Kids Summer Camp in St. Louis Area

It’s finally spring time here, which also means summer is around the corner. And we need to get kids into summer camp, instead of let them glue to Netflix or iPads all day :-)

There are quite a few summer camps in the area, some are almost full time (like regular semester), some are more short. And I recall YMCA has some discount a few months ago for early registrations (early Feb), don’t know if they still have it.

There is also a kids summer camp at St. Louis Community College Meramec. There is this Missouri Science Camp, which is being held at Rolla, MO, where I went to graduate school.

I know Ladue News has a nice summary for the summer camps, but I could not find it online. IndependentSchools (the association of private schools in St. Louis) has a good list too.

Small changes coming to collegeFund app

I was listening/reading two stories on the college debt (source: NPR) and the financial well beings of millennials (source: fortune/cnn), which lead to to add some new features to the collegeFund app. The app was essentially a college savings (529 plan) and I did not thought too much of this college debt problem at the time the app was conceived 3.5 years ago. At the time I opened 529 plan for my daughter, and started put some money into it.

A lot has changed in my personal finance and to the economy in general. Now I felt for a lot of people, college debt is like a mortgage, it’s just something they have to bear with, and manage while go on with their lives. Btw, I saw another good resource for college debt here.

I just updated the app, submitted to the app store, it’s under review now. Here is the screenshot. Let me know if you have any questions. Email me at minjie dot xu AT gmail dot com.


Redeem British Airways Avios Points for Free Flights

From my limited experience BA Avios points are difficult to redeem for international flights, esp. from where I live STL to PVG Shanghai. But I also heard BA miles is very efficient for the US domestic flights, the trick is also to find them. So here is how I did recently, for one way STL to LGA (New York). I used AA advantage account to search award flights first (note AA is the BA partner in the US), and I saw some openings. Then I go to BA site, search the same date, I got the award seats.

I have not done round trip or multi-stop in this case. This is something I will try next time.

Exchange Euro into US dollar

I have a need to exchange some euro into US dollars. I did some research online as I recall previously I did not have very good experience on this. Saw a few articles (such as this MSN one, and this independentTraveller one). They are relevant but not totally applicable, I think they are more geared toward international travelers. Anyway, I compared 3 banks in St. Louis area, Bank of America (BoA), Regions, and US bank. On April 4 Friday, the rate I got was 1.2943, 1.27xx, and 1.18xx. The rate at US bank was a bit low, which is contrary to the results from the previous MSN article:

“…Among the 15 largest U.S. banks, the exchange rates ranged from 1.3000 at Citibank to 1.4400 at U.S. Bank…”

I eventually went to back to the BoA I checked out in the morning. And finished transaction.

PS, the previous experience I mentioned was due to the fee charged. They usually waive fees once the balance is over certain amount. This is true in most places including China.

Squirrel visited my sienna minivan again

This time it tried to make an home again, luckily because it was overnight, they did not bite cable or things bad enough to cause damage.

I am annoyed by them to be honest. So as my neighbor. So who is the culprit? I heard from my neighbor, the new Toyota Sienna minivan is using soy based (food based) as insulation material under the hood. No wonder they chewed those thing left and right in my van. But why Toyota did this, so that they could boast they are “green”, or to make the regulators happy? This “green material” is just creating trouble for people like me, who had to park car outside, unfortunately in this country in many places, squirrels is just a way of life. I think Toyota should either reimburse me for the repair cost ($600) plus my time, or issue a voluntary recall to replace the material from food based to chemical based. Better yet, put some tabasco (the hot sauce) on it.

Distracted parenting in smartphone age

Saw quite a few articles on this topic lately. Basically parents focus their attention on their phone/tablet at dinner table, at fast food restaurant, etc., when they are supposed to talk to their kids. In some cases (fast food restaurant), it will increase the likely-hood of children misbehavior. We have all done that (I’ve done my share of it). Today, I saw this interesting behavior, my wife is asking Serenity to watch hand, while focusing her eye on iPad. I told her Serenity already washed her hand, or something like that. The thing is she was in the same room as Serenity, while I was in another room.

So, pay attention. Kids need attention.

Another way to ease parenting chores, is let kids watch TV or play with iPads. I’ve bought a screenful of iPad apps for Serenity. Good thing she did not play those all the time. She still like the traditional toys and goof around for the most part. Unless she wanted to drink milk (in bottle) and watch TV :-)

Squirrel visited my car again, took Serenity to Post Office

(Update 3-29-14) They came back again last night, as I saw some hay above the battery again in Sienna van. I talked to my neighbor yesterday evening, and his Lexus SUV got squirrel after I got it last time. It seems we still need to figure out something. Maybe they are used to moth balls now?

