have at least 2 internships during the next 4 years, ideally in her area of specialty.  Uh, you don't find exotic animal rescues around every corner!  Yet, when she got a follow-up call from a student a few weeks later, it turned out that student's roommate was a pre-vet student and the previous summer had done an internship at an exotic rescue less than an hour away from campus.  Another confirmation.  The department heads that spoke during one of the breakout sessions also stressed that they work with each individual student on where they want to attend vet (or medical) school and what the school(s) require.  They also have a very good track record with their students passing the vet and med school entrance exams, 98% on the first try over the last 6-8 years.

7.  Would she have an opportunity for overseas study?  DD is very interested in a semester overseas, and this college offers, among others, a semester in Tanzania with one of the courses dealing with hands-on work with exotics.  Guess what someone has planned for approximately 3 years from now? :-)

When we return in the next few days, we'll ask more questions about overseas study, how the school handles blizzards and power outtages, car pool opportunities, computer requirements, etc., in addition to the biggie, "how do we pay for all this?"  DD will get a taste of dorm life and roommates, and hopefully a few weeks later, she will be getting the only letter she wants - an acceptance letter.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Preparing for a College Visit

We're getting ready to make a visit to DD's first - and only - choice in colleges in the next few days.  We have actually been there once before for an immersion day last spring and are returning for her personal visit and admission interview.  We didn't really know what to expect on our first visit, other than to get a general feel for the campus, her prospective major's departments, etc.  She didn't stay overnight in the dorm, and while we got a lot of questions - and prayers - answered, we knew we would be going back again.

Since then, we've been preparing for her return.  We've made a list of questions and written them down so we don't forget once we're there.  We've made arrangements for DD to stay in a dorm, and she will be attending a couple classes, eating in the cafeteria and meeting with Admissions.  We'll be attending the student-led Sunday night worship service, and DD will attend chapel on Monday.

Ideally DD will have her application completed, official transcript and church recommendation in hand and essay completed so that she can formally apply while we are there.  I say ideally because we leave in 4 days, and *someone* keeps forgetting to take the transcript request form to school!  Her first set of ACT scores were already sent, and she is scheduled to retake the ACT later this month in hopes of improving her score and increasing her scholarship opportunities.

Have we forgotten anything?  Probably.  But we will be covering this trip in prayer.  We're leaving a few days early to take a short family vacation, so it will be nice to relax and not have this trip be all "business."  She's been very excited about this school since before our first visit and truly believes this is where God is leading her for college, and that belief has been confirmed over and over and over the last 6 months.  That's really all we can ask for.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stepping Back

It's hard to do.  Stepping back and letting your child flounder and make mistakes.  Really hard.  At 17, you would think a student would learn that homework and projects go smoother if you don't wait until 10 PM the night before the due date.  Or that rushing through work just to get it done doesn't always result in a good grade, even if you know the material.  The teacher has to be able to read your writing, after all.  :-)

Last year and so far this year, I have tried to be very intentional about not stepping in and asking "what's wrong?" every time I hear a sigh or muttering while one of my children is doing homework.  In years past, I spent way too much time helping with research or typing while they dictated a report to me, monitoring grades or giving pep talks at midnight to an overwhelmed child who waited until the last minute - again.  Then last year I decided I wasn't doing any of us any favors.  College would soon be upon them, and I would no longer be available to do much more than give emotional support via texting.  The result?  The child who used to wait until the last minute is now planning and working ahead on projects and not waiting until 10 or 11 PM to start working.  The child who used to rush through work just to be done is now monitoring grades closer on their own and working to get extra credit or get better scores to begin with.

We still have some work to do, especially life skills to learn and be responsible for and taking a little more initiative rather than waiting for me to suggest it.  But we will get there.