Back-to-School, Glory Hallelujah

This post is sponsored by Zappos.

My kids went back to school last week, and not a moment too soon. This summer . . . it may have been one of my hardest yet as a parent. We were in the middle of moving and unpacking, our house was constantly full of construction workers, we didn’t have a working kitchen, and there wasn’t really a place for the kids to play. And in the midst of this I was still trying to work from home full-time. I was exhausted and the kids were bored. I think even they were ready to go back to school.

Photo Sep 08, 7 54 16 AM

I can’t believe I have a 5th grader. Still reeling about that a little bit. Two more years until middle school! Eek.

Photo Sep 08, 11 35 19 AM

Back-to-school shopping was a little different this year than in year’s past. Typically I would pick their first-day-of-school outfit for them, but in the past year my older 3 kids have gotten very picky about what they wear, and want to have a hand in choosing their own clothes. They also have specific brands that they really like. For the girls, it’s Roxy. For the boys, it’s Volcom  Not a big surprise given that both of these brands are local, and what a lot of their peers like to wear. (Not to mention their parents.)

Photo Sep 02, 12 15 00 PM

Photo Sep 02, 12 15 22 PM

I’ve talked about this before but I do most of my shopping online. I really don’t like carting four kids to the store. This year, I decided to outfit their first day of school from Zappos.  I always knew Zappos as a great place for shoes, but only recently became aware of their vast selection of the surf/skate brands my kids and husband really like. They’ve got Billabong, Volcom, Hurley, Quicksilver, and RVCA clothing, and of course a huge selection of shoes.

This year, I pulled the kids over to my laptop, pulled up some selections from their favorite brands, and let them pick their own back-to-school outfit. The girls both chose Roxy dresses and Converse shoes. The boys both picked Converse as well, and some Volcom tees.

Photo Sep 02, 12 27 46 PM

Photo Sep 02, 12 27 50 PM

They were really stoked when the box came full of the items they had picked out themselves.

In addition to our back-to-school clothes, we also ordered some new shoes for the girls’ cheerleading uniforms. All of my kids are doing our local “Friday Night Lights” program – the boys are playing football and the girls are cheering.

Photo Sep 02, 12 40 58 PM

I love the selection of Converse – so many colors. Kembe was so excited about his shoes that he kept wanting school to start THAT DAY. Every day, he would say, “I can’t wait for school so I can wear my new shoes.”

Photo Sep 02, 12 39 29 PM

All of my kids had a really positive first day of school, and so did I. After drop-off, I had some other moms over for mimosas to celebrate our newfound freedom. The kids saw my preparations and said, “What? You are celebrating that our summer is over?”

Photo Sep 08, 9 08 06 AM

Yes, children. Yes we are.

The Gift of Education! (Or the Difficulties of Christmas Gift Recommendations)

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.

The older and more independent kids get, the more difficult gift-giving becomes at Christmas. As I’ve written before, we’re working hard this Christmas to make it more about memories rather than things. This helps us keep our holiday spending within our budget, of course, but it also reinforces our belief that Christmas should be about more than just material stuff.

But we’re not hermits. And when our relatives ask us what the kids want for Christmas, I’m not going to tell them that we only prefer organic artisan hand-carved wooden toys made from pure Brooklyn pine because we’re KEEPING CHRISTMAS SIMPLE.

That’s not likely to satisfy the kids’ grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles who are always asking me what my children want for Christmas. In addition to the usual games or toys or whatever, I used to be able to give them the kids’ clothing sizes and request t-shirts for the boys or pretty dresses for the girls. But lately, the kids are becoming these little self-contained people who are developing very definite styles and sartorial tastes.

In the past, they would just wear whatever. But not anymore. Which means a shirt or dress Grandma picked out because she thought it was “cute” may not fit my kids’ personal style. And may just sit in their closet, unworn.

This frustrates me and frustrates family members, too. I totally understand. And I understand that giving cash or gift cards for clothing just doesn’t have the same emotional impact for the giver that comes from picking out an actual gift. Gift cards, while pragmatic, can feel too impersonal.

So this Christmas thing is getting hard, y’all.

This year I’m finding myself shooing family gift-givers away from clothing gifts, and steering them toward less-fashionable things like books. But I’m suggesting another option, too.

This one won’t be as satisfying for the kids—at least not yet—but since 2014 has been the year of setting up their college savings accounts, I love that Scholarshare has an easy eGifting option. It allows family or friends to make a secure contribution through the Scholarshare website. Once you give them the appropriate account number, then can donate whatever amount they’d like above a $25 minimum. The gift goes straight into the kid’s account. Easy.

Plus, there’s an option to print a gift certificate. Imagine the joy on your child’s face when they open a package from Grandma only to see a piece of paper that says, “Good news! I have given you a gift that lasts a lifetime: the gift of education.”

Yeah…I don’t see that filling any of my currently short-sighted children with a whole lot of Christmas joy. But making a contribution to their college funds IN ADDITION to something else, or as a replacement for the cash they’ll probably lose in our front yard or mistakenly wash in their skinny jeans? Yes please.