(Update 3-16-14) They came back one more time, on Friday/Saturday (March 14/15), I found out on Saturday morning. That’s the 3rd time they caused damage to my car (the check engine light is back on again). I am putting moth balls around battery now.

(Original 3-13-14) This time things got a bit worse, they tried to make a home under the hood (on the battery). I could not start the car. Had to call AAA for help. The AAA driver did a trick, he said my car was “flooded”, basically too much fuel in the engine as I was applying gas trying to start. I also talked to my neighbor as his SUV got bitted by the squirrel twice too. His solution is the moth ball. So I’m trying similar tactic shortly after I got the car back from dealer on Tuesday afternoon (Mar 11). While this incident is a bit unfortunate, my wife commented we are much more fortunate compared to the people who likely lost their lives in the MH370 incident.

Some links on squirrel messing with the cars.
toyota tundra forum

car talk

I also saw couple videos at Youtube. I also posted this at

Post Office Visit
Last time I took Serenity to USPS, is probably a few years ago when she took the passport photo when she was 6 months old. Yesterday I took her again to post office, to send a book I bought from Amazon almost 13 years ago, and sold it on Amazon at almost the same price (Pragmatic Progmmer). Anyway, sometimes it’s difficult to get Serenity happily leaving school for home in the late afternoon. I usually waited. Lately I tried a few new things, like remind her after 5 minutes, like the USPS thing, etc. Just try to be innovative, and also be fair minded. I knew one occasion she really dislike leaving is when she worked on drawing/cutting paper.

Throw fits

This afternoon (Friday afternoon), as a recent custom, both my wife and I went to school to pick up our daughter. My wife was pretty happy, until she saw Serenity started to cry as soon as she saw mom. The reason, she felt we went there too early, and she just started some drawing project. The teacher tried to help, to no vail. The kids tried to persuade her, no help. Being a extremely thin skinned person, my wife wants to leave. We managed to take her out, she still cries cries cries.

Once a while, not very often, our daughter does this when we picked her up. Reason varies. Not wanting to leave is one. Also sometimes she is just tired (probably she did not get much nap after lunch). Anyway, those things sometimes could seem embarrassing, as kids just cannot stop crying, or throw fits. But looking at another way, that’s just a part of their growing processing. Not all kids do this. But I imagine many kids once a while hit a rough patch. As parents or teachers, we just need to have a lot of patience.

Birthday party places for little kids in St. Louis

We went to the Chick-fil-a Chesterfield valley today for lunch, actually we spent quite some time today. The reason being we have a birthday party at 3 pm at Chesterfield mall, and it takes 40 to 50 minutes going back and forth from the Chesterfield to our home in Creve Coeur. Talking about the birthday party places in St. Louis, since Serenity turns to 3 and went to pre-school, there are a lot more birthday party invitations, and I typically obligated. Here are the place we went so far, and I added my comments there (purely my personal view as a dad):

1) St. Louis Zoo (3 times): good for little kids. Kids got to see the insects and the birds and small animals (such as guinea pig). Their Owl cup cake is big (maybe I will do a cup cake series next time :-)

2) Bounce-U (3 times): the first time was quite amazing, kids just bounce bounce bounce. I think Serenity still enjoyed the 2nd/3rd time, except me as a parent got a bit tired in the 3rd time as 2nd/3rd time was fairly close.

3) Magic House (2): one is for big kid (grade school, 7 years old), the other is for Serenity’s classmate (4 years old). So the content is slightly different. The first one is science focused, the second is more art focused. Both has cup cake decoration.

4) Des Peres “The Lodge” wave swimming pool (1): unique place, one of a kind in St. Louis (the other one being Carousal below, both places the parents need to prepare own food, other places pretty much they offer pizza, or cakes).

5) St. Louis Carousal/Foust Park (1): one of a kind, it’s interesting Serenity does not like the carousal at the Chesterfield Mall (she got scared once when she was much younger), but she like the original Carousal.

6) Hi Energy Gymnastics Chesterfield Mall (1): a lot of gymnastics exercise, from pure gymnastics point of view, Team Central at Dorset is probably better, but this place is good for party and the location is also good. Note Chesterfield mall also has a carousal.

7) Last but not least, the art/drawing place in Chesterfield mall (1). I forgot the name now, but it’s by the Sears store in the mall (near mall entrance).

Quick summary: work-wise, probably less work for parents at Bounce-U, St. Louis zoo, and magic house. Fun/unique factor: Des Peres “the lodge”, the Carousal at Faust Park are probably the winner. But more work for parents.

I will refine this post as time goes.

iPhone, iPad, iOS apps, raising kids in St. Louis