Thursday, July 24, 2014

How To Choose The Right Backpack For Back-To-School

I just cleaned out my teen's backpack, or rather, what remained of his backpack because it looked like it had gone through a war zone. In some ways, it had. He'd lugged it on and off buses, through his large school, to friends' houses, etc. Like my purse or the car, it was an item he basically lived in throughout the 9 months of this past academic year. And even though it's only July, NOW is the time to start looking for a replacement, while the stores are full of them and choices are abundant. So what should one look for when buying a new backpack? Here are some guidelines and tips:

  1. If your kid will be using a locker during the upcoming year, try to get a handle on how big and wide the locker will be. When my son started middle school, the backpack that had wheels on it that I'd bought at Walmart was too big to fit into his locker. He was mortified on that first day when he had to ask a teacher to store the backpack under her desk for the day. Now we only buy backpacks without wheels because they'll compress into lockers easily and are usually lighter.

  2. Think about what the student will carry because this will effect how many compartments are needed. Will he/she be carrying a laptop, lunch box, etc.? How many binders are they likely to bring home? Backpacks with large, exterior pockets allow for easier access in crowded hallways and in the classroom. Multiple compartments also distribute the weight better. 

  3. Choose a model made out of synthetic fabric which will last longer and be lighter than those made of leather. It should also have wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps and a padded back. 

  4. The choice of a backpack is a very individual decision. If at all possible, have the child try a few on. Again, they're going to be LIVING in their backpack during the year and need to be comfortable. Consider the wearer's height and weight; when filled a backpack should never weigh more than 15% of a child's weight. Also, models which are wider than your child's torso are not recommended. For safety reasons, they should rest against the curve of your child's back, but not be more than 4 inches above or below their waist. Thumb loops, a waist belt and sternum strap help prevent excessive shoulder pain. A backpack's shoulder-strap anchor points should rest 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulders. 

  5. Check the quality of the models you're looking at. Sloppy stitching, loose threads, exposed fabric edges all indicate poor manufacturing. According to Consumer Reports, look for zippers that are protected by flaps because if they're not, water is likely to seep in. Double-headed zippers mean the zippers can be locked for security, which is especially important in the upper grades. Reflectors or reflective fabric add safety when the child is walking to/from school or the bus at dawn or dusk.
    How cute is this!

Review with your child how to carry and pack their backpack:

  • Pack light and don't bring home unnecessary items. Organize the pack so that all compartments are used and the weight is distributed as evenly as possible. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the backpack. Place bigger books at the back and smaller ones in the front to make the backpack feel lighter. 

  • Always use BOTH shoulder straps because slinging a pack over one shoulder strains muscles. 

  • Tighten shoulder straps to fit closely to the body.

Oh, and consider popping a few Ziploc bags in your kid's backpack. They're great for protecting electronics in case of oopsies involving forgetfully open zippers, the inevitable rips, etc.

Remember: a backpack is crucial to your child's comfort and organization the upcoming year. Shop now, while you have time the inventory is plentiful. September is right around the corner!

Thanks for reading!           

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Am Having SOOO MUCH FUN Donating A Photo!

Do you take at least one photo a day with your cellphone? I do. And it may be of stupid stuff – a reflection in the pool, my cat, or a flower along the highway. Now those random photos can do good thanks to a free app available in the Play Store called DonateAPhoto. I recently reviewed the app for The Geek Parent (the link is here) and I'm having a blast with it!

Basically, you snap a photo every day and donate it through the app. For every pic you share,
Johnson & Johnson gives $1 to the cause you choose to help from a preselected list. Each cause receives a minimum donation and appears in the app until its donation period ends or its goal is reached. Here's why it's a great app for parents:

You know all those pictures the kids have brought home from school? And all those projects they either do around the house or acquire from not only school, but parties, etc.? Photograph them and upload them to Donate A Photo! Instead of those pieces just sitting around the house, they'll benefit a charity and become part of The Donate A Photo gallery where your kids and their friends can look them up. (You'll feel less guilty, too, when you finally get rid of those pictures and projects.)

J&J claims the pictures will never be used to sell any products or for any commercial purposes.  I'm not sure if I believe them, but the photos I upload are so harmless, I'm not worried if they do use them.  And you can look up which photos you've donated and which charities you've chosen for them to benefit. You can also Tweet about your pics and share them with friends on Facebook. Note that this app is not intended for kids under 13.