And some day, our kids will appreciate it as much as Mark and I do.

What about you? As your kids age and develop their own sense of style, how do you handle gift recommendations for well-meaning family members? (Especially the ones who want to give your child something more personal than a gift card?)

Kidizen: upscale clothing that is friendly to the environment and the wallet #shopkidizen

This post was sponsored by Kidizen

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to be more conscious about our purchases. We have moved to fair-trade for many of our household items, and we’ve made efforts to make our purchases friendlier to the environment. We’ve also tried to be cognizant of the human rights issues in our purchases, avoiding products that are known to involve slave labor.

The one area where shopping consciously has been a big struggle for me has been clothing. Fair trade clothing is expensive. I love the idea of recycled clothing, but I really don’t have the time or energy to scour second-hand clothing stores. Enter the shopping app Kidizen. It’s an upscale, online, second-hand clothing shop with a great variety of gently used clothing from brands like Gap, J. Crew, and Tea Collection.

One of the things I really like about Kidizen is that it’s all on the phone. You can make a profile for each of your kids, and then shop based on their sizes and preferences. Here is Kembe’s profile:

Here is what it looks like if I filter for Jafta:

And here is what the results look like when I filter for India:
If you find a seller you really like who has clothes in styles and sizes that fit your child, you can follow them to stay updated when they add new clothes.
India is obsessed with vintage so I was pleased to find a few fun pieces for her that were much cheaper here than they are on ebay or in vintage boutiques.
Once you’ve added items to your cart, checkout is really simple, even if you are buying from different vendors.

While we were looking for vintage items, the prices on brands from standard stores like Target, Old Navy, and Gap are very low.

Another bonus of Kidizen: you can sell clothes from your phone, too! I loved that I could just snap pictures of the clothes and upload them all from one device. I’ve given up on ebay but I think I will really get in the habit of selling clothes this way, because it’s so easy. Here’s my current shop:

I really like shopping from home so I’m thrilled to have found a place that can help me shop for recycled clothes from my phone!

If you are interested in learning more about Kidizen, check out their app, their website, and their facebook page. Also, bonus! Kidizen is offering a giveaway to one lucky reader. Use the rafflecopter below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

College expectations and the burden of debt

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.

To say education is important in our family is a bit of an understatement. Our parents were educators. Mark and I both have advanced degrees. Both of us grew up watching our fathers pursue Ph.Ds.
We grew up with the expectation that we would go to college.
But we grew up with another expectation, too: Both of us were made aware from the beginning that we would have to pay for our college education. All of it—room, board, books—was on our shoulders. That’s an entirely different kind of expectation. To be perfectly honest, it was a burden. Mark and I left college beneath a ton of student debt. We got married beneath a ton of debt. We spent the majority of our marriage living way below our means, saving and scrimping as we kept chipping away at that debt.  We finally paid it off in 2010. Talk about a relief. Financially, spiritually, psychologically…it’s incredibly freeing to climb out from under that burden.

(me, in my college dorm room freshman year. Yeah, that’s a scrunchie on my head.)

As we’ve raised our own kids, we have similar expectations about education. We want them to go to college, or at least pursue some kind of post-high school education. But we don’t want them to bear the financial burden of that education on their own. Debt can be limiting. It can be stressful. It can even be unhealthy. We don’t want that for our kids. I also want my kids to be able to focus on college while they are in college, without having to work several jobs to pay for their living expenses in addition to tuition.
So we’re determined to save for college by contributing to Scholarshare funds for each of them. We did a lot of research before opening their accounts, and one of the stats I encountered is the fact that, according to this study, kids are seven times more likely to attend college when there is a dedicated account in their name. Having an available college savings plan can actually encourage a child to attend college.
I didn’t need encouragement. Attending college was so much a part of our culture and expectations that I never really considered any alternatives—even though I knew I’d have to foot the bill myself. But my kids aren’t me. Theirs is a different generation. Attitudes are changing about higher education as costs continue to rise. By the time they graduate from high school, going to college might not be the automatic next step in their lives.
Not when they’ve grown up hearing stories of wealthy and successful people who never attended college or dropped out before graduating. The WordPress guy. The DropBox guy. The Tumblr guy. The Mashable guy. The Spotify guy

I won’t complain if my boys and girls become tech multimillionaires, of course. (I might even have prayed for it once or twice.) But I don’t want them to write off the university experience just yet. I want them to strive for a college degree. I want it to be a goal. I want the dedicated college savings account in their name to be something that propels them toward continuing their education.
So, now that Mark and I are out of debt, we’re still saving like crazy. We have high expectations in our family, and one of those is that high school won’t be the end of the Howertons’ education. But we’re not expecting our kids to pay for it—at least not all of it.
What about you? What kinds of higher education expectations does your family have? Do you think the presence of a college fund will have any impact on your kids?

