Thursday, August 21, 2014

5 Concert Tips {That Are Too Good to Keep to Yourself}

A couple weeks ago when I took Emily to her first concert I felt a big responsibility to pass along some concert wisdom to her. That may sound a little extreme for a 10 year old but it was necessary nonetheless. I've certainly been to a lot of concerts and have spent my fair share of time around the music business... I'd be foolish if I didn't pass along some of what I've learned to my newest live music fan!
Here are just a few of the tips that I passed along...
This is a tough one for me to share because it's one of my most useful little secrets, but here goes... don't ever ever ever buy tickets when they go on sale. I know to live by this but didn't actually do it this time because I wanted the tickets in hand for a Christmas gift... and of course I lived to regret it. Wait until the week of the show to buy your tickets and you'll score some great seats at face value right on Ticketmaster. Once the tour gets to the actual venue and sets up the stage, many times they'll realize they have room for an extra row or two of seats near the stage. So what happens? They throw those tickets right up on Ticketmaster and someone who waited until the last minute to buy tickets ends up with great seats at face value. Win win. Also? Tickets that an artist sets aside for friends and family, crew members, etc... a few days before the show, whatever isn't being used up by people associated with the tour are put back up for sale online. I've scored 2nd and 3rd row seats 2 days before a concert this way before as well as pit tickets. I even checked this out with One Direction tickets before our show (and a couple other shows on the east coast) and sure enough, if I'd waited until the last minute, we'd have scored a pretty great view for face value. I know it's a risk and I know it's scary to wait...  but I've always found the reward is worth the risk!

I don't mean to sound like I don't want people to use their manners because I obviously do. But at concerts where there's 50,000 other people, sometimes you've just gotta throw out some of the rules you've been taught your whole life and look out for yourself. The merchandise stand? You can wait forever to buy a t-shirt... seriously, the crowds around a merch table and the wait is a little ridiculous. If you're walking by and notice an opening right up front, go ahead and sneak yourself right up in there. You'll have your souvenir in no time and be on your merry way. You might look at that as rude and cutting in line, I like to look at it as being efficient with my time. This also comes into play during the concert itself. My best friend and I go to a lot of concerts together and we both know that once we're there, it's every man for himself. If you're on the floor 30 rows back and you see an open seat 5 rows ahead, you walk right up there and act like you belong there. Next thing you know you'll see another open seat another few rows ahead of you and before you know it, you'll be at the stage. I'm not saying to steal someone's seat or block their view (both big no-no's) but if there's an opening, you may as well use it to your advantage. The key here is to act like you belong there... don't act suspicious, don't wait for your friends... just go. I've watched many a concert from the very front of the venue just by doing this.

Unfortunately, I had to teach Emily this immediately at our show. You've got to protect your space and if it takes throwing a couple of elbows to get it done, then so be it. Be assertive... if you're not, you'll end up hearing some pretty great music while staring at the back of someone's head all night long. We all want to sing and dance and have plenty of room to do just that... but if someone next to you is going to the extreme, which they usually do at a concert, protect your spot. At our concert, a couple people next to Emily kept bumping into her and (unintentionally) pushing her back so they could have a better view for their pictures. They kept nudging and (of course) each time they did she stepped back a bit. I politely asked them to stop to no avail and I certainly wasn't going to let my daughter miss out on this concert so I showed her how to stand firm and push back a bit. Of course you don't want to encourage confrontation but you do need to protect your own space... Emily did just that and those girls never bothered her again.

Nothing bugs me more than watching someone stand there quietly at a show or checking their phone. You're at a concert, you need to experience it! The artist says "scream!" then you scream... sing along to the music, dance to the beat! Don't spend your time being quiet... let loose and have some fun! You might be worried that you look and sound a little foolish but I promise, no one is watching you... they paid their money to watch whoever's up on that stage, not who's in the seats!

