Make the Most of your Child's Parent-Teacher Conference - Be Proactive!

Cookies are not a bribeLet's face it - nobody likes Parent-Teacher Conferences. No matter how perfect your child is, you still feel like you're in trouble as you sit on the little chairs in hallway waiting for your turn to see The Teacher. You're at her mercy! Although you want to know how your precious is doing academically and socially, her pearls of wisdom may not be exactly what you are expecting to hear. So how can you make the best of it?


Some teachers will send home a questionnaire for you to complete so they understand your child's family and extracurricular activities. I know this may seem like more work, but take the time to give as much information as you can. If you're worried that Joey doesn't write down all of his homework assignments or that he is having trouble understanding concepts in science, describe the circumstances. Teachers want to help and if you give them enough information, they'll offer good advice. But be careful to word your concerns so the teacher doesn't feel like you're blaming or attacking her. Many teachers deal with verbally abusive parents (parents aren't the only ones stressed out about Parent-Teacher Conferences!). You don't want to be one of those parents!

My advice: Take cookies!

If the teacher doesn't send home a questionnaire, fill out this form. Either way, make a copy for yourself and file it. Then send it in with your child at least a day before your scheduled conference to give the teacher time to read it. This way, your meeting will be more productive!

Simple Rules We Teach Our Kids Should Apply to Oil Companies

Fix itWe don't let our kids get away with lack of responsibility, so why are we letting Big Oil?  Make them pay to fix their mistakes!

In an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Joe Jordan talks about a new approach to reducing carbon emissions. This is a revenue-neutral, market-based system that is already up and running in British Columbia, and working well.

I love this solution for climate change (global warming)! It's simple, easily understood, and fair. If a child intentionally destroys his brother's smart phone, wouldn't a good parent make the child replace the phone? Natural and logical consequences. Period. So why not make the world's carbon polluters responsible for repairing the damage they have intentionally caused? 

Summer Programs

Summer CampIf you're like most parents, you have a job and it doesn't stop just because your kids have the summer off. How rude! So they have between 10-12 weeks off from school and you need to get child care, transportation, and activities lined up. Roll up your sleeves, grab a stack of Post-Its, and open up your calendar.

Option #1: Family and Friends

Summer is a great time for your kids to spend time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. Check to see what weeks work best for family or friends and block them off your calendar. If your kids will be traveling distances to stay with family, book your flights early to get the best rates. Bonding time with Gramps!

Option #2: Summer Programs and Camps

Meet with your kids to get their input about things they'd like to do over the summer. Chances are, they've heard about great robotics or maker programs or super fun sleep-away camps. Talk to your friends about programs their kids enjoyed and search online to learn about other opportunities. Inquire early and reserve space as soon as possible; good programs fill up months in advance. Time to immerse themselves in their passions!

Option #3: Create your own program

If filling the gaps between camps and visits to Grandma's is impossible or too expensive, consider setting up your own program for the summer. This may sound like a lot of work but it's actually easy because you'll be able to create exactly what you want -- all in one place. You can make your kids' summer really exciting by creating a theme like theater, robotics, or studio art! I set up summer theater so my girls starred in musicals -- they absolutely loved it and they developed great singing, dancing, and speaking skills. We also added summer reading, math exercises, and intriguing science experiments in the mornings so they started the new school year at the top of their game! Invite a few other kids (tuition), which will pay for your teacher and materials -- making your summer program fun and FREE! Everyone likes free!

Make Sure You're Taking the Right Classes!

Wrong ClassesDid you know that there's an easy way to make sure that you're taking the best classes to get into a UC?

When guidance counselors are responsible for hundreds of students, it's no surprise that many high school students miss important opportunities to take classes that are required (or highly desirable) to get into a UC or selective college. I've seen this often. Now everyone -- not just the lucky ones who can afford private college advisors -- can make sure their transcripts will make them eligible to get into the top UC's. Most public high schools in California have access to the Transcript Evaluation Service (TES) tool.

Finally, equal opportunity for all Californians!

Sew Organized!

Sewing CabinetFirst of all, let me just say that I am NOT a hoarder! I promise! I just NEED to save every square inch of fabric that I have left over from all of my sewing projects. THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. Finding all that stuff again IS an issue, though. I used to keep everything in boxes, but you can only have so many boxes before they start burying your loved ones in box avalanches.
Realizing that I needed to address this problem BEFORE the Intervention happened, I decided to pull out those boxes in various places in my house, garage, and storage area to see what I ACTUALLY had. The goal was to somehow display all of the fabric and accessories so I could see everything at a glance and find what I needed immediately. And thus the SEWING CABINET was born. 
I wanted everything in the SAME PLACE. That left only one option for me: I had to build a custom sewing cabinet to house all of my things. 
Building cabinets is simple. It's just like putting a jigsaw puzzle together only you need to figure out how big all of the pieces are going to be. And cut them. But it's BETTER than jigsaw puzzles, because as far I know, you don't use nail guns on jigsaw puzzles. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, though...

Chores are Learning Experiences

Learning ExperiencesParents often come to me with parenting issues, and I thought I'd heard everything. That is, until recently, when one of the parents told me that they didn't give their child any chores or responsibilities at home. NONE. The rationale here was that they wanted to give their son the" optimum environment" to be successful in school. This kid was 9 years old, and didn't have to take his dishes to the sink after a meal, make his bed, or even tie his own shoes

His mother told me that her son was so slow at everything and that she had to do everything for him, including tying his shoes in the morning because they would be late to school if she left it up to him! I had to bite my tongue and count to ten before I offered tips on helping him move a little quicker.

