Colleges cultivate work ethic

Deep Springs College: I heard about the college first time today. Apparently this is a very small college (26 students enrollment per Wiki). But they emphasize work (labor), the college is free. All male for now until the lawsuit can be settled.

College of the Ozarks: I knew this college a while ago, and I heard about it in the news on their “absolutely no alcohol policy” (even off campus). It’s a christian college, and the Berea college below is similar in this aspect.

Berea College: in Kentucky instead of Missouri, similar size as CoFo above, about 1,600 students. Both CoFo and Berea require students to work, and the tuition is waived. It looks like there are at least 7 work colleges in the US. Quote: “Each student receives a tuition scholarship worth nearly $100,000 for four years.
The College is one of only seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the United States…”

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.

Fund raising at non-for-profit orgnizations

(Update 28-Feb-2017) Just got back from the book fair in Spoede school, camp read a lot. It’s a lot of efforts from the volunteers and the teachers. At the same time a lot fun for the little kids and the families. Part of the profit goes to the SSA (the parent association of the school).

(Original) I have some experience on this topic, when I was a new graduate student at Rolla, I worked on the phone asking the alumni for donation during phonathon. That’s from the asking end.

When I started to working, I listened to local NPR station (KWMU) for news and english learning, I know from time to time they also have the fundraising campaign. During that time they pause the program, and ask people to call in and give money. After a few years, finally I pulled the plug and called them.

Nowadays as my daughters started attending schools and they usually have parents association that support the schools. The St. Louis Children’s Choirs my old daughter participated is a non-for-profit organization too. There are a few common ways to raise the money: silent auction (or not-so-silent-auction), trivial/bingo games, the affiliation programs such as scripts program at Schnucks, Amazon shopping, and box-on-top. There are also some events like eating out night (restaurant donate a part of revenue/profit to school). So really it’s whatever it works: bring money from multiple revenue streams. For the trivia night/silent auction or live auction, usually people bring own drink (alcohols), unless it’s a family friendly event in which alcohol is not allowed. It seems to me sometimes the bidding become more intense with all the alcohols :-)

This year my daughter’s school did something different, they did a raffle. I think raffle (sweepstakes) is not uncommon, except in this case I think the each entry is a bit too costly ($100). I think $100 is not small money in many families, also keep in mind in some culture or religion sweepstakes (gamble) is not a good idea :-)

So here is my 2 cents. I think small non-for-profit organization fundraising is a bit like a small business trying to survive, again I feel this is one reason the multiple revenue streams. Some passive (affiliation); some active (trivial/auction/eat out). Coming from China which does not have this sort of thing, I feel this is interesting.

Montessori, Reggio and Waldorf schools in St. Louis

Those schools are considered speciality schools, because they have their own philosophy, which is NOT exactly the same as other private schools (both sectarian and non-sectarian).

Pre-school
Schools that care and educate the younger ones, some even have infant class.
A growing place: it’s located at Forsyth and Big Bend road, next to Washington U. Danforth campus. It’s a small school, but I heard very good things about them from two people (one montessori teacher, and one parent).

Faith Academy of Montessori: Housed in a historic 19th century train station in the heart of Webster Groves, Faith Academy is a Montessori preschool and kindergarten serving children and their families since 1982.

Hope Montessori: they have many campuses but our favorite is the original one Creve Coeur. Also noted the infant toddler community. My old daughter attended there for 3 years (from 1.5 years old to 4.5 years old; from toddler to preschooler). The only downside I can see is the cost, the environment and teachers qualify is the best in STL.

Kirkwood Children’s House: founded by Florence Kramer in 1985, is a Montessori preschool dedicated to the care and education of children ages 18 months to six year old.

Visitation Academy: Viz is an independent, Catholic school offering a co-educational Montessori program in Grades Toddler through Kindergarten…

RainTree school: emma reggio themed pre-school. I heard from my coworker. It’s a fairly new school, and they emphasize the outdoors (if you don’t mind wash kiddo’s clothes). Also they have some discount if you pay the whole year tuition in advance.

The Waldorf School of St. Louis: the only Waldorf school in St. Louis, located in a Webster Groves neighborhood (residential area). They also have elementary school.

Elementary schools
Schools have elementary schools (or higher grades).
Chesterfield Day School: Beginning in our Toddler program through First Grade, Chesterfield Day School’s premier Montessori School bridges to a strong and distinctive secondary school preparation program with personalized methodologies woven throughout.

Chesterfield Montessori: “Chesterfield Montessori School was founded in 1981 as a private school serving children ages three to six. Today CMS is a well-established, non-profit school recognized by AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) offering authentic Montessori programs at all levels from toddlers (16 months) through 15 years…” Six years ago I toured the school on a sunny day after snow, a gorgeous view of the school, and wonderful facilities. I learned the “mixed ages kids in same class” from that visit.

