Monday, February 27, 2012

8 Activities for When You Can't Watch TV

Photo credit: Google images
So last week I heard a ridiculous commercial on the radio. It was this family talking about taking nature walks in a torrential downpour because hey – what else were they supposed to do since their satellite dish had lost a signal due to the storm.

It was laughable.  I know – they were just using a silly sales tactic, but it was absurd to think that there was nothing on earth that this family could do when it was raining and they didn’t have access to their regularly scheduled programming.

Here are 8 ideas of things to do rather than watch TV shows (regardless of the reason):
  • Board Games:  If you don’t have any board games in your house – well, shame on you.  =)  Seriously though – it’s a great way to invest time together as a family and just have fun as a whole.  Make sure they are age appropriate of course, but there are tons of games for little ones on the shelves.  In fact, many of the ones for younger children are cheaper, so it shouldn’t be a big investment for a lot of fun. Even if they are too young to play, you can have your 3-year old count and move your Monopoly piece around the board for you or something similar to help involve them.
  • Card Games:  If you can’t tell, I’m a game lover. Card games are great for all ages and more than just having fun, they can actually teach you things without it feeling like you are learning.  You can play Go Fish for number recognition. You can play Rummy or Gin Rummy for strategy.  You can teach various forms of solitaire for counting.  I’ll include in the card game category games like dominoes as well, where you can learn adding and counting in multiples of five.
  • Build a fort:  Yep – out of couch cushions and sheets and tables and whatever you have handy.  Open up a world of imagination for your children – and join them inside if you dare. =)
  • Read: You can take one of two approaches here.  Either read a book as a family.  If the little ones get bored, you can even have them act it out.  To encourage reading in your children who are literate, each family could also take time apart with their own favorite type of book.  Whether it is a classic novel, a newspaper, some silly teenage vampire romance (yes, I have read them too), a hobby magazine, or a comic book, reading is reading. And it’s all good for everyone.
  • Crafts: You don’t have to be a domestic version of Hobby Lobby for this one. It’s amazing what types of crafts you can do with items you already have around your house. Just google “Crafts with Household Items” or something similar.  You’ll be amazed what you can create.  And don’t just leave it to the kids – join in for some real family time together.
  • Movie: Just because you don’t have access to your TV programming doesn’t mean you can’t settle in for a family movie together.  Media is not all bad and it can truly create some great memories.  Pop some popcorn and watch something from your DVD collection. Maybe there are some oldies but goodies that you haven’t seen in a long time or that you’ve never shared with your children. Enjoy the time together!
  • Video Games: Yes, mom. Those incessant video games. Sit down and play them with them. They will find your inability to conquer the Dragon King (totally just made that up – I think!) funny. You’ll get to see what it is they are doing all of that time. And you just might enjoy it! Even if they balk at the idea – they will remember that time that Mom couldn’t just over that giant chasm to save her life.
  • Cleaning:  I know – this one sounds utterly mind numbing (unless you’re a clean freak like me).  Put a sock on the hands of the tots and send them around the baseboards.  Teach older little ones how to fold towels.  Let older ones vacuum the floors, clean the blinds, etc.  You never know – you just might get all of your spring cleaning tasks done without having to dread doing them.  Put it all to music so you can all dance around while doing it to make it a bit more enjoyable. Whatever works – just make the most of it!
 What are some other ideas of things you can do as a family if you suddenly find yourself not able to watch your favorite TV shows? 

Side note - it's really strange that my children have no idea what that image I used is all about! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Donations to Charity by Our 2012 Presidential Candidates

Source: Maggies Notebook
Today is going to be a political post. Wait, wait, wait!  Before you click away...

I'm not going to be supporting or promoting any particular candidate. I have faith that you can make those types of decisions for yourselves. I mean, you are smart enough to be visiting my blog. =)

But here is the purpose of this post:  All of our 2012 Presidential candidates are offering to make our country better by helping people. Some back it with their faith, allowing the promises and tenets of their proclaimed belief system to carry some weight with voters. Others are approaching it from a humanitarian point of view - helping those who are down and out because it's just the right thing to do. I'm not here to argue with either of those points of view.

What I am here to do today is present to you how our Presidential hopefuls have spent their own personal money in the past. Have they been living the type of life that promises philanthropy, care, and concern for those less fortunate than they know, before they were asking you to elect them?