Another huge pet peeve of mine when it comes to concerts or a sporting event. You've paid the money and spent your time getting there... now enjoy the full experience! Sure you may have to wait a few extra minutes to get out of the venue or parking lot but it's all part of the experience. The end of an event, whether it be a concert or sporting event, is often times some of the best moments of the whole evening... don't miss out because you wanted to beat a few minutes of traffic!

Ok, my fellow concert-goers... those are some of my tips and tricks to pass along! What are some of yours that you'd add to the list?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Weigh-In Wednesday


Monday, August 18, 2014

Creating a Family Calendar for Back-to-School

This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Office Depot, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #inspirestudents
With school starting next week and fall sports kicking into high gear, it's that time of the summer where I start to get a little panicky. How will we juggle it all and how will we get it all done?! I know it'll all work out, it always does, but making everyday run as smooth as possible is imperative to my sanity! Being organized is key for me, and I can't stress that enough. If I'm disorganized then it feels like my whole world is about to come crashing down around me... that may sound a little dramatic but that's my truth. I'm very OCD when it comes to being organized.

When it comes to keeping us organized, I've got it... I have every appointment, practice, meeting and game down in the calendar of my iPhone. I glance at that multiple times a day so I know what we have going on that day and what's coming up in the next few days. My iPhone calendar definitely keeps me on track. Notice that I said it keeps me organized?! Keeping myself organized is obviously super important but somewhere along the way I forgot that there's two other pretty important people in my world who need to be organized too. As I was thinking about getting us organized for back-to-school, I realized that most things on my calendar are for my kids yet I haven't given them the tools to be organized with all they have going on. Are you following me here? Sure, every morning I remind them what we have going on that day but how helpful is that?! Not very, I realized. How would I operate if someone quickly said to me on the way out the door in the morning "don't forget you have soccer practice at 4, be ready on time and make sure you have all your gear and don't forget a water bottle!"... seriously, I'd completely stress right out. We're a busy family with a lot going on and knowing that I can't operate without my calendar made me realize that it would be so helpful for my kids to have the same. So over the weekend I made us a family calendar to hang on the wall of our kitchen. It may not be rocket science but that's the beauty of it... sometimes something so simple can be so incredibly helpful.

To get my project started I headed to Office Max to stock up on some supplies. If I wanted my kids to use the calendar and find it helpful, I knew that I needed to make it aesthetically pleasing. I'm certainly no artist but I at least had to attempt to make it pretty! I grabbed 2 separate packages of Sharpie markers (that were both on sale!)... a package was of their fine point markers that I'd use for coloring and a package of their ultra fine point markers that I could write with. I also grabbed some PaperMate colored pens that we'll use to add things throughout the month. Now that I was all set with supplies, I was ready (and excited - yes, organization makes me happy!) to get started!

  • Use color - you're going to want something that's fun for your family to look at all month long so go bright and bold!
  • Use what you have - seriously, don't stress yourself out needing all the perfect supplies. To make the grid for my calendar I used what I had on hand... and what I had on hand happened to be a random board and some pretzel sticks (totally not kidding)!
  • Assign a color - give each family member a color and write all of their appointments for the month in that same color. That way, when you have multiple things going on in a particular day, it's easy for the kids to decipher which appointments belong to them.
  • Write down everything - don't leave anything out! Even if it's an appointment for mom that the kids won't be going to, they'll still want to know about it. Maybe that appointment means that you'll be a few minutes late getting home at the end of the day or that the kids will be home alone for an hour in the evening... whatever the case may be, it's helpful for the kids to be able to mentally prepare their day just like adults do!
  • Daily reminders - I don't know about you but I hate feeling like I constantly nag my kids... but, to be honest, I find it happening more and more lately. "Did you brush your teeth? Take your meds? Is your retainer in?"... asking those questions gets old and I'm sure it gets old hearing them too. So I made a section on the bottom of our calendar for the kids to reference and make sure they're doing everything they need to do. Some of the things may seem simple but they're reminders that my kids need.
  • Chores - I also made room for a list of chores. If they don't have practice that day, it's on the list to do 1 chore after school. Giving them a list of things to choose from makes it easy for them and doesn't make me feel like the mean mom for making them do a chore.
  • List what they'll need - my kids are always going to different sports practices and although it's second nature to me, they need to know what to pack. Sure, they should know that they need all of the appropriate gear and plenty of water for every practice but do they always remember it? Nope. So having a list for them to reference keeps them on track and me from having to triple-check.
  • Notes - leave some room on the calendar to write things down during the month. I gave both kids a section where they can fill in whatever it is they need to remember. Need to tell mom something but think you'll forget before she gets home? Write it down. Need to leave a reminder for yourself for morning? Write it down.
  • Things to remember - these three little sections will be helpful for all of us. If the kids have a special meal or snack they'd like, they can write it down and I'll check the calendar while making my grocery list. Also, I know they have their school planners to write down their assignments but by also writing the big things down, it gives me a constant reminder to help them study each time I glance at the calendar. 
  • Keep pens nearby - I know I need to keep things simple if I want my kids to use this calendar so I'm making sure to keep colorful pens right next to the calendar for when they need to add things to it.
(Cup made by your favorite 12 year old in art class is optional!;))

