Time Well Spent - Open Enrollment Season!

The fall is an incredibly busy time for everyone; back to school, getting into a routine, starting to think about the holidays, and also open enrollment for benefits.

It is a dreaded time in our household, wondering how much more we will have to pay for health insurance, going through the stack of paperwork, when all we want to do is go outside and play in the newly fallen leaves!

Did you know that most Americans spend more time researching which computer to buy or vacation to go on than researching their benefit options? 

The 2014 Aflac Enrollment Survey found that 41% of employees spend 15 minutes or less researching their benefit options during the 2013 open enrollment season; and nearly a quarter (24%) spent 5 minutes or less.

What?!  That is insane to me!  I know that every year my husband brings home a very large stack of papers, and we sit down and read it.  I tend to want to know as much information as possible, so I am going through every bit of that paperwork.  I want to know if I have options that were not available in previous years, as well as how much things are changing.  Even if your premium isn’t changing, that doesn’t mean that your benefits themselves are not changing.

It seems like every year there are more options regarding deductibles, what is covered changes, what used to be covered last year is now under a different category and will cost you extra.  It is enough to make your head spin. 

One of the most important things to do during this time is to consider the financial implications of your choices.  It may cost less to take that higher deductible, but what happens if you need to pay that deductible?  Will you be able to afford it?  It might make more sense to have a higher premium.  

Another area that I haven’t looked at as closely as I should have is co-insurance.  I know a lot of companies are implementing co-insurance so that employees take more control in their own health insurance needs.  But, those costs can skyrocket quickly!  Especially if you are expecting a new baby...

The Aflac WorkForces Report offers a great amount of information on open enrollment and other options available to you.  Aflac is a Fortune 500 company that provides individual and group voluntary insurance products.  Their voluntary insurance policies are there to help supplement major medical plans.  Some of the voluntary insurance options they offer are accident, dental, life, vision, cancer, and hospital intensive care.

How much time to you spend researching your options during open enrollment?  Just because you have chosen the same plan year after year doesn’t mean that you can’t change it if your circumstances have changed!  Open enrollment is the time to do this.  Ask your HR representative for as much information as possible, and make sure you attend all of those benefits meetings at your place of employment!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

{31 Days} Preparing for Baby # 3!

I honestly cannot believe that tomorrow is the first day of October!  Where has the year gone?!  With the start of October, it means it is time for another {31 Days} Challenge with the Nester!

This will be my third year doing this challenge.  I absolutely love it!  The premise is to pick one topic and write on that topic every day for 31 days.  And goodness it is a challenge.

I am departing a bit this year from what I typically write about.  The first year I wrote {31 Days} of Intentional Living and last year I wrote {31 Days} of Back to Basics.  This year, however, I knew in the spring what I would be writing about this year.

This year I will be writing {31 Days} Preparing for Baby #3!  We are extremely excited about our new little one joining us very soon.  When I started to think about writing this series, I realized that I am doing all the normal *things* preparing for this baby, but in a much more relaxed way.  I find that preparing for a third child is completely different than when I prepared for my first, or even my second.  It seems like a lot of what I thought I knew way back with my first has changed now.  In a lot of ways it has, obviously.  My life has changed, I have two children that I absolutely adore and have been through many parenting stages with, my food habits have changed, my parenting style is much more relaxed than I ever thought it would be, and that all influences how we are preparing this time around.

I hope that you will join me this month as we prepare for a new little one!  Also, be sure to check out all the other wonderful bloggers who are also taking on this challenge.  It isn’t too late if you want to do a {31 Days} series either.

How has preparing for a new baby changed for you between your first child and subsequent pregnancies?  Do you have any questions for me?

Linking up with Write 31 Days, One Project at a Time, The Mommy Club  

knitting and reading

The hat is not quite done, but pretty close, and honestly, I would probably wear it not done if the weather continues to be so cold in the morning!  Alas, the hat will be done just in time for it to be 80 degrees this weekend...I need to finish the flap on the back, and then look for a cute button to put on it.  I'm sure I have one around here somewhere!

Of course next week the highs will again be in the low 60's, so I am sure in the cool mornings it will be worn.  Am I the only one who wears a hat in the house?  I sure hope not.  Actually, it is something we did all growing up, and I think it just carried over to my adult life!

On the reading front, I haven't started anything new this week.  I am on the waiting list for a couple of books at the library.  I did just finish the book Start by Jon Acuff.  I really enjoyed it.  I am constantly looking for motivational books, and this fit the bill.  It was really about finding your passion and then not letting up, really going for it.  Always a good idea in my mind!

I'm sure I will be turning to my favorite Christmas book soon, A Greener Christmas.  I talk about it every year, but it is that good.  There are so many fun crafts and recipes and decorating ideas in that book.  I broke down and bought it a couple years ago after constantly checking it out of the library.  I definitely recommend it!

What are you working on this week?  Any new knits or books?

