All Reunions are Good Reunions!

Sports ReunionI just hosted a softball reunion!

Back in the 80's when the kids were toddlers, my husband and I sponsored the Strata Marketing Brokers baseball team.  Don't judge, it's at least as good of a name as the Washington Senators!

We played softball every week and hosted BBQ parties after each game. Our kids played together and we had fun with all of the families, but, as the guys started injuring themselves with dislocated shoulders and pulled hamstrings, we started doing other things and eventually dropped softball all together. And since we were no longer playing the game, we no longer had contact with a lot of those families. 

Twenty years later, I decided to get all of old players and their families together for a reunion, because hey, it's been Reunion City around here lately. We had completely lost touch with everyone. After digging through Facebook and googling on Google, I managed to find about half of the players, and got in touch.

To my surprise, we had couples flying in from Colorado and Nebraska JUST to attend the reunion! Wow! Getting together with the old team was both invigorating and nostalgic. Although none of us had seen one another in over 20 years, it felt like we had just played a game at Jade Street Park in Capitola and strolled back to our house for the party.

To ensure that we all got to connect with everyone (and because I'm a teacher at heart), we sat in a circle in our living room -- like sharing time in preschool! -- and gave a 2-minute update on our lives. Not only did we enjoy hearing all the news but we got to learn about things that we didn't know before. Two players actually went to the same college at the same time and didn't know it. Imagine that. For those who have remarried, their spouses got a great introduction to the team, and we in turn, learned more about them, too.

We watched a slideshow and video clips from the good ol' softball days. Even though the photo and video quality was terrible, everyone enjoyed seeing those memories. For those of us who live here in Santa Cruz, we're planning to get together again.

The guys are now into golf and  it looks like we're moving in a new sports direction. And because it's how we (as a society) keep in touch now, I've created a Facebook Group for the team and uploaded over 200 photos from the reunion. Reunions are great - you get to remember just what made you friends in the first place.  It's so nice to reconnect!

Reunion 1

Reunion 2

Reunion 3

Reunion 4

Reunion 5

Waiting to Buy School Supplies Can Save You Money!

Wait for itIt's best to wait until your kids start school before buying school supplies. Yes, this is counterintuitive.

Most teachers like to get students organized during the first week of school and often give students a list of specific things they need to bring to class.  Some teachers require 1-inch binders with dividers for each class, while others want a 2-inch binder for all of their classes.

Your kids may need to purchase calculators for their math classes and you'll want to get the exact model that the teachers require.

You should also wait to buy their backpacks. With all of the books and binders that they'll need to cart back and forth to school each day, make sure to get a backpack that will hold everything.  Otherwise, they'll inevitably forget something at home.

If your kids have block days, then you might consider getting two backpacks so they don't have to lug around a big backpack on block days. Get one for block days (half of their classes) and one for full days (all of their classes). 

Also, I know it's not "cool" but the backpacks with wheels are so much easier on their backs. So much for fashion!

If time allows, buy online to get the best prices. Most office supply stores are jockeying for your business with great Back to School Sales, so clip those coupons and be ready to shop!  But not right away - bide your time, and you'll save money!

How to Start the School Year Off with Good Study Habits

Merit PlannerWith summer coming to an end, it's time to get your kids ready for the new school year

Instead of using the planners with big blocks of space (Monday - Friday) to cram in homework assignments (this is the kind schools provide, if they provide a planner at all), use a planner that displays all 7 days equally.

After all, they'll need weekends to do projects and to study!

Ask your kids to enter in their planners, all classes, after-school activities, appointments, and other scheduled meetings.

With each day divided into 15-minute increments, your kids will have the opportunity to plan when they'll do homework, study for tests, and hang out with friends. Most kids are unrealistic about how long it will take to complete homework assignments or to study for tests. Typically, they underestimate by 50%, which causes stress and lowers their GPAs. By asking them to block off time in their planners to complete each assignment, they'll begin to see how much overall time is needed to get everything done by the end of the night.

Most students have trouble with planning how to do large projects. They wait until the eleventh hour and cram to finish it way past their bedtimes. Besides causing strife for the entire family, they really aren't engaged in the learning process. They're just throwing it together to get it done, and you're probably helping them more than you should be.