Let's take a look:

Barack Obama:
Net Worth*:  $2.8 million - 11.8 million
2010 Income: $1,795,614
2010 Charitable Contributions: $245,075
Percentage of Giving**: 13.65%
Recipients of Donations: Fisher House Foundation which houses families of wounded military ($131,075 of his personal money), his Nobel Peace Prize award money was divided between 10 charities as listed: Fisher House Foundation ($250,000), Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund ($200,000), College Summit to increase college enrollment rates ($125,000), Posse Foundation for scholarships ($125,000), United Negro College Fund ($125,000), Hispanic Scholarship Fund ($125,000), American Indian College Fund ($125,000), Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation ($125,000), AfriCare which promotes health, food security and access to water primarily in Africa ($100,000), Central Asia Institute, which education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan ($100,000)
Of Note: The Obamas' giving has increased steadily over the last few years.  In the early 2000s, it grew from 0.4% to 4.6%.  With the Presidency, Obama's wallet has opened up to more and more giving opportunities. His Nobel Prize winnings of $1.4 million in 2010 were donated directly to 10 organizations and therefore never went though his income tax return as income or donations.

Mitt Romney
Net Worth*:  $190 million - $250 million
2010 Income: $21,661,344
2010 Charitable Contributions: $2,983,974
Percentage of Giving**: 13.78 (between 13% - 16% over last few years)
Recipients of Donations: The majority of this was contributed to the Mormon church, as it is a tenet of their faith to donate a full tithe (10%) in order to be in good standing with God and their church. Other recipients were BYU ($300,000 and $1 million at different times), a homeless shelter for veterans ($10,000), Hurricane Katrina victims ($10,000), victims of south Asia earthquake and tsunami ($25,000), Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ($25,000), as well as various donations to charities helping children, cancer patients, MS patients, and wounded veterans, research and service organizations for cystic fibrosis, cancer, epilepsy, Lou Gehrig's Disease and AIDS, The Boy Scouts of America, the Boston Scholars program for disadvantaged students and the Massachusetts Children's Trust Fund to prevent child abuse, The United Way, Massachusetts Family Institute ($10,000), Massachusetts Citizens for Life ($15,000), andRight to Play ($100,000 over several years). There were also donations that helped restore community baseball fields, teach sailing in Boston and support the U.S. Olympic handball team, U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation ($20,000), and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston ($30,000 over several years).
Of Note: The most generous of the candidates, Romney has spread his wealth out to assist with charities for health concerns, political interests, children's welfare, veterans support, sports interests, as well as victims of various disasters and hurts.

Newt Gingrich
Net Worth*:  $6.7+ million
2010 Income: $3,162,424
2010 Charitable Contributions: $81,133
Percentage of Giving**: 2.57%
Recipients of Donations: $9540 to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was the largest donation of 2010. Previous years' giving includes Luther College in Decorah, Iowa ($30,000) in 2009 for a scholarship fund in his name, Atlanta Ballet ($2500), American Cancer Society ($500), American Museum of Natural History ($25,000), City of Fairfax Band Association ($5000), Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance ($2500), Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association ($12,500), the Pentagon Memorial fund ($1000), Pine Mountain Gold Museum in Villa Rica, Georgia ($100)
Of Note:Various organizations that Gingrich claims to have ties with are mysteries to his staff.  Do they not exist other than on paper or is he just quiet about his giving?

Ron Paul
Net Worth*:  $2.25 million - $5 million
2010 Income: Not yet reported
2010 Charitable Contributions:  Not yet reported
Percentage of Giving** Not yet reported

Rick Santorum
Net Worth*:  $880,000 - $1.9 million
2010 Income: $930,227
2010 Charitable Contributions: $16,289
Percentage of Giving**1.75%  (2.2% over last 4 years)
Recipients of Donations: No individual charities indicated on form submitted.
Of Note:"We should be proactive in finding ways to more fully engage the American public in charitable giving," Santorum said in a 2005 statement on the CARE Act, a bill he sponsored that sought to promote the interests of charities and provide incentives for Americans to donate. Also, a charity he started called Operation Good Neighbor has been under scrutiny for only using 45% of its revenue to help those it was established to help. The remainder of this money has been used for advertising and overhead.

Now, I am not going to try to tell you who to vote for. In fact, these numbers sicken me because there are some that don't "jive" with my feelings about who should be President.

And I'll readily admit that this only captures monetary donations and not donations of time and talents. But I really can't imagine that many of these gentlemen have a lot of extra time to donate to everyone, although I could be completely wrong about that. It also could be that there are donations that are not reported. I have no idea. I'm just presenting to you what is available.

