Earning and burning points

Recently I started to realize buring (use) rewards points efficiently is as important as earning, if not more.

Chase Ultimate Rewards, Hyatt
I made a small mistake about a month ago when I transferred some Chase UR points to Hyatt. The impetus for doing that was I needed to book 3 nights of hotel at Hyatt Regency in Chicago (magnificent miles). And I found booking via Chase UR website costs about 45,000 points. But in split of a second, I mistook Hyatt charges 40,000 points for 3 nights (it’s actually only 2 nights, but my mind short circuited). And I did the 40,000 points transfer (1:1). After that I no longer have 45,000 UR points, and had to use some 6,000 points plus $430 for those 3 nights.

So there was the cost of my small mistake. But the story did not end here, as I heard from one of my friend Hyatt points was a big saver in his family Florida trip. So I looked for Hyatt Place or Hyatt House for the summer trip we are taking in the east. I was able to book the free night (yearly) at Boston Harbor, also booked 5 nights either at Hyatt Place or Hyatt House in Owings Mills (Baltimore), Amherst (Buffalo), Morristown (NJ), and Boston Braintree (south Boston). Note both Hyatt Place and House have free breakfast.

Starwood Preferred Guest SPG
I know SPG points are valuable, and I have used them in various places including Shanghai, and this one with more pictures. Recently Marriott and SPG joined forces, and I have some points in MR and SPG but could not make a booking from either. So I transferred 5,000 points from MR to SPG (worth 1,666 SPG points), combined with 1,400 points I already have, I was able to make a booking at Aloft BWI (baltimore airport). I stayed at Aloft ORD before and have some ideas how it feels.

Lego deals

I buy Lego mostly for my daughter and her friends’ birthday gifts. There are 5 stores I usually go (both online and offline): Lego official website, Amazon (probably bought the most), Walmart (both online and store pickup), Target (online, free shipping with red card), and Toys R Us (both online and store pickup). Note in the online cases, I usually got the free shipping.

A ballpark for deal or not is see if the per piece price is 10 cents or not. For example, for an 100 piece lego set, a fair price is $10. If it sells below $10, then it maybe a deal.

Deals usually got sold out fairly quickly. I recall once in holiday season I had it in the cart, but I was a bit greedy in terms of using shopping portal (Discover Deal) and also tried to find a nearby Walmart store, during the process the lego was sold out. Today I learned my lesson, as soon as I saw the deal from dealsea, I click on it and ordered from Toys R Us. I actually bought two because a friend asked. This afternoon when I go to the store to pick up (btw, I feel the physical stores are in big trouble, as the parking lot was pretty empty at Mid-river Mall). The store clerk said they were a bit puzzled about two orders in the morning, I said they are both mine :-)

I think Lego is good for kids toy because they encourage creativity, and in the case of I don’t know a kid’s hobby (for birthday present), a Lego set is a safe bet as it’s pretty liquid (they can give away easily).

Kids Rewards System

Recently my wife and I are having some trouble find out a way to manage our old daughter’s at home behaviors, esp. around good working habit (wait until last minute to do homework or play piano), clean up the mess after playing, be nice to her younger sister, and last but not least, playdate with friends went over the time we set initially.

Since I work in the reward space for my day job, and I thought there may be something we can do in an app. We did tried stickers, and charts, but nothing really stuck for a while. I think with the popularity of smartphones, a smartphone app may stick. Looked around I am seeing two; iRewardChart and Choremonster.

Last but not least, I came across two articles on this topic, Reward system: Goodbye to the sticker chart and How Experts Discipline Their Children.

(Update 03-20-2017) This is partially inspired at the teacher/JA volunteer (my coworker) rewards kids with chocolate/candy for good behaviors in classroom (see this post about my JA experience).

Summer camp recommendations

There are many good summer day camps in St. Louis area. STLToday recently has a good piece on this topic.

Personally my old daughter has been to the JCC Day Camp, and Andrews Academy. We like both, with a bit preference over Andrews: for its after care, and overall quality. Note cost-wise, Andrews is a bit more expensive than the J (about $1,300 per month vs $220 a week for the J). We also thought about the Arts Camp at COCA too but the pickup and dropoff is a bit challenge (due to half day schedule). Note they do have 2 locations: the U city campus and the Whitefield school at Ladue/Mason. My daughter was very much interested in the arts, that’s why we signed up the art camp at the J when she was 5 (incoming kindergartener). This summer we are thinking again sign her up at Andrews (4 weeks Science camp and 4 weeks Outdoor camp). Both the J and Andrews do swimming once a day.

For the little ones, the summer camp at Hope Montessori (Mason road, Creve Coeur) is very good. We are thinking about signing up younger daughter this summer.

Other camps I heard about: the mad science summer camp, and the Lego (Robotics) camp at Maryville U. Both are half day, so it’s a bit challenge if both parents work full time and in office.

Btw, I wrote about the summer camp about 3 years ago.

Last but not least, found a summer camp search website here.

Junior Achievement Volunteering at Northview Elementary Jennings

Today I had opportunity being a Junior Achievement Volunteer at Northview Elementary School (Jennings). This is the first time I volunteer for JA, also my first time really being a teaching position at school. Almost 18 years I did some brief teaching (Abaqus finite element analysis) for some civil engineering graduate students. More recently I started volunteer for Math Facts Scholars at my daughter’s school, but this is mostly testing and some one on one tutoring.

Back to topic, JA is a program teaching kids about community, business, jobs, work readiness and entrepreneurship. It reminds me of this Warren Buffett SMC program this evening after I came back from the school, and cooled down a bit. The day went by fast, and we (my partner, myself and classroom teacher) did the best we can, considering all the factors: the classroom is a bit crowded, 28 kids for 2nd grade. I also started appreciating the hard work of teacher, in the beginning of afternoon session, because I felt my knee is really sore, and I just feel like to sit down. It’s also very interesting to see the teacher got many tricks (gestures, rhythms, and routines) to help calm down the kids. Also there are bright and hard working kids everywhere, despite the fact they may not have the latest and greatest facility or equipment. For example, I noticed they have Windows, and small Dell laptop (chromebooks?). While in many area private school and the public school my daughter goes, they have macs.

For me this is quite an eye opening moment for me, as I listened to the morning announcement in the broadcast, from pledge of the allegiance, to birthday annoucement.

PS, I was quite nervous before the event, as I said earlier I did not have much teaching or public speaking experience. One thing I try to remind myself: as Woody Allen said, 80% of the work is to show up. So just show up and we should be mostly fine. Also, I try to set my expectation low, as long as I have impact one student, I will be happy. It seems from the students response, I wildly beat this low expectation: as I was leaving, students gave me hugs and high fives.

Also, it’s interesting some of them were very curious about China, they asked me questions on China. I never have similar experience like that in my daughter’s school, probably because I never got to talk, and they have many Chinese kids in school (not as curious).