To assess the situation, I started to observe him in the classroom, on the playground, and on field trips. Mom was right about him taking an inordinate amount of time to put his shoes on.  The morning carpool would often be late because he would take a full 5 minutes to tie his shoelaces. I suggested to the driver of the carpool from school that she tell all of the students that the van would be leaving precisely at 3:00 pm each day -- with or without students.

The following day, he almost missed the carpool. I told him the van would be leaving in 1 minute and he just ran, holding his shoes in his hands. The next day, he watched the clock and sprinted to the shoe cubby to get his shoes on. When the world stopped catering to his needs, he was briefly stressed out, but that passed quickly. Funny thing: he learned to tie his shoes quickly after that -- in 20 seconds, not 5 minutes!

When his parents saw this remarkable change, they agreed to give him more personal responsibility at home. What's amazing is that he started getting his homework done faster when he realized he had to do the dishes after dinner, and he ate breakfast quicker and got dressed for school in half the time. You know the old adage: if you need something done, ask a busy person to do it.  The same lesson holds true for kids. The sooner a child learns how to manage their time to accomplish their goals, the sooner they become independent and successful. So don't think of them as chores, think of them as learning experiences.

Child Care: More Expensive Than College

Tipping the scalesI knew child care was expensive, but MORE than college? Yikes!

Families are spending 15% of their hard earned income just to send their kids to day care centers. That's about a quarter of a MILLION DOLLARS to raise one child-- and that doesn't include college!  Sounds like it's time to rethink the number of children we're having...or the number of jobs...

Transfer from Community College to a UC in the Shortest Time

College PlanThere seems to be a lot of confusion about what courses to take at a community college. This confusion VERY OFTEN leads to taking the wrong courses, which pushes out your graduation date, which costs you more money. College counselors usually recommend that students take their general education classes and courses that they're interested in. This is WRONG! That's an old school mindset -- something people did when they had the luxury of "exploring majors" and "getting your feet wet" in college. If you want to get in and get out in 2 years so you can transfer as a junior and graduate with a degree in 4 years, you'll need to do a bit of planning ahead. Here's how:

First, lay out your 4-year plan using course requirements from the college you plan to get your degree from. Then, at your community college, take the prerequisites and lower-division courses required for your major at the 4-year college or university you plan to graduate from. This way, you'll be better prepared to jump into the program with success AND the college will be more likely to admit you. Bottom line: if you're required to take 5-6 lower divisions courses for your major, take them at your community college now.

Then, add in the general ed classes that your 4-year college requires for graduation. Don't worry about what the community college requires because unless your goal is to get an AA degree, the community college's requirements won't help with your transfer college's requirements. Remember, the goal here is to get credit for the 4 year college - NOT a degree from the community college. 

Some colleges like the California State Universities (CSU's) or University of California system (UC's) will accept the IGETC (general ed classes) from California Community Colleges (CCC). That means that if you complete all of the courses for the IGETC, then the CSU or UC campuses will not require that you take any general education courses once you transfer. This may not be the same for other private or public colleges, so check with the college you plan to graduate from to determine their policies. 

See? By spending some time planning ahead, you can save yourself a ton of time and a LOT of money!

Save Your Sanity Later: Start Organizing Your Photos NOW!

Organize photosI have taken photos of everything since the beginning of time. I am not joking...being Japanese American, it's kinda in my blood. Before digital photography, I put almost every picture into an actual photo album, and by the time I converted to digtal, I had 125 photo albums. We're not talking small albums, either - these are thick, heavy beasts, a single one of which could stun a yak. But now with cameras on your phone and everyone sharing photos on zillions of social media sites, how do you organize them all? It's simple. USE A NAMING CONVENTION and ORGANIZE those photos!

Don't make the mistake I did of not naming the photos with dates, events, and who's in the pictures. This sounds like a lot of work but trust me, you'll be glad you did it later. It only takes a few moments to label a set of photos shortly after you take them, but if you wait (and if you take a lot of photos), at some point you'll have a huge, unmanageable pile of Mystery Photos that will seem insurmountable. My husband actually scanned every SINGLE album page (this was not an easy task on my part - the siren call of CSI is strong) and then I renamed the photos to make it super easy to find each one. I used (and love) Adobe Lightroom because editing and renaming groups of photos is fast and easy.

Here's how I label photos: 2015 03 03 Debby's Birthday Sean laughing

Now, instead of IMG_30203.JPG (which isn't very helpful from an informational point of view), just LOOKING at the file gives us a ton of info: the date the photo was taken goes first, so they're always in chronological order, then the event, like a birthday or vacation, and finally who's actually in the photo. You can add something to help you remember something special about the photo too, which is helpful if you've got a series of photos of the same "scene". If you have lots of people you feature regularly in your photos, you can use their abbreviations: 1985 01 07 Nicole Birthday RD SD JD Santa Cruz. Adding the location is also very helpful, especially if it's somewhere special.

After you name your photos, create folders for every year, and then create a folder for every event. Name the folder the same way so it is always chronological.  For example, the folder name of that contains the photo 2015 03 03 Debby's Birthday Sean Laughing would go into a folder named 2015 03 03 Debby's Birthday. That makes it easy to peruse folders to find photos, and if you're Lightroom-savvy, you can get Lightroom to handle the file naming, separating the events and exporting to the correct folders for you.

NOW, having done all of that, if you're looking for photos of a particular person, you can search for them by name or initials.  

The bottom line here is to get your photos organized BEFORE the sheer volume becomes overwhelming. This way, when you encounter a Life Event in the future (maybe someone's getting married, and you need embarrassing pictures for a slideshow?), you can quickly and easily find what you're looking for without losing your mind or wasting time.