All of this is presented before you to say this: if each of these candidates are going to tell you that they want to make things better and help people and support those who are less fortunate than themselves in order to provide for a better tomorrow in America, what does the way they live their personal lives reveal about their intentions and their rhetoric?

What do you make of this?  Does this support your feelings about your preferred candidate or make you squeamish?  Does it make any difference in all in your feelings about your vote?

*Just an FYI.
**Based on annual income not the net worth shown above.
Sources: Credit Sesame, Huffington Post, Washington Post, CNN Money 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How To Potty Train a Strong Willed Child

Our older child, Patrick, was so easy to potty train. A few years later our world turned upside down with the birth of our fun-loving feisty little firecracker who we named Abigail. This child has always had her own thoughts and opinions and steel will to go along with her opinions.

We’ve been struggling with her total lack of willingness (not ability) in the potty training arena. To see her whole saga, check out this post.

Image credit: sskie
But as of today – we’re 7 days diaper free with only 1 accident. This includes all bodily functions, as well as naptime and nighttime. It also includes trips out into the world while wearing underwear. Okay – so she still wears a diaper at night (because of our fear) but she wakes up dry each morning. But we no longer have to ask her about the potty. She just does it. She tells us when she needs to go, goes to the potty, pulls down her own pants and underwear and just goes. When she’s done, she gets up, dresses herself again, and is done. No, we're not totally there, as we still have to learn to use the big potty and how to use public restrooms (I shutter at the thought of this one), but I feel the biggest hurdles have been crossed.

Some people will tell you that children should lead the way. Maybe they should but we don’t really ascribe to that. Seriously…the diaper thing works for them. They do their business without stopping what they are enjoying and then you, as the parent, scoop them up, clean up their mess, pamper their bottoms with powder, and send them off on their merry way. What have they got to lose in this?

I know you cannot force a child who is not physically ready, but also don’t underestimate their ability to learn new things and mimic what they are shown.

So many people told us to wait until our strong willed child was ready, as in, when she decided to tell us, “I’m going to start using the potty now.” If you have a strong willed child, you know that this won’t happen as long as they feel in control of their current routine. You have to push them along too.

But they are different from more passive children. You have to work around their rebellion to get to the core of things and get them to do what you want (and sometimes NEED) them to do.

So what did we do to potty train our strong willed child?

  • DO offer the potty when you think they are ready. Even if they aren’t willing, it will put the idea in their mind. And you never know until you ask.
  • DON’T force a child to sit on the potty. This will not make the potty or potty training pleasant for either of you.
  • DO offer incentives if needed. Some children like stickers, candy, a special book or toy.
  • DON’T give in to the tantrums if they want the special treat without the cooperation. And if you have a strong willed one – there will be tantrums.
  • DO keep offering incentives until you find the one that works. And remember – just because it works now doesn’t mean it will work next week.
  • DON’T punish a child for an accident. It happens. They are still learning and this is a whole new concept for them. Sometimes they do not realize how quickly it will be happening. Sometimes they get distracted by what they are doing and forget to tell you. And if you take two steps back – think of how hard it will be to get the process going again.
  • DO have the child help clean up the accident, put their underwear away in the laundry and put on another pair themselves. Doing it for them does not instill the consequences (not punishment) of the accident.
  • DON’T think that there is one method that works. Each child is different. Take all of the advice you can get and find out which of it works for you. If none of it works, it’s okay. Make up your own. There is no single solution.
  • DO sing your child’s praises. Tell them how proud you are. Call friends (who understand this truimph) and relatives and let them tell him/her how awesome they are. Let them her you bragging to your friends. And whatever incentive was offered – make sure you follow through. Don’t make yourself into a liar.
  • DON’T give up.

I promise, they will get it. The younger they are, they might need incentives. The older they are, you can use logic (to a 4 year old - you can’t go to the pool this summer if you aren’t potty trained so let’s start working now so you can swim this summer). You just have to find out what works for your child.

For us, it was the promise to wear a dress that was already hanging in her closet. Seriously…that’s all it took. It just took us about 8 months to figure that out.

What about you?  Have any tips you can offer those who are struggling?  Do you have a strong willed child? 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Interesting Facts About Each of America's Presidents

Okay, so let's get away from finances for just a moment. There will be a heavy-hitter post on Thursday of this week, so we'll take it easy today.