I am having LOTS of fun just figuring out what I'll take a picture of on any given day and choosing which charity will benefit (my name on the site is IsItHotInHere should you run across any I've taken). So far I've donated four photos of my kids' artwork, one of our cat, and one of our town pool. I choose innocuous subjects and, obviously, not photos of my kids (I am STRONGLY against posting recognizable pictures of my children). 
This photo of Cosy helped the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals

As parents, we're pretty quick with the cellphone camera. Why not put that camera to good use by donating a photo? As far as I can tell, it's a no-brainer.


Thank you for reading! Please visit me on The Geek Parent (, on my other blog, Moms Crayon (, and on Jersey Mom's Blog ( where I'm listed under Moms Crayon. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How To Find & Hire A Good Contractor

Last night, we were at a friend's house discussing home renovation projects. This is a common topic whenever we visit another family's home, since we're all trying to improve our nests to make them more attractive and functional. It got me thinking about the most daunting challenge new home buyers face: finding good, reliable, contractors.

We've all had experience with tradespeople because no matter how handy you/your family might be, at some point you're going to have to hire someone to work for you. I've spent hours researching and calling contractors and even more time waiting, endlessly, for people who promised they'd show up and never did. The fact that they don't show up, that they're forfeiting business in this economy, boggles my mind. As friends and neighbors discuss home projects, we vehemently dish on who NOT to hire even more than who's good! I think the stat is for every person you tell about a reputable firm, you're going to tell 10 people about a disreputable one. I've found that to be true. People may be secretive about recommending someone, because once you've found a firm or person you trust it's like you're sitting on a mound of gold. But folks are extremely vocal about companies they don't trust because they want to get the word out about these shysters.

According to New Jersey's Acting Director for the Division of Consumer Affairs Steve Lee, “When contractors fail to comply with the law, or the terms of their contracts, consumers can be left with costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and a house full of unfinished improvements.” No fooling. Anyone who has been hosed by a contractor knows how difficult it is not only to get retribution, but to fix shoddy work done by an inept buffoon. So how do you find and hire a good contractor?

  1. Do your research. Ask around and get personal recommendations from people. Look at sites you trust that post reviews and ratings. Really READ the reviews and don't just go by the number of stars they've merited. Also search for the company's name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”
  2. Look for qualifications, like licensing. Not every state requires this for all work, but you should check with your local building department or Division Of Consumer Affairs (here's link to an Index of State And Local Consumer Agencies: If licensing is required, ask to see a copy of the contractor's license to make sure it's current.
  3. Compile a list of prospects. There's a language to some repairs, terms you may not know. Having at least three possible contractors allows you to compare prices and become more knowledgeable about the work they recommend.  Ask why they're recommending something. When you have a question about anything, don't be afraid to ask.
  4. Get estimates in writing. Ask one why his/her prices are higher than someone else's. And don't be afraid to ask them to meet a lower price.  Contractors may be willing to negotiate to get the business. We've saved thousands of dollars doing this. Just be kind and professional.
  5. Ask how many projects like yours have been completed in the last year so you can see how knowledgeable the firm is with your project.  You don't want them learning while they're working on your house.  
  6. Find out whether a permit is required and who is responsible for getting the permit(s)
  7. Get a list of references and don't be shy about calling them. Ask the clients whether the work was completed on time, if there were unanticipated costs, whether the workers/foreman showed up on time and whether they cleaned up after themselves.  After a recent roofing project, I was delighted to see the workers painstakingly going over my patio and lawn with magnets to make sure there weren't any nails around.  
  8. Ask what type of insurance the contractor carries and tell them you want to see copies of insurance certificates to make sure they're current.  A reputable contractor won't mind producing this.  Without insurance, you may be liable for injuries and damages that happen during the project.
  9. Find out if subcontractors will be used and make sure they have the proper insurance coverage and licenses, too.  Again, you need to be protected. 
  10. Understand your payment options and do NOT pay cash. Similarly, try to limit your down payment even if the contractor isn't thrilled with this. Our town limits the amount of money requested as a down payment. Contact your municipality or local consumer agency (see the link above) to find out the law in your area.
  11. Get a written contract even if your state doesn't require one.