How to monitor safety issues while managing your own parental anxiety

This post was sponsored by Empowered SAFETY With my first child, I was really concerned about safety issues. Possibly even too concerned. I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac about my own health. I am a master catastrophizer, and having a child was just a new place to project some of that anxiety. I have been gifted with an overactive imagination, coupled with a propensity towards gloom and doom. This fatalistic creativity has led me to be a bit, ahem, DELUSIONALLY PARANOID, when it comes to the health of my children. As a therapist, I get the gift of being able to diagnose my own mental illness, yet not always the ability to treat it. I know that my thinking is often irrational, and I know that it stems from some traumatic events in my own life (miscarriages, an earthquake, dramatic adoption waits, a husband being hit by a car, etc.) I spent several years feeling like every child we had was destined to be taken away from us.If I was really honest, I think I even fear that my biological children narrowly escaped the fate of the other pregnancies we lost, and that any moment her own miraculous life will be taken away, too. I know that the details of my situation is unique, but I think many of us share some crippling fears about the health and development of our children. Since mine were born, I have stressed over every minor illnesses and/or deviation from the “typical” developmental milestones. I will also confess that I have spent a ridiculous amount of time googling symptoms, and crying at the computer as I diagnose rare and deadly diseases that I am sure my child has. Light colored poop? Must be liver failure. A fever and a rash? Sounds like smallpox. Since my kids were born, I have been convinced that they were afflicted with: spinal meningitis (bad fever)
malaria (we went to Mexico and then they caught a bug)
autism (my two year old is ignoring me!)
sensory processing disorder (why is she covering her ears at that noise??)
hepatitis A (tan poop)
measles (a rash!)
mumps (a rash!)
rubella (another rash!)
torticolis (head fell to same side when sleeping)
hydrocephaly (genitically large cranium)
intestinal failure (too much food in the poop)
heart defect (feet turned blue when cold) This list could go on, but I’ll spare you the WebMD details. jafta hurt (A scrape Jafta sustained on a bike ride, that nearly turned into a life-threatening infection IN MY OWN MIND.) Unfortunately, this propensity towards predicting disaster isn’t limited to health issues. I’ve also been insanely paranoid that my kids would fall victim to some sort of tragedy surrounding a product defect . . . a rogue car seat that would fail in an accident, or a window cord that could become a choking hazard, or a stuffed animal whose eye could fall off and cause a choking incident. I spent a lot of time googling the products in our home and reading websites dedicated to reporting every possible safety hazard that posed a risk to children. It was informative but it also fueled some of my obsessive nature around potential tragedy. My anxiety is something I may always deal with, but I have tried really hard to change my thinking and behavior patterns and not “go there” with every possibility. But in doing so, I also swung the pendulum a little too far to the other side. I banned myself from web-diagnosing my children in favor of going to the doctor – which is good. I also stopped visiting websites that report product defects or child safety hazards. This was good for my sanity, but it also kept me out of the loop of potential problems that I really should be informed about. This month, I was introduced to a new service that I think is the perfect way to stay abreast of safety issues without getting bogged down with an overload of information that becomes overwhelming. Empowered SAFETY is a subscription service that monitors safety issues that are relevant to your child, and then sends them in an easy-to-digest email that avoids the information overload of trying to monitor all of this information across the internet. Empowered SAFETY montitors four key areas:

  • Product Safety
  • Food Safety
  • Home Safety
  • Health and Wellness Empowered SAFETY monitors actual consumer complaints and tracks product and food recalls and warnings to government agencies. They also monitor news reports, legal filings, press releases, chat rooms, blog postings, and federal and state agency websites for outbreaks and health alerts. IMG_2302 Here’s how it works: first, you register your children. That way, the news feed shows information specific to your child’s age and gender. Then, you can register the products you own, so you can get alerts if there have been any consumer complaints or official recalls for the products you own. There can be hundreds of complaints made to government agencies about child-specific products before a recall is issued. Empowered SAFETY is the only service to alert consumers of these complaints prior to a recall being issued, so you can make informed decisions about the items you own. Empowered SAFETY also monitors your state so that you can keep appraised of any food recalls or health issues that are state-specific.  Their filtering and algorithms are designed so that you only receive information that is relevant to your own location, child’s age and registered products.  I really like this service because, for me, it cuts through the noise and delivers the safety information that is important and relevant to me in an easy-to-digest format. I don’t have to go searching, and I don’t get stuck in a rabbit-trail of researching potential catastrophes online. I can relax and know that Empowered Safety will alert me if there is something I need to be concerned about in these areas. If you want to try Empowered SAFETY , they have generously offered a free 28 day trial to my readers with the code ES28DAY96. This expires the last day of November, so if you want to try it, now is the time! They are also offering one lucky winner a six-month Premium Plus Membership plan for free. The value of each six-month plan is $149.94 each. Use the rafflecopter below to enter, and then leave a comment on how this service could benefit you. Good luck!   a Rafflecopter giveaway    Tracking Pixel Tracking Pixel