a book report: doodle adventures by mike lowery

Last week, Miss L received the second book in an amazing new series: Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery. When she opened up the package, a little bit of guilt sunk into her eyes.

“Mom… I haven’t doodled in the first book yet.”

She had received the first book back in June, and she had read it right away. But she couldn’t find the strength to doodle in the book. In fact, one night, the request even brought her to tears. “YOU CAN’T WRITE IN BOOKS! YOU CAN’T DRAW IN BOOKS EITHER.”

And try as I might, she wouldn’t believe me (or the book jacket) that it was PRECISELY what you were supposed to do. But the existence of a second book… with the same instructions, suddenly removed the fear and she found herself jumping to draw in both!

In less than two days, we had a giggling 6-year-old who laughed along with the books and had drawn the best doodles throughout the two books. And she was begging to know when the next one was coming out!

Her first “Book Report” video is linked above, and you can click on the books below to order them!



starting off the crazy back to school days the right way

This post was sponsored by Nature Made® as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central.

I may still be in denial about the whole thing, but we are officially “back to school” and dealing with everything that comes with it. In our case that means Monday through Friday involves an intricate dance between routine and randomness for every single family member.

On Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday, I’m up at 5:40am to workout. When I return home at 7:00am, the rest of the house is awake and moving.

Mr. M is getting ready for work, and Miss L sets her timer for 10 minutes to get ready and head downstairs dressed for school, and I run to take a shower.  

Breakfast for everyone is a bowl of cereal, either eaten in hurry if we’re late or with a book if we’ve got a spare minute to relax. Miss L, however, gets a bonus to her breakfast: Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin GummiesOnce breakfast is done, it’s time to pack up lunch for the day and head out the door to school dropoff at 8am and we head off to work.

So why add Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies to her morning routine? Well, Miss L stays at school until 2:30, then heads to her active afterschool program until 5:30pm. That means she’s got little time to relax and rest until we make it home. And on certain days, that might not be until after 8pm. On Tuesdays, I scoop her up, make a mad dash home to change and shove dinner in our mouths, then head back downtown for 2 hours of dance. She’s also got midweek tennis lessons at 6pm on other days. And… with the NBA season approaching, we’ll be out of the house for those games as well!

While her day may just be beginning, it’s about to be 1000x more active than either of her parents. And we’re happy to do anything that we can do to support her and keep her happy and healthy back at school.

They’re crazy convenient for us to pick up at our local Target store, and Miss L really enjoys the flavors. In fact, she’s the one that’s now reminding us to keep them stocked in the cabinet and to eat with breakfast!

If your schedule is as crazy as ours, I’d encourage you to pick up some Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies on your next visit to Target too and see how well they work for your family!

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

family, geeky

how to save for college: six years down the road with our 529 plan

Now that it’s been SIX years since started Miss L‘s college savings fund, I thought I’d provide another update on the progress of her 529 Plan! [I’ve previously posted a 4-year update as well as when we started the fund.]


Just as a quick review, we decided to invest our money in the Utah Educational Savings Plan based on the information and availability of plans back in 2010. It had great ratings from Bankrate’s (comparison of all state plans), and stuck out as the best option for us. [It’s worth noting that California now has a 5-star plan of its own, Scholarshare, which actually gets slightly better ratings than Utah.]


Now, what does 6 years of consistent investing actually look like?


Currently, Miss L’s funds are valued at 128% of our net principal contribution. As you can see, we’ve invested the same amount every year (we have an automatic monthly withdrawal from our checking account), but thanks to favorable market conditions, Miss L’s money is growing pretty nicely.


Here’s the annual breakdown:

  • Year 1 = 108% of principal contributions
  • Year 2 = 103% of principal contributions
  • Year 3 = 119% of principal contributions
  • Year 4 = 138% of principal contributions
  • Year 5 = 135% of principal contributions
  • Year 6 = 128% of principal contributions

As for administrative costs, we’ve currently paid a total of 0.75% of our principal contributions over 6 years.


It’s really nice to know that we’ve started this school fund and have it growing for whenever it’s needed. And it truly is “out of sight out of mind” until those quarterly statements show up! If we got a tax break for doing it, we’d be even happier, but so far all efforts on that front have failed.

Will we hit the target expenses?

Well, right now, a college that is currently $25,000/year is expected to cost $169,968 by the time Miss L starts her freshman year. If we stay at our current contribution rate, we’ll have 75% of it covered! Not too shabby… but not there yet!


Some people have asked about how this helps/hurts for financial aid when a student goes to school. If a parent owns the fund, then up to 5.6% of the fund’s value can be counted toward FAFSA inclusion. Those are the rules now… who knows what they’ll be in 12 years!


So here we are…6 years down and only 12 more to go! Ooooh boy! If those first six years are any indication, then they are going to just FLY by!


Anyone else have any thoughts on a 529 plan or college savings?


Here are a few handy links if you’re looking to invest in a 529 plan:


how to earn a Junior Ranger badge at Yosemite National Park

One of our country’s pure treasures, the National Parks, celebrate their 100-year anniversary this week! We got out and celebrated the occasion a few weeks ago with a weekend trip to my favorite National Park, Yosemite National Park. Now we’ve been to the park before as a family, but now that Miss L turned six, she got to participate in a great program offered by the parks: the Junior Rangers!

What exactly does it take to become a Junior Ranger at Yosemite National Park? Just these 4 steps!

