Tuesday, September 02, 2014

So Long Summer 2014

Summer went out with a fizzle, but DH and I took a lovely walk with the dog after dinner. The weather was pleasant- not too hot, not too cool, not too humid and the cicadas provided the quintessential summer soundtrack as we made our way through the neighborhood.

This was a summer of morning carpools as I doted on my older teen, perhaps more than I should have, but he was working hard, impressively so! Plus there was some part of me that appreciated being needed because he might only have another summer or two at home. So between driving him to school for cross country practice and summer school, going on a 2 mile (+/-) walk with the dog and showering or running to the grocery store, picking him up hanging out either at home or maybe at my parent's house for 20-30 minutes and then driving him to the train so he could go to his job in the city, my morning was spent without much to show for it (other than being an awesome mom, FWIW).

My younger guy typically rode his bike to and from school, but on the days I had to pick him up, I fell even deeper into the rabbit hole of unproductiveness even as I raised myself up a bit on the awesome mom pedestal.

My younger guy made the most of his pool pass. I didn't even bother getting one this year. I'm not needed. I did go (as an observer) to the recently renovated community pool once.

Somehow they still managed to have fun.
At any rate, lest summer feel like it flew by with nothing but a series of carpools, I bring you highlights of Summer 2014 (at least the ones I have photos of).

Oh, and maybe the biggest personal accomplishment was moving The Maker Mom over to Wordpress, even if I did hire someone to do it. Go take a look!

DH and I went to a live taping of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

Kayaking with my niece and my younger son.

We hosted a couple of backyard parties.

I entered a pie contest-mixed berry with a cricket crust.

Kayaking with my Science Olympiad team.

Prairie restoration near Chicago
Volunteered at a prairie restoration day. I was literally up to my eyeballs in weeds.

Kale chips, kale salads, lots of kale from the garden.

Bountiful garden! (Thanks to DH and lots of rain.)

Learn to play mah jong and bought a vintage set.
Participated in a Chicago Stands with Israel Rally.
Blogger Bkfst at Eli's Cheesecake. Son is wearing a Maker Mom shirt!

Late summer kayaking; the water was a bit mucky by then.
More garden veggies!
Little Pup on the Prairie.

Deer watching in the woods.

Ice cream at The Chocolate Shoppe on Devon. Freakiest theme ever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Even More College Admissions Tips

I started blogging nearly 10 years ago when my kids were in early elementary school, so it makes sense that now college admissions is my biggest educational obsession. I like using the blog to bookmark helpful resources for myself, while at the same time sharing them with friends and readers. (Wait, isn't that what Pinterest is for?)

When I say my old friend Marsha wrote this, I mean she's really old. Okay, not really, but she's from the original network of mombloggers I connected with way back in 2007, which is like the stone ages in blogging terms. (Pinterest? Caveman blogger don't know Pinterest.)

Marsha is one of a handful of moms from that group, the first generation of Mommy Bloggers, whose kids are headed off to college this fall. The kids are almost all grown up. {sniff} In Marsha's case, they are crazy talented, too.

At any rate, Marsha recently posted an informative piece sharing 5 Secret Tips for College and I already feel my blood pressure rising wondering about the date of our district's financial aid seminar and if they will let me in to the night that is billed as being for senior parents only.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Tips for College Planning

typography from www.wordle.com
This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

I am officially the mom of two high school students, a freshman and a junior. As excited as I am for my boys to return to school and its routines, I'm keenly aware that the clock is ticking. Next year is it for my older boy. Next year is the last time I'll shoo him out the door to make the morning bus or have a chance to take a first day of school picture*.

Our high school provides a meet and greet with 8th grade students and their assigned high school counselors. Admittedly, it's a short meeting and a bit overwhelming for first timers. In addition to helping students select classes for freshman year, they routinely ask the kids about their 8-year plans. That is, the counselors don't just want to know about freshman year plans, they want to know what college (or post-high school) plans the 13-year-olds have.

Like I said, it's a bit overwhelming the first time around. My baby is heading to the big scary high school and you want to know where he hopes to attend college?

I was tempted to bury my head in the sand and leave it there for up to 8 years, but as time passes, I see the wisdom of the school's ways. If you don't start thinking about college plans early, the admissions process can easily overwhelm you.

Here are three tips for college planning.

Start Early

It might feel scary, but the earlier you start, the more relaxed you can be about the process. Or, as in my case, the more time you have to freak out, calm down and do research. Repeat this cycle every few weeks or months. You don't have to dive in if your kid is a freshman or in middle school, but gently dip your toes in. Talk to friends who are going through the search or admissions process. This is what prompted me and my friend Jen to start a G+ discussion series on College Admissions. (New episodes coming this fall.) Talk to school counselors to learn about free resources available to you and your student.