Using all of the things above, our family calendar is semi-complete... 
I say "semi-complete" because it will grow as the month goes on. Emily has some tumbling lessons that I don't have the dates for and Ryan's baseball games haven't been scheduled yet. I also left room in each day to write down what we're having for dinner... I'll update that when I'm doing my meal planning each week and I know the kids will like having visibility to that. And then the very last thing I'll add is school lunches. My kids like getting hot lunch at school (gag!) but I limit it to a couple days a week, max. I don't like not knowing what they're eating each day and obviously those lunches aren't always the most nutritious. So we'll look ahead at the school lunch calendar when it comes out and decide when they'll have hot lunch. I'll add it to the calendar so they can know at a glance "today's pizza day!"

Having everything written down in one place will be a huge help to my family this fall and I know this calendar will be something we keep up with each month. I know how to keep myself organized but I need to remember that my kids need those tools too!

You can head to Office Depot or Office Max to help get your family organized for fall too! Right now they're offering $5 off your $20 purchase of select Newell Rubbermaid brands (PaperMate, Expo Neon Window Markers, Sharpie, Uni-ball, & Mr. Sketch). This week (August 17-23) they are also offering Sharpie singles for $0.25 each (while supplies last) making now the perfect time to stock up! 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Five...

So it looks like the 5 on Friday link-up is on a little hiatus but I'm still posting my own random 5 bits today to get caught up on life...

1. Confession time: Emily's One Direction CD hasn't left my car since the concert last week. As in, that's all I've listened to. Ha! What can I say, I guess I've just got a thing for boy bands!

2. The last 6 weeks have clearly been busy for us and they've also been pretty dang expensive! I told my kids once Emily and I got home from Boston last week that we weren't leaving the house again for at least a month so my wallet could catch back up! Ok, so maybe we'll leave the house but you better believe I'm in major saving mode for the next little while. Oh and did I mention they're in Myrtle Beach, SC right now?! Ha - rough life they lead!;) 

3. Speaking of money, I got a $25 check in the mail yesterday from eBates. Now I know $25 isn't a lot of money but it was a pretty dang easy $25! When I shop online (which lately hasn't been very often at all, hence the small check) I take 2 extra clicks to get to the store through eBates. That's it, that's all folks. Then once a quarter I get a check in the mail like this one. It really is that easy with no strings attached. With back-to-school shopping happening now and the big holiday shopping season coming right up, you'd be foolish not to use eBates to earn some of your money back. You can sign up here.

4. I can't even tell you how many times the phrase "I need a new job" has come flying out of my mouth over the last 6 years that I've been with my current employer. And you know what? It's time I make that happen instead of just talking about it. I don't have anything lined up as of now but now that most of the busy summer is behind us, it's time to shift my focus to the new job hunt. Stay tuned.

5. My weekend plans are pretty quiet and I'm pretty dang excited about that! Saturday I don't plan on leaving my house except to go for a run (yes, I'm getting back into the running game). A little cleaning, a little organizing, and a fun little craft that I can't wait to share with you guys next week to make our hectic fall schedules a little easier for all 3 of us!