Wrong Planner

By using the right kind of planner, students can plan ahead. They simply enter the project due date in the planner and then enter all of the steps needed to get it done. By blocking off time to get each task done, they'll be able to do this without compromising their other homework, after school activities, and friends.

After your kids have entered in their planners all scheduled activities and they've blocked off time to get work done, all they need to do is that day's tasks. No more stressing out about upcoming tests because study plans should already be entered so they (and you!) can rest assured knowing that they will be prepared. They can see all of the work they need to do and they'll be more inclined to stay on task when they know that they only have a designated amount of time to complete it.

As they finish each task, they highlight it to indicate that the job is done. Kids like that sense of satisfaction as they highlight tasks. Unlike lists of homework or chores, this planner system empowers kids to block off time to do each task. That way if there is too much going on one day, they can cross off the task and move it to another day.

Have Family Meetings once a week to motivate your kids to use and follow their planners. By reviewing their progress and making sure that they've completed homework, studied for exams, and finished chores, you can reward them with privileges.

When they ask if they can play or go out with friends, simply ask to see their planners. If everything for that day is highlighted, then they're free to go. If not, just tell them to ask again after everything is done. To make sure that they don't erase tasks to hide them from you, check their planners often so you are aware of what's going on in their lives.

You'll find that your kids will become better students and more responsible when they use a real planner. Get them off to a new, organized start this year. 

Wondering what kind of magical planner can do all of this? Well, it just so happens that I have created one!  It comes in two handy sizes, and it covers a whole year of planning goodness. You can order a large size here, and a mini version here.

Planner Sample

11 Worst Money Mistakes to Make in Your 30s

Dog StrollerOnce you hit 30, you're kind of in a class of your own. You've survived wild college parties, landed your first "real" jobs, and have dated a fair amount of potential Mr./Mrs. Rights. 

And, you're young enough to still do just about anything you want and have time to recover from your mistakes

Understand your financial potential and plan for number one: YOU. 

Most 30-somethings overspend on weddings, first baby, kids education, cars, and grad school when they should be planning for retirement and a long, healthy life ahead. 

This of course requires thinking ahead about how you'll pay for your medical expenses (living to 110 will not be cheap!) and support your lifestyle after you retire and live in that luxury retirement home!


Parents: Don't Write Your Kids' Essays!

EssaysI know this seems like common sense, but parents: DON'T WRITE YOUR KIDS' ESSAYS! Every year, I sit parents down and tell them that they need to let their kids write their own personal statements and college application essays.  As they sit across the table from me they nod in agreement and smile as if they have never "helped" their children on essays or homework before. And, every year, there are a handful of parents who can't help themselves and actually write their children's essays for them. Oy  Vey!

Parents: College admissions officers immediately see when parents write their kids' essays. Your perspective on life come from decades of bumps and bruises and experiences that a 17-year old simply cannot have. Teens don't have adult foresight and vision.  Sure some teens write really well but they don't have mature wisdom that marriage, careers, and 40 years of life gives you. Writing their essays actually hurts their chances of getting into top colleges!

Besides, what kind of message are you sending to your child when you write their essays?  Do you want them to think that you don't believe they can do this on their own?  What happens when they get to college with other students who actually have the writing skills needed to be successful? NOT GOOD. If you're that concerned about their writing skills, spend the time to teach them how to improve their writing or hire a tutor to help them. That way, they'll learn grammar and writing mechanics so they'll be prepared to enter college with their peers. 

Smart Back-to-School Shopping

Needs vs WantsNow that our kids' summer vacations are coming to a close, we need to start gearing them up to get back into the school mindset.  NOT AN EASY TASK! In the past, I have found that the best way to get kids excited to go back to school is to take them shopping for new clothes. Okay, this may sound like bribery but it works!

After spending the summer in shorts and t-shirts, or summer dresses and flip flops, you're going to need to stock their closets and dressers with fall and even winter clothes.  You'll need to buy jackets and boots, and oh yes, a big umbrella!  Even in California, we're expecting a really wet "El Nino" winter. But, before you head to the mall where you'll be paying top dollar for their new wardrobes, change it up a little this year and do this the smart way.