Sometimes You Lead, Sometimes You Follow

If your child is grounded, determined, and organized, follow her lead. Which is not to say that boys lack focus and organization, I'm sure some boys have it together, but most of the parents of boys I know report that even if they are college-bound, they are rather hazy or noncommittal about their preferences and options. My husband argues to let our son take the lead, but I fear I'm certain that if we wait until he's ready to take charge of the process his application deadlines will have passed. It's a give and take process. As we get further into it I'm sure into I'll have more insights to share. For now, I'm a fan of the Fiske Guide because my boy can't complain when I ask him to read a mere 3-page description about a school for us to discuss.

Tests Scores Count

Although the number of schoosl that offer test-optional admissions, that is they don't require SAT or ACT scores, is growing, those scores still matter in a lot of ways. My brother pointed out that at some schools solid scores not only help with admission, but can also be the ticket to a merit scholarship. The higher the score, the heftier the potential award. The cost of taking a test prep class or taking tests a second or third time (which many schools now allow and supposedly only "count" the best scores) might pale in comparison to the money your child might save in tuition thanks to a merit award.

Those are a few of my current thoughts on the #JourneyToCollege. Follow the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to see what other parents have to say.

This post was sponsored by Kaplan Test Prep and their KapMap College Planner. Download your free KapMap here and note that you can receive a $100 discount on an SAT or SAT course through August 28, 2014 with the code SHESPEAKS100.

*Who am I kidding. My boys haven't be willing to pose for one since 2008.

This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fiske's Guide to Colleges 2015

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015
My oldest is about to enter junior year of high school, so we're increasingly focused on his future. Most likely he's headed to college, though some of his co-workers and students this summer encouraged him to follow the money and put his tech skills to use right out of high school. For now, however, college is the thing.

Susan Goodkin, the college consultant I've been featuring on my G+ Hangouts, mentioned that she's a fan of the Fiske Guides, so when I was offered a chance to review the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015, I jumped.

I love this book. It's going to be my go-to resource for quite some time. When I mentioned this to a friend she replied, "Uh, doesn't every college have a website with much of the information that's in the book?" Well, yes. And also no because the book provides additional insights.

I like this 820-page paperback book. I like that I can make notes and dog-ear pages and stick in post-its if I want to flag something for my son or husband. I like the quotes from students. I like that it feels more objective than a given school's website. (In other news, I'm pretty sure Georgia Tech is off our list.)

But mostly I like that so much information is right there on the pages before me. When I go to college websites, I wind up having about 6 tabs per school open so I can look at an overview, requirements, majors, AP score acceptance, financial information, net price calculator, etc. It's a frenzy of information overload!We're just dipping our toes in and getting a feel for things, this book is a valuable first stop.

The Fiske Guide provides overviews of "more than 300 of the country's best and most interesting colleges and universities." As well as a handful Canadian, British, and Ireland. It contains an index of colleges by state and country, index by price, a list of "Best Buys" and several pages on how to use the guide I t also includes a list of ACT/SAT optional schools, a list of colleges that are known for working with students with learning disabilities and it closes with one of my favorite pieces, a pledge for parents, which is more like a serenity prayer for parents of high school seniors  and worth the $24 cost of the book.

The Guide also contains a brief survey to help students pin down what they might want in a school. Yes, we've asked these same questions and yes, he can find a similar checklist via resources at the high school, but I might actually get my son to complete this one.

He's got mail.
The Guide was born as a way to "cut through all the hype that was coming from the colleges" in the late 1980s. There's as much hype as ever, but today's students are pickier about their distractions. My son has a pile dozens (possibly hundreds) of postcards and brochures that were cluttering up our mailbox and are now cluttering up his room. If he's bothered to read more than five of them, I'd be surprised. His email inbox is similar.And I'm getting more and more curious about a certain school simply because they are relentless in their emails to me.

In its attempt to focus on what's important, Fiske profiles colleges with summary paragraph followed by a flowing narrative for each school. It will also list compare schools or "overlaps," which can help point families toward other schools to explore. And, of course, each school has a sidebar noting:

  • location (ubrban, suburban, etc.)
  • whether it's public or private
  • total enrollment
  • breakdown of male/female
  • ACT/SAT score ranges
  • percent of returning freshman and percent of students that graduate in six(!!) years
  • social life
  • a debt rating indicating average undergraduate principle borrowed to graduate
  • and more! 

The Guide does not have a line item for campus safety, but I expect they will add one in the next year or two. Sign of the times, right?