For more information on how to hire a contractor, visit:

After the work has been done, if you're happy with the contractor, remember to recommend him/her to your friends. A lot of these people get work via word-of-mouth. Get the word out and make sure your friends tell the contractor that you've recommended them. Reputable tradespeople work hard, often in all kinds of weather and under difficult conditions. They deserve all the praise they merit!


Please note that this article was used as a reference in the writing of this post.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

10 Things To Do Before The Kids Go Back To School

Although no one, except retailers, wants to think about the end of Summer, it's only 7 weeks until my kids go back to school. And there's still SO MUCH to do! Here's a list of things you might want to accomplish before sending the minions off with their backpacks to another year of higher education:

  1. Make a list of places/activities you want to see/do before the Summer ends. These are things you will regret if they're not done. For us, there are some water-parks we want to visit, friends we need to see, etc.  Try to end the Summer with no regrets!

  2. Buy bathing suits and Summer-related items now, while they're on sale. Stores are busy stocking up for Fall and Winter and you can get some great buys now. I know Diva is going to be at least one size larger next year (all bets are out on the Teen who might wind up being 8' tall by the end of August), so buying bathing suits in a Large is a no-brainer. 

  3. Take inventory of your in-house school supplies. It's time for me to empty out the old backpacks and put away any supplies the kids have sent home. Then I'll take stock so I can replenish our School Supply Cabinet in anticipation of the coming year.

  4. Evaluate backpacks and lunch sacs to see if the kids will need new ones. By September, the stores will probably be low on both, so seize the moment!

  5. Make sure you've gotten any necessary doctors' visits in. I dropped the ball on this one and now the kids aren't getting their physicals until the second week after school starts. That's not altogether bad, since they'll be able to get their flu shots at the same time.  

  6. Make a list of the projects you plan to accomplish in the Fall after they're in school. Mine include some painting, re-grouting, and a Momvacation Day at the beach.

  7. Send musical instruments in for tuning and cleaning.  Every year while we're on vacation, we send Junior's woodwind instrument in for regular maintenance.  This way, come that first band practice, he's ready to go.

  8. Check school websites for deadlines. The deadline to order Diva's school supplies through the PTA is coming up. Thank goodness I checked the website! Also, Junior has packets he needs done before the first day of high school. Funny how he never mentioned those. Similarly, sports forms are usually due in sometime during the Summer.  Stay on top of this now, so you don't have a sidelined kid in the Fall.

  9. Start filling out your calendar for the Fall/Winter. Putting Back-To-School nights, etc., on the schedule now means you won't forget them when things get hectic in early September. 

  10. Download some free planners at This site lists all kinds of planners including ones to help you blog, monthly planners, productivity jumpstarters, etc. They can help you with all kinds of projects.

    Summer is moving all too quickly! Continue to make memories now and plan for the upcoming months. Parenting is hectic enough – get ahead of the game NOW! 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Add Fragrance To Your House For FREE

Sometimes when you're burning a candle, the wick burns down so far that all you have left is wax and no wick. Or you may have a candle but don't want to spend the money on a holder. I used to take those pieces of wax and orphan candles and use them in the fireplace when I needed help starting a fire. Last Winter, however, with me using the fireplace much less thanks to the kids' busy schedules, I had a stockpile of wax and nothing to use it for.

Love this candle, but am NOT buying a holder for it. 
Then one day when I was in the store looking at wax melts, I  had a "eureka" moment and realized that they're merely leftover pieces of candle wax like the kind I had at home. So I grabbed a few clean, label-less baby food jars (which I always stockpile because they're so handy), chopped up pieces of my old candles, and placed the now-filled jars on a candle warmer I had lying around. The wax pieces melted and my house smelled like I had a candle burning - all without spending a penny!  

Alternatives to this are:
  1. If you don't have a baby food jar, use any kind of clean jar without labels that will fit on the warmer. When you need to label the scent, just write on the jar using a Sharpie marker; you can re-label the jar by washing the marker off with alcohol or scrubbing it clean.
  2. If you don't have any candle fragments lying around, grab some dryer scent boosters (see photo below) and place those in a jar.
    Laundry scent booster

  3. So that you remember to turn off the candle warmer before you leave the house or go to bed, leave your car keys or cellphone near the warmer. Chances are, you'll reach for one of those items, realize that they're not where they should be, and turn the warmer off.

Do you have any uses for leftover candle pieces? What are they?  I'd LOVE to know!


Thanks for reading!