  1. Purchase a booklet published by the Yosemite Conservancy for $3.50 at any of the following stores:
    • Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
    • Nature Center at Happy Isles (May through September)
    • Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Centers (June through September)
    • Big Oak Flat Information Station (May through September)
  2. Complete the set number of activities in the book
  3. Collect a bag of trash
  4. Attend a guided program

We went on this weekend excursion with our friends, the great S Family, so we had two additional Junior Ranger-trainees in our camp: Miss M and Miss E! 

We stayed in the Lower Pines campground in Yosemite Valley for the three nights, which happens to be the location of the Lower Pines amphitheater and many guided programs. We attended two nighttime Ranger Programs: a Ranger talk on Friday and a “Who’s scat is that?” ranger talk on Sunday night. The girls loved both of them, and it was so nice having the whole experience just steps away from our campsite! (For a list of all the guided programs, check out the Yosemite Guide when you arrive)

Technically, the Ranger Talk on Friday night was our first step to becoming a Junior Ranger, but we didn’t know that just yet! The next day, we picked up three Junior Ranger booklets from the Nature Center at Happy Isles after our Saturday morning hike to see what the program was all about!

The booklets have a range of activities for younger and older kids to complete, but parents may need to provide some writing assistance to the 6-7 year olds. The girls had fun with the activities and filled out their books that afternoon and the following morning.

Then it was time to pick up some trash!

We packed the trash bags (and gloves that they give you!) and started off on a hike to Mirror Lake on Sunday morning. Who knew this would turn out to be the greatest decision ever! You’ll never have a bored hiker as long as you have a trash collector in your group!

The girls truly took pride and did an amazing job cleaning up the 1-mile trail in both directions, and each had a full trash bag to show for it!

Once their bags were properly disposed of, we hopped on the shuttle bus and went over to the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center to turn in their books.

The Visitors Center is usually quite crowded, so we decided to go around the lunch hour and hope to miss the crowds. The girls presented their books and the Ranger quizzed them on what they learned during their guided program, and other questions from the activities in the book. This definitely wasn’t a participation patch that everyone just gets for $3.50 and the rangers took it quite seriously!

After the quiz, the girls raised their arms and were administered the Junior Ranger oath!

They were each given their patch, and we walked away from the Visitors Center with three extremely happy and proud Junior Rangers!

As you can see, the program is quite easy to complete, but more importantly, it really does pass on the lessons of being a good National Park steward to children. I know that we’ll always keep trash bags and gloves with our hiking gear from now on, and hopefully this is just one of many patches that Miss L, Miss E and Miss M will be gathering in their Junior Ranger lifetime!


upgrading my daily routine

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by CLEAR CARE® PLUS as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.  I received financial compensation for my participation and endorsement.


It was exactly 16 weeks ago that I decided I needed to upgrade my routine. I was tired, stuck in a bit of a post-winter rut, and just doing the same thing day to day. I wasn’t getting out for those runs that I told myself I’d go on each morning. And I was skipping breakfast in favor of coffee, working through lunch, then devouring everything in sight when dinner came around.

The shake-up came from Facebook. I saw a few people talking about a new gym program opening in the neighborhood.

“Ooh! I’m so excited!” they all seemed to say. It was a female-only program… but it looked intense. The pretty people in the photos looked intense. I decided to keep scrolling.

Then an ad popped up in my Facebook feed a few days later and I noticed that a long-time friend liked the photo… and that she had belonged to a similar program for about two years.

But she’s a runner. And she’s in-shape. That’s what I told myself and closed the ad again.

Then came the final straw. A close friend told me she had done something crazy. She had signed up for this new intense gym program because she needed to do something for herself.

And that’s when I realized I needed to stop making excuses and give myself an upgrade too!

It’s been 16 weeks since I started the program: one 6-week 5/days/week session and 2 5-week 4/days/week sessions. And this upcoming Monday, I’m back to where I started 16 weeks ago with another “bootcamp” session. And I couldn’t be happier with my decision!

I’m usually not one to treat myself to little perks or upgrades… often preferring the generic brand or low-cost option among my choices. In this case, I kept thinking if I wasn’t running and working out already, then I didn’t deserve to upgrade to an actual class. In reality, I haven’t worked out this much in years thanks to the class and investing a little bit more in myself.

I’d definitely encourage everyone to invest a little extra into yourself in some way… because it really is worth it! And think of it this way, all that other skimping and saving can actually afford you these little upgrades along the way!

Speaking of upgrades, CLEAR CARE® PLUS (shout-out to my favorite contact lens solution! Love the bubbles!) is taking upgrades to the next level with the Bubble Upgrade™ Sweepstakes! From 8/10/16 to 9/6/16, a winner will be selected every Wednesday to win an upgrade experience (each valued at over $10,000), spanning categories from sports, travel, and self-improvement.


View the sweepstakes here to learn more, and discover the amazing prizes! You could win an upgrade experience worth over $10,000!

[No purchase necessary. Must be at least 18 and a resident of the 48 contiguous U.S. or D.C. Ends 9/6/16. Void where prohibited. Subject to complete Official Rules.]

I recently upgraded to  CLEAR CARE® PLUS for my contacts and I’ve been so impressed with how much better it deeps cleans the dirt and removes protein from my lenses. Let’s add that as another silly thing I should have done a long time ago! If you’re a daily contact lens wearer, I’d check it out as an upgrade option for you!

And if you’re not blind as a bat, then I hope you get a chance to upgrade something exciting or boring in your life soon!