As I mentioned, we're at the start of of our search. If you have a favorite resource for learning about colleges, please share!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Help Shot at Life Donate Vaccines and Spread the Word about Walgreens

It's that time of year: August, Blogust. Shot at Life, a United Nations program to help vaccinate children around the world, is once again pairing up with leading bloggers to not only spread the news about the importance of vaccines, but also work with Walgreens to actually get those vaccines to needy children around the world. And here's how: for each comment a dedicated blog post receives, Walgreens will donate one vaccine, up to 60,000, through the UN and other partners.

However, even as Walgreens tackles the important role of Caring Global Citizen, the company is wrestling with big issues here on the home front. The company is said to be considering a move that will make them a bad corporate citizen here in the US: an inversion. That is, they're considering relocating their company headquarters overseas in name only in order to procure a hefty tax break here in the US.

Edited 8/6 to add: Great news! Walgreens has supposedly put an end to the inversion talk and plans to remain a US corporation!

Nearly 1/4 of Walgreens' nearly $17 billion income is derived from the US government in the form of Medicare and Medicaid patients. In addition, just a few years ago they received around $46 million from Illinois. Yet, Walgreens may undertake this move to save on their tax obligations.

Their move could cost the US government an estimated $4 billion over the first five years, not to mention what it will cost to Illinois.

A vocal, but not necessarily a majority, group of shareholders is said to be advocating for the move. The company needs to hear from stakeholders--US citizens who will be impacted by this move. Thats' where you come in.

As I mentioned, Walgreens has pledged to donate a vaccine to a child in need for each comment left as part of the Shot at Life blogger campaign. I urge you leave a comment on relevant blog posts encouraging the company to leave their headquarters here in the United States. Feel free to copy and paste from this post.

Click here to see a schedule of the Shot at Life blogger campaign. Now let's go save some lives.

Chicago Sun-Times (source of the numbers above)
USA Today,
New York Times

Friday, July 04, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moms Demand Gun Sense Action

Niles Village board votes on gun shop and gun range near schools
This post is not affiliated in any direct way with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. However, if you are concerned about the amount of gun violence in our society, school safety as it relates to gun violence, or the number of people walking around with weapons, concealed or otherwise, it's an excellent organization to join or at least follow on Facebook

Last night I attended a village board meeting in Niles at which they planned to discuss a potential gun shop and gun range in an industrial area, an industrial area that also houses family-friendly attractions including one of those trampoline spots, a volleyball facility that hosts youth teams, and an alternative school. In fact, the proposed facility would be just 1,000 feet from the school, which serves kids 11-21 years old who "withdraw socially and emotionally, have difficulty with social skills, and have difficulty fitting in."

The proposed facility would also be within "walking distance" of three other schools.

Any red flags for you or is it just me?

The room was packed with folks on both sides of the issue, but before anybody got a word in. The village trustees voted to send the issue back to the zoning board for further discussion. Apparently when the issue came up at the previous zoning meeting few, if any, citizens showed up to share their concerns. (Related note: few, if any, citizens were aware of the zoning commission meetings.)

Once the discussion was tabled, the trustees allowed a few minutes for the room to empty out and I left with a friend. My friends who stayed reported that those who remained were allowed to air their concerns at the end of the meeting.

Although the discussion is just getting started, I want to share a few observations. Observations, not interpretations, which means I'm sticking to the facts.

It's very difficult to have a constructive dialogue about gun control. Emotions run high on both sides of the discussion. When I saw a notice posted about last night's meeting on Facebook, one person asked if there was data to validate safety concerns about having a gun shop/range within a certain distance of the high school. That person was then verbally attacked. (Note: this is a problem relating to other sensitive topics, too. When did looking to science and data become a bad thing?) People on both sides of the issue have a tendency to abandon arguments of logic and resort to naming-calling. They look at people on the opposite side of the issue as "others" rather attempt to understand them or find common ground. (Which is one of the reasons I'm game to going to a shooting range one day.)

Moms really do demand gun sense action. Based on the people who expressed a clear opinion without using their voices--like those holding "vote yes" signs or those wearing green ribbons (a nod to Sandy Hook and the need for gun control), the moms/women want gun sense and men want their local gun shop/range. This is not to say there was a strict gender line, but there was an apparent one. I've observed this before.

Smokers in this group favor the gun shop. As people left the non-meeting, small crowds gathered outside the building. To reach the parking lot, I had to pass next to the group of smokers at the bottom of the stairs outside the building, "vote yes" signs tucked under their arms as toxic secondhand smoke lingered in the air around them.

The traditional news media was out in full force last night and imagine in the coming weeks this issue will blow up on both sides. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and I mentioned above that there are 4 schools within walking distance of the proposed shop, including that one just 1,000 feet away. I also have regional concerns. According to Tracing the Guns: The Impact of Illegal Guns on Violence in Chicago, four gun shops in the Chicago suburbs account for 20% of the guns used in crimes in the city. All of these suburbs are adjacent to Chicago, as is Niles.

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