I thought to celebrate President's Day today (since I don't get off of work), we would learn one interesting fact about each of our commanders in chief.

George Washington - He didn’t have enough money to get to his own inauguration so he had to borrow $600 from his neighbor.
John Adams - Taught himself to speak Dutch. Then hopped in a boat to the Netherlands, where he borrowed money to keep America from going broke.
Thomas Jefferson - Spoke 6 different languages. On his epitaph, which he composed, it mentions that he was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statuette of Virginia for Religious Freedom and that he was the father of the University of Virginia. He neglected to mention he had been the President of the United States.
James Madison - At 5'4" and under 100 pounds, James Madison was our shortest and smallest President to date.
James Monroe - once chased his Secretary of State from the White House with a pair of fire tongs.
John Quincy Adams - Swam nude (weather permitting) in the Potomac River every day.
Andrew Jackson - Jackson the only president of a debt free United States.
Martin Van Buren - When he wrote his autobiography after serving as president from 1837-1841, he didn’t mention his wife of 12 years. Not even once.
William Henry Harrison - holds the record for the longest inauguration speech in history at 8,578 words long and one hour and 40 minutes. Unfortunately, he gave the speech during bad weather and a month later, he was dead from pneumonia, making his the shortest presidency on record.
John Tyler - Five years after he left the White House, he was so poor that he couldn't even pay a bill of $1.25 until after a corn harvest.
James K. Polk - At age 17 he had a gallstone surgically removed without any anesthesia or antiseptics.
Zachary Taylor - Never voted for a President
Millard Fillmore - Vice President under Zachary Taylor, but Fillmore did not meet Taylor until after they were elected. Fillmore couldn't not read Latin and refused an honorary degree from Oxford University, saying a person shouldn't accept a degree he couldn't read.
Franklin Pierce - Memorized his entire inaugural speech - 3,319 words
James Buchanan - Quietly but consistently bought slaves in Washington, D.C., and then set them free in Pennsylvania.
Abraham Lincoln - Known for a number of things, but you probably don't know that he is the only U.S. president who was also a licensed bartender. He was co-owner of Berry and Lincoln, a saloon in Springfield, Illinois
Andrew Johnson - Has was buried beneath a willow tree he planted himself with a shoot taken from a tree at Napoleon's tomb.
Ulysses S. Grant - It was so cold at this presidential inauguration that the canaries that were supposed to sing at the inaugural ball froze to death
Rutherford B. Hayes - First President to use a phone - his phone number was 1
James Garfield - Could write with both hands at the same time - in different languages
Chester A. Arthur - Arthur told a temperance group that called on him at the White House, "I may be President of the United States, but my private life is my own damn business." Arthur destroyed all of his personal papers before his death.
Grover Cleveland - While sheriff of Erie County, New York, Cleveland was also the public executioner and personally hanged two murderers.
Benjamin Harrison - An excellent extemporaneous speaker, he once made 140 completely different speeches in 30 days.
Grover Cleveland - Yep. Here he is again. Although our current guy is the 44th President, there have really only been 43. Cleveland served two terms like many before him. However, unlike the others before (or after) his terms were not consecutive, so he gets counted twice.
William McKinley - the first to ride in a self-propelled vehicle—the electric ambulance that took him to the hospital after he had been shot.
Theodore Roosevelt - Every member of Teddy Roosevelt’s family owned a pair of stilts, including the First Lady
William Howard Taft - He inaugurated the custom of the president throwing out the first ball to start the baseball season. Mrs. Taft was responsible for the planting of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington.
Woodrow Wilson -would paint his golf balls black during the winter so he could continue playing in the snow.
Warren G. Harding - Gambled away a set of White House china
Calvin Coolidge - Liked to have his head rubbed with petroleum jelly while eating his breakfast in bed. Also he would press all the buttons on the President’s desk and hide and watch his staff run in. He would then pop out from behind the door and say that he was just seeing if everyone was working.
Herbert Hoover - Spoke Chinese to his wife to keep their stories private. Also gave his White House servants strict orders to hide from him whenever he passed by. Those who failed to do so were at risk of being fired
Franklin D. Roosevelt - He was related by blood or marriage to 11 former presidents.
Harry S Truman - Read every book in his hometown library. You probably already know that he middle initial is not an initial at all - it doesn't stand for anything and therefore doesn't have a period after it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower - A skilled chef, he was famous for his vegetable soup, steaks, and cornmeal pancakes. He was the first president licensed to fly an airplane.
John F. Kennedy - Father gave him $1,000,000 when he turned twenty-one. (Each of his nine brothers and sisters got a million dollars too!)
Lyndon B. Johnson - Johnson rejected his official portrait painting, saying it was the ugliest thing he ever saw.
Richard M. Nixon - Offered a position as a player's representative to the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1965. He declined, stating that he was needed in politics.
Gerald R. Ford - Ford was the only president whose two assassination attempts against him were made by women. Ford was a model for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines in the 1940's.
James Carter - Is the first known president to go on record as seeing a UFO. Jimmy Carter is the only president to have been commander of both a nuclear submarine and a peanut farm.
Ronald Reagan - Announced Chicago Cubs games for WHO radio in Des Moines. Also loved jelly beans and used to keep a bowl of them on his desk.
George H. W. Bush - Survived 4 planes crashes during World War II
William J. Clinton - When Bill Clinton was in high school he shook hands with President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden
George W. Bush - Has a collection of over 250 signed baseballs
Barack Obama - He does not like ice cream as a result of working at an ice cream shop as a teenager.  Collects Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comic books.