St. Michael’s School (about us): reggio approach is used. This may sound a bit surprising to some but note Visitation academy (catholic school) offers Montessori (see above)

Which school to choose?
This is very personal (individual family has to make this decision). Note there are many excellent public (Ladue, Clayton, Lindburgh, Kirkwood etc.), and private schools in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

Also see the link here, here and here.

To be continued…

Transition to first grade

Serenity started 1st grade this fall. Same school. I have some ideas on first grade, mostly around the homework, “more serious school” vs. the kindergarten which has more play time. I learned from fellow parents last year when they talked about it after MFS (I volunteered there).

Seeing is believing. Serenity now has been in 1st grade for over a month. Some impressions:
1) More work, either schoolwork or the work we gave her.

2) More seriousness, definitely, she got a tardy slip (her first) because we were late in the morning, we were probably late for 2 or 3 minutes (but still late, no excuse here), as I saw we were the only car in the car pool lane which is the only time like this.

3) More pressure, or expectations, besides on time, they were expected to listen more carefully when the teacher talks, and follow directions quickly, etc.

Those are my initial impressions, after a bit over a month school.

Switch to Ting wireless, mistake on car insurance

I decided to switch my wireless carrier again, from H2O wireless to Ting. I stayed with H2O for over a year, mostly satisfied, except recently I started using its per minute data, which seems burn my money quickly. I heard about Ting from friend before, but I forgot to do the referral. :-( Anyway I switched my wife’s T-mobile prepaid to Ting last week, and I just did mine this evening. The only thing Ting needs is the IMEI number of iPhone, the account number or the pin from the older carrier. In the case of t-mobile, it’s last 4 digits of phone number; the the case of the H2O, it’s the last 4 or SIM card number. Here is how to find it on iPhone: Settings => General => About => ICCID number. IMEI number can be found in similar fashion.

By doing this, essentially I combined my phone and my wife’s phone into one account. Besides that, my wife also gets some data usage, which she does not have previously.

Car accident and the rental coverage in car insurance
I used to have the rental coverage in my car insurance. But in recent review, I decided not to keep it for my 2012 Sienna to save some money (about $13.25 per 6 month), as I thought the extended warranty (service contract) will cover in the case of repair. A mistake on my side. Yesterday my wife got into an accident while driving sienna, and I need to bring it to car bodyshop, which also means I need a rental car. The cost is about $30 per day from Enterprise. So I think I will shell out about $200 (assume 7 days) while trying to save $13.25. :-(

Also, looking back I really should not have bought the extended warranty (EW) for the used certified Sienna. For 3 years besides the routine maintenance, the main cost is to fix the squirrels chewing the cables, and replace four tires. Both were not covered by the EW. Obviously they don’t cover accident either :-( I would put my money in my own pocket next time.

PS: the minivan is already in shop. It’s a bit surprising that I mostly used the Geico app for appointment and status checking.

PS2: it appears Ting is using T-mobile network, the signal is not as good as AT&T which is used by H2O wireless. There is network degradation or no signal near my work place :-(

That sinking feeling 真的是狼来了坏事了?

Talking about tests exams and realized I made a big mistake, this happens quite often when I was in middle school. My solution to that was not talk about or think about it after a test. But that did not work for Gaokao. As we had to estimate how we did after the test, then decided the schools we wanted to apply (or realistically speaking, they will accept us). In Chinese it’s called 估分和填志愿。

Working days 开始工作: leaving work and on the car thinking about the automatic job running could have issues, and don’t know where I can find a useful wifi hotspot (like this afternoon). This is a bit like second guessing myself, which in many cases turn out my 1st attempt was good (including this afternoon). This is also a bit like in an exam, when I had time to review and was not sure about the answer to some question, I could make some change and basically changed some “correct” answers to “wrong” ones. Also keep in mind even in a few cases it did turn out I made small mistake initially, the mistake was mostly harmless, excepting waste some of my time or slow down other teammate (one example was the integration job during ugs/Siemens days). On a related topic, about working after hours. Try to stay away from those unless absolutely necessary. I know we are knowledge workers, in a sense we never stop working, we can think about work related stuff all the time. Don’t. Don’t pull out work laptop and start coding (or something else) if we think of some good idea. Instead put a note to yourself on a phone. We can pick it up the next day. That’s called work life balance.

Other situations (family related), when I call my parents at regular time and they were not there, I would start worry: are you getting sick, or something; once I missed the call from my daughter’s school bus driver, I was really worried kid may have issue on the way from school to home. Other kids related topic, I recall once I dropped my daughter on the ground (on her back, or back head), I heard her cry, and was very worried and felt guilty did not holding her tight enough 很遗憾没有把她抓住. After talking to a doctor, she reassured me in most cases a kid would still be ok. :-)

This reminds me for my on call (pager duty), many times when alerts go off, the wolf did not actually come. The real situation usually is not as bad as we initially thought :-)