First, ask your kids to make a list of what they already have. They'll be surprised by what they already have, which will save you big bucks at the checkout stands. In order for this system to work, they need to be specific.  List how many long pants, shorts, skirts, shirts/blouses, underwear, sweaters/sweatshirts, jackets/coats, sandals, shoes, and boots they have. If they've changed (lost weight, gained weight, grown a couple inches) but still like some of their clothes, you can have a tailor do alterations for a fraction of the cost of buying something new. Or better yet, you could teach them how to do simple alterations themselves.

Next, ask your kids to make a list of what they NEED. All kids will want new clothes so ask them to make a list of what they need. You'll probably need to check their lists of things they have just to make sure they really do need these items on their lists.  Then, ask them to go online to estimate what it will cost to purchase everything. That's when you create your budget for each child. Always make the budget less than their total request so that they have to learn how to shop smart to maximize their spending.

By making them find creative ways to get what they need for the new school year, you're teaching them a valuable lesson. They'll start searching for sales on similar items and looking at discount stores (Ross, TJ Max or Marshalls) or outlets to get good deals. Depending on their budgets, they can get great deals on jeans at thrift stores. By making them think about their purchases BEFORE they step foot in the stores, they'll be more apt to buy what they really need and not spend your dollars on whims.

Back when I was a kid, my father told me that if I sewed my clothes, he would buy me unlimited fabric and let me buy all the shoes, purses, and accessories to go with my new wardrobe.  I loved the offer -- and probably to his surprise -- that summer, I sewed 12 pairs of pants, 15 skirts, and 5 dresses!  So when I went shopping, I bought dozens of blouses to go with my pants and skirts, and every shoe I could fit into! It was a win-win situation, and it taught me how to alter clothes -- something I still do today!

UC Berkeley Will Accept 2 Letters of Recommendation from Selected Students

2 LettersInteresting news!

For the first time ever, the University of California system will accept letters of recommendation for selected students applying to UC Berkeley, only.

In an effort to better understand specific applicants, UC Berkeley will email prospective applicants a request for up to 2 letters of recommendation if they want more information about the student. Only students who receive this email request will be allowed to submit online letters of recommendation.

Letters should be written by a teacher or instructor, and anyone who knows the student well.

These one-page letters are optional and will be due on January 1, 2016.  

Starting a Food Forest - Without Using Extra Water!

Food ForestFeeling guilty about watering my veggie gardens and fruit trees during the worst drought of the century, I created a food forest on my property. This is called PERMACULTURE. It's really a very simple concept - you plant veggies around your fruit trees so when you water the trees, you're also watering your veggies! So cool!

This saves about half the amount of water you'd need to grow veggies and fruit trees (separately). 

I planted 17 fruit trees about 3 years ago, and created my first food forest with daikon radishes, comfrey and other edibles to boost the nitrogen in the soil and aerate the rock solid terrain.  It worked! I didn't need to add chemical fertilizers and the food forest kept the weeds at bay.

At first, I tried broadcasting (tossing) 10,000 strawberry seeds around the fruit trees hoping I would have a bumper crop of strawberries, but they didn't take.  Didn't get one strawberry plant. ARGH! Then, I figured out the problem: broadcasting seeds everywhere didn't work because they needed to be under the drip irrigation water lines. DUH!

So, I just planted carrots, beets, onions, turnips and other root veggies by placing the seeds directly under the drip lines.  It's amazing what happens when seeds are placed under a drip line.  I see sprouts popping up around all of the trees after only a week

My next project is going to involve multi-level plantings.  I'll have root veggies and leafy veggies around the fruit trees, and then climbers (string beans and cucumbers) that will climb up the fruit trees -- they won't need fancy or expensive cages!

Using the permaculture technique to grow food forests gives you a harvest of all kinds of veggies without using additional water. And best of all, the edibles grow together so you don't have to worry about creating neat little rows and weeding every day. 

Check out this article to learn more about permaculture!


College Applications Are Up! Get The Essay Topics And Start Writing!

Essay TopicsWith just a few weeks of summer left, college-bound high school seniors should use this time to start writing personal statements and essays for college applications. Yes indeed, it's that time of year!

Many colleges have just posted their new prompts for essays, and all colleges should have essay prompts available by Labor Day weekend (another good time to get a head start on essays). 

Here are a few essay prompts that are up right now:

Common Application (519 colleges accept this application):

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

University of California (10 colleges accept this application):

1. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

2. Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Pro Tip: Make sure you have the current essay topics, and not last year's!