Source: Random FactsMr. G World, Pocantico Hills, Little Known Facts, White House, & PBSKids

Monday, February 13, 2012

Do You Have a Bucket List?

Photo credit: TordDesign
You know...since the release of the movie The Bucket List, everyone has seem to be on this trend of having one of their own.

And I see people documenting their bucket lists on Pinterest frequently. 

Is it pathetic that I don't have one?

Not that I haven't sat down and written one, but that I really don't have any real plans or "want tos"? 

Until just recently, I have been pretty short sighted.  I mean, when I was little I had dreams, but since I've become an adult, it's been more about getting through the week, the month, or even the year.  My imagination sometimes ventures into the "when the kids grow up" future, but it is usually more in reference to my concerns for them, our relationships, or what I hope our financial health will be. 

I need some dreams.

And so far I have only come up with one.

I want to see the Northern Lights.  Aurora Borealis. 

Not from North Dakota (although it might be lovely from there).  Somewhere more exotic.  And since Chip's family is from Norway, I'm thinking that might be a good place to start.

Otherwise, I have no idea of things I would like to do "one day." Things that I actually have plans of crossing off a list.

Maybe it's time to make one. Want to help me out?

Do you have a bucket list?  What is on it?  What would you recommend for me?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Drumroll please.... Our Tax Results

Photo credit: LeoSynapse
So a few nights ago Chip did our taxes.

The results?  A refund.

A huge refund. 

To the tune of $4880 (I think that’s the exact amount). 

I am thrilled. 

The crazy thing is, after last year’s big refund, I changed my with-holdings at work.  Not so much that I expected we would break even but that we would receive a much smaller refund.

And yet somehow – our refund is larger this year. I totally don’t understand tax law.

So what will we do with this lump sum?

We have two options.  I originally had one thing in mind because it would make the most sense mathematically and it would give me the best feeling emotionally.  Sounds like the way to go, right?   This option would be to send the entire (almost) $5K to my credit card – you know, the one that I despise so much and am ready to kill the account as soon as it is paid off.  That would give me the most emotional payback and it would decrease the debt on the larger interest loan.  This seemed like the way to go at first.

But the other option is almost as good and gives a sense of completion and gives us one less thing to worry about.  This would be to send almost $3900 to a “loan” that we had from the Army from when Chip was prepaid to finish OCS and came home early. So we owe the Army that money back.  They aren’t charging us interest, so it seems like it would be good to pay this one off more slowly than the one with interest. Two things about that though – if we did this, we could completely cross this debt off our list and shorten the list; and the Army is deducting repayments at their own rate out of his paychecks.  It’s been going fine so far to do that, but when he goes for his long-term training in a few months (or whenever he goes – they haven’t told us yet), I won’t know how much of his check we’ll be receiving until it arrives and that makes planning difficult. And for this control freak, that’s just one more uncertainty I would like to avoid.

All in all, it will pay off debt.  All of it.  But how?  That is yet to be determined.

What about you?  Are you getting or anticipating a refund?  If so, what do you plan to do with it?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Please stay tuned....

Sorry I've been a bit out of pocket lately.  The weekend was crazy as I made a whirlwind trip to Alabama and back for a funeral.

I promise things will look a bit more normal around here soon.  I'm just trying to play catch-up in life and at work, so the blog is suffering.

Be back soon!