Have a great weekend... you only have 19 of them left before Christmas! :) You're welcome.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Weigh-In Wednesday - Eating Healthy on a Budget

One of the most common excuses of not eating healthy is that it's too expensive. And sadly, it's pretty true. It's not cheap to buy healthy foods in our grocery stores so if you're on a budget, and who isn't these days, then it's not always easy to stay on track. I'm definitely on a budget when I walk into the grocery store every week... I'd love to have an unlimited cash supply to buy only the highest quality ingredients for my family but that's just not my reality. But, as the old saying goes, where there's a will there's a way. Here are a few things that keep my grocery cart healthy while keeping the register total down...
Find the inexpensive healthy snacks - believe it or not, they do exist! Bananas are so dang cheap and packed with so many vitamins and nutrients! I bring a banana to work everyday and usually save it for my afternoon snack since it gives me that energy boost during the dreaded 3pm hour. I can spend less than a couple bucks and have enough bananas for me and the kids for a week... hard to beat that!

Don't buy pre-cut - I have no idea what to believe in the whole 'are baby carrots bad for you?' debate but I do know this... it's much cheaper for me to buy whole carrots, peel them, and chop them up for easy snacking! I bought a 1 lb. bag of carrots at the store the other day for $.79 and once I got done peeling and slicing, that was enough for 4 servings. $.20 a serving? Yes, please! When I buy baby carrots, or any other fruit or vegetable that's already cut up or easy to prepare, I end up paying around $.40 a serving. Is $.40 a lot of money? Of course not. But why pay double when you don't have to?!

More Servings - I used to shy away from buying things like a whole watermelon or a family sized package of anything because the money really added up quickly at the register. Now I know better. I can buy a whole watermelon (usually on sale here during the summer for $4-6) and have all 3 of us snack on it for an entire week. It might look costly at first but those few dollars really go a long way. The same thing goes when I buy hummus, yogurt or string cheese... the bigger price may be more of a sticker shock at the checkout but the price per serving is much less!

Sales / Coupons / Meal Planning - some people don't take the time to check the weekly sale flyers and I get it, it can be a pain. Honestly though, it only takes me a few minutes to check multiple flyers online and jot down what I might buy and the sale price. I generally plan my meals and snacks around what's on sale. (You can see my full post about meal planning here.) It takes a little effort but is so worth it. For example, green peppers are on sale this week so I put stuffed peppers on the menu. My store is also having a big sale on chicken so I'll use that in my stuffed peppers instead of my normal ground turkey. Cucumbers are on sale for 2/$1 so I'll grab a few of those and have them with my lunch or as a snack for the next few days. It's not hard to save quite a bit of money by eating what's on sale and it's also a great way to mix up your menu each week! When it comes to clipping coupons, there isn't always much out there for fresh foods but every now and then you can find one. Right now I have some coupons from Fresh Express (thanks to Ang) and since I know their products go on sale quite often, I held onto them to use when they could really make an impact. Right now Fresh Express Salad Kits are on sale at my store for 2/$5... I have two coupons (one for each package) that my store will double and I'll end up getting 2/$2.80. Pretty great price considering I can get a couple of lunches out of one package bringing the cost down to $.70 for that portion of my lunch. When you can make scenarios like that happen, you just can't beat it!

