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.

Remembering my middle school teacher 姚仁汉老师

昨晚在初中群里面惊闻我的初中物理老师姚仁汉老师,因病去世,年仅56(虚岁)。这里有相关的介绍, 还有这里, 和这里

姚老师大学一毕业就来镇海中学(84年),我们(初二)是他的第一批学生,教了两年(初二初三)。除了教书,他还组织物理兴趣小组。记得他带我们坐公交汽车去他的母校(宁波师范大学)参观,这是我第一次看到天文望远镜。98年我有机会回到母校镇中,有幸遇见他,当时他好像已经是领导,负责整个初中部教学工作。记得他还是是憨憨的老样子。现在算来,他当时大学毕业(22岁),我们初二(13岁),他大我们十岁都不到。他就是我们的兄长。

借用一句兄弟班同学的唁文“人生有幸,在最好的年纪遇上最好的老师”。。。

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.

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 :-)

Hit the hay 最近几年住过的酒店

十几年前我回国在上海一般就住一个如家或锦江之星,挑一个离地铁比较近的酒店,这样上班办事都比较方便。那时候没有小孩,旅馆主要就是睡个觉,干净清爽就可以了。快进几年,有了两个小孩,住的酒店要求也稍有提高。托酒店信用卡促销的福,攒了些点数或是free nights, 我也升级了住的旅馆。在上海常住的旅馆有,徐家汇的万丽酒店(courtyard Shanghai xujiahui), 她家所在的楼叫西藏大厦,出租车司机如不清楚可提这个名字。另一家是浦东的喜来登福朋酒店(four points by Sheraton, Shanghai pudong, 又叫由由酒店,楼的名字),注意她家旁边有喜来登酒店(Sheraton Shanghai pudong, 5 star vs four points 4 star), 不要搞错。这两家的房间起价大概是800人民币左右。

最近一次有幸住了回陆家嘴的柏悦酒店(park hyatt),这个标价是大概300多美金,我用的是hyatt卡的开卡free nights. 看了下用chase ultimate rewards points 的话是2万点一晚。小孩很喜欢,因为有一些没见过的features. 我的头被淋浴喷头砸了一下。Uncle Major 进大观园。:-)

在美国最近住Hampton inn 比较多。还是觉得Hampton inn 接地气一些。这家Hilton 系列的中档酒店设计简单,实用,且包早餐。一般我这样小兵级别的人出差就住它家。对有小孩的家庭包早餐是一个挺有用的feature. Other hotels have similar feature include Hilton garden inn, holiday inn express and clarion. Last but not least, hhonors is the Hilton hotels reward program. Hampton inn usually costs 20,000 points (roughly $100).

Last but not least, tips. I know it’s a sensitive topic, but typically I gave $2 tip for the maid at Hampton (or equivalent hotels), put the note stating “for the maid” on the top of the bill so there is no confusion. Interestingly, in China I noticed the tipping culture is popular in Shanghai foreign brand hotels (4 star or above), I do give tips for people who handle my luggages (roughly $1 for a piece, which is similar to US standard). But in less developed areas, there is no such things as tip. People will laugh it off and give back the money.

Under the wing 旅途点滴

上面这个照片是我在最近一次的去中国的航班上照的。来美国有快二十年,坐过很多次飞跃太平洋的航班,坐的最多可能是美联航的航班。从芝加哥到上海的直航也就13,14个小时,加上从圣村到芝城的一个小时再加上几个小时的lay over, 总共的旅行时间比我当年从宁波到武汉上学的时间(大概是37,38小时,包括两次中转的时间)还短些。当然还比当年的火车舒服些。飞机坐多了,难免会有这样那样的事。最吓人的一回是2004年夏天从旧金山走,说是飞机起飞时发现翅膀发动机有火花。飞机在海上把满箱的油放掉后返航。当时乘务员给大家出了一个题,多少油,多少钱一加仑航空油。我算了一下大概是30多万美元。随着航空公司这两年越来越追求利润,不知道现在还会不会这样做?

还有一次是冬天,圣村到凤城的航班因雪晚点。等我赶到去上海的登机口,飞机已起飞。求工作人员能否让我standby 还没走的北京航班。也许是被我的诚意打动,工作人员给我改签了到北京的standby。飞北京的航班也已快结束登机,这一次还有一个空位。工作人员把已关闭的登机口再打开(我是第一回碰到这种情况),登机不久,飞机就离开登机口了。

这几年回国免不了坐动车高铁,速度快,不拥挤。还有味道不错的快餐。

我在大学时的火车可没这么好:慢,在春运时非常拥挤。第一年春节回校,在杭州转车。记得那天天气很好,中午到杭州后晚上再坐车,就跑到西湖边来晃晃。印象中杭州的女孩身材不错,穿着也比内地女孩稍时髦些,很有特点(妩媚又很得体)。有一次在南昌转车,好像是南昌到北京的车(经过武汉)。不光没位置,而且连站的地方都没有。火车还在株洲还是武昌附近弄了很长时间的临时停车。记得当时一个武大还是华工科英的88级的女生给削了一个苹果,印象很深。在火车上基本上不想吃东西,也不怎么喝水。当时火车挤到什么程度?不知道80后,90后的同学有否体会?一个厕所里站了7个人,有个女孩想用洗手间,叫里面的男生出来一下,女生背对。结果没人响应,只能再挤一节车厢。另一次我记得我的一个宁波老乡在火车上说到家洗个热水澡,再抽根烟那是最美的事了。还有一个老乡,他家的条件好一些,就坐飞机去武汉,是运七飞机,螺旋桨的。我相信这些都是过去式了。

还有一些旅行的轶事和碰到的好心人,下回再说吧