Waste not, want not - this is probably the biggest area where I think people can improve and make an impact in their budget. Stop throwing away food that doesn't get eaten up! Throwing a little of this and a little of that away every day may not seem like a big deal but over the course of a week and a month it really adds up! Say I buy a big package of Romaine Lettuce to make a Chicken Casear Salad with one night for dinner. There's usually 3 sections of lettuce in one package and I might use 2 of them for our salad. I could easily throw that last section back in the fridge and forget about it until I'm unpacking groceries the next week and it's gone bad. Just a little bit of lettuce, not a big deal right? Wrong. That's likely $1 worth of lettuce that you're throwing out... now $1 might not be a big deal but you're probably doing this same thing at least once a day. That's $7 a week just in waste from your dinner every night! What about the snacks you didn't eat up or the yogurt that went bad because you grabbed a snack on the go instead? $7 might not seem like a big deal to you but it adds up to $364 at the end of the year... that's 3 weeks worth of groceries in my house! So how do you stop wasting food? It just requires a little bit of thought ahead of time! When planning out my meals for the week, if I know I'm buying that lettuce for a salad and will have leftovers, I'll plan another night to have lettuce-wrapped tacos for dinner. I'm not repeating meals so it's not boring, I'm still using fresh and tasty ingredients, and I'm not wasting any money! With a little planning, you can really save yourself a lot of money in this area!

What are some of YOUR tips for eating healthy on a budget? I'd love to use your tips when I'm at the store each week!

Now as far as my actual weight this week, I went to weigh-in this morning and my (digital) scale was completely dead. I guess that's good and bad. Good because I didn't have the best week getting back on track after vacation... I didn't eat horrible but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to what I was eating either and I didn't track it. Even though I probably wouldn't have liked what the scale said, I know it would have helped push me back on track! I'm off to to grocery store today or tomorrow to stock back up on healthy foods so I don't think I'll have any problem this week!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Family Game Night with Q's Race to the Top

This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and EQtainment, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #Qsracetothetop
This summer has been so incredibly busy for us... so incredibly great, of course, but just so busy! Now that summer camp (x2), vacation, and a mini-vacation are behind us, I'm so glad to be getting back into a routine and getting some normalcy back into our days. For us, "normal" definitely includes weekly (usually more) family game nights and we were so excited to try the brand new Q Wunder Board Game, Q's Race to the Top, from EQtainment!
Q's Race to the Top gave us some family fun while playing a game and, as my little secret, the game was pulling double duty! While kids view the game simply as fun, parents know there's even more benefits to it. EQtainment focuses on emotional intelligence while creating their line of affordable games, storybooks, and videos. Emotional intelligence includes things that aren't necessarily taught in a classroom, things like self control, motivation, empathy and social skills. If you're wondering why that's so important, studies have shown that having a high emotional quotient boosts career success, relationship satisfaction, leadership skills, health, humor, and happiness. Obviously things we all want for our children!
Probably my favorite thing about the game is the campaign behind it. Of course we all want what's best for our own children but the creator of Q's Race to the Top is trying to bring access to the tools that help increase emotional intelligence to all children. Despite perception, having the tools to increase emotional intelligence isn't just for kids in elite schools in wealthy areas... it's much more simple and should be accessible to all children. With this Kickstarter campaign, you can help make that a reality.

My next favorite thing about the game? The laughs. Oh my goodness did we laugh while we played this game! The color square you land on during your turn indicates which card you'll draw. The red cards were our favorite, these were called the "Do" cards. We had to do silly physical things like shuffling across the floor and back (the kids loved watching mom do that!) and running in place (which Emily couldn't do while keep a straight face with an audience)! Although these things were funny on the surface, I know the kids were getting more out of the activities than just a good belly laugh! These physical activities help teach control of the arms and legs as well as coordination and balance... all critical components of emotional intelligence.
The other sets of cards are called the "You" and "Q" cards and they focus on the verbal side of things. Feelings, emotions, creative thinking, actions... these aren't things that we discuss everyday so it was really nice to open up the dialogue with my kids and discuss these things in a relaxed family setting.
The biggest surprise of all for me was that when Emily and I started playing this game, Ryan wanted to join in. Yes, my 12 year old who's going into 7th grade asked if he could play with us. And you know what? Even though this game may be geared towards younger kids, he had just as much fun with it as we did. Chatting with Emily while playing this game was really great just in itself... but any game that makes my almost-teenager open up and talk about manners and behavior is an even bigger winner in my book! You'll definitely want to plan on playing Q's Race to the Top with your young ones, but don't leave the older ones out... good reminders and open communication are always a positive and I was pleasantly surprised at this added bonus in our family game night!

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