Linking up with Ginny, Tami, and Nicole

Homeschooling Science Part Two

Last week I talked about some of the resources that I will be using this year for homeschooling science.  I mentioned my trepidation about experiments, and that is what I will be focusing on today.

Obviously, science experiments are a big part of science curriculum.  You need to be able to show your kids what happens after you make a hypothesis.  I think the main issue I have is the mess that inevitably happens when you are working with science experiments.  Which is a little entertaining considering my stance on letting the kids have free reign with the art…Perhaps it is more that I have to be fully integrated and put the experiments together in order for them to do the experiment.

face paint not required

However, I do not think this is how science should be taught.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense if I am taking a science experiment and executing it “correctly” so that my kids can observe it. 

They are still little, so there has to be some parental involvement, but I am leaning more towards giving the kids a situation and letting them set up a hypothesis of what they think will happen.  Then letting them construct the experiment the way they think they should.

Recently we have tried a couple of fun experiments; the bigger the mess, the more fun for my kids.  We talk about what they think will happen, then we perform the experiment, and finally they will draw what they have observed in their science notebooks.

This is one of their favorites so far:

Mix 1 tsp active dry yeast with 2 Tablespoons warm water
In a jar, or glass mug, put ½ cup peroxide, several drops of food coloring and a few squirts of Dawn dish soap.  Swirl carefully (parent should do this part).
Pour yeast mixture into jar and watch it grow!

The kids compared the above experiment with the always fun baking soda and vinegar reaction.  We put some food coloring in some white vinegar and poured it in a jar with baking soda in it.

Both of these experiments were fun and showed the different reactions between ingredients.  The kids especially enjoyed all the foam from the first one.  It continued to grow for quite some time!

What types of experiments do you do with your kids?  Do you shy away from them like I do?

Linking up at Hip Homeschool Moms

Annual Apple Picking Trip!

We had our annual trip to the apple orchard this past weekend.  I have been picking apples there since I was a little girl, and have always loved it.  Now that I have children of my own, I love to incorporate some of the same traditions that I enjoyed.

This year it was quite chilly.  It is amazing how different each year can be.  Last year it was really warm and sunny, this year, 55 degrees, windy, cloudy.  But, the kids had an amazing time, as usual.

I have realized that Jack is the power fruit picker of the bunch of us.  He amazed me when we went strawberry picking earlier this year; and then again this past weekend when we picked apples.  As long as he can reach the apples, he fills up the bag pretty quickly.  He is also very careful to check over each apple to make sure that we don’t get any bad ones thrown in.

We were able to go on a long wagon ride after we were all finished apple picking.  Typically the wagon is there to take us out to pick the apples, but either we were early this year or it was late.  But, it was nice to ride all around the orchard on the wagon.  The kids had an absolute blast!

Next on the agenda, a lot of apple jelly, apple sauce, and apple butter making.  I think there will be a fair amount of apple muffins being made as well.  It looks like the weeks are going to continue to be pretty cool, so it will be a lot easier to have the stove going all the time.  I think I may use my crockpot to make the apple butter though, especially after the craziness of attempting ketchup a few weeks ago!

We ended up picking a bushel of apples, but I don’t know if it will be enough for all of our apple needs, and I can definitely see us trying to get back in the next couple of weeks to pick some more.  They are so delicious fresh from the tree!

Do you go apple picking in your neck of the woods?  Do you pick a lot of apples so you can preserve them, or mainly just for fresh eating? 

Linking up at the Homestead Barn Hop, One Project at a Time

{Easy} Vegetable Soup

Fall is here!  Even though we still have a bit of summer left, in Maine, it is definitely here, and that means a lot of soup at Townsend House.  Last night I was looking for something really quick and easy to make for dinner, and I knew that vegetable soup would be it.  

I try to mainly make food from scratch, it is such a huge cost savings.  Typically I would spend a day making vegetable stock, or I would pull some out of the freezer.  But, this time I happened to have some boxed organic veggie stock on hand, and that would be the easy part of this meal.

{Easy} Vegetable Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 large carrots, chopped
4-5 medium potatoes, chopped into 1" pieces
2 cups frozen green beans (or fresh if you still have them!)
2 cups frozen corn (or fresh if it is still available!)
1 quart vegetable stock

Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil in the bottom of a soup pot.  

Add the onion, garlic and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until they start to get soft.  

Add potatoes and another sprinkle of salt, stir it all together and then add vegetable stock.  

When potatoes are fork tender, add frozen veggies.

Bring to a simmer and let simmer for a few minutes.

Serve with crusty bread or homemade corn muffins.

This summer came together literally in about 5 minutes of chopping, and then 25 minutes of cooking the soup.  My family loved it, and that is what matters!

Do you have an easy soup or stew that you love to make for your family?

Linking up with Clever Chicks

Cutting the Cable Cord - Again!

We are doing it, again, cutting the cable.  I have had a love/hate relationship with cable TV for a long time now.  I think the fact that the cost of cable has increased dramatically is kind of insane, and I also find that I don’t need nearly as many channels as they give you these days!

Many Americans have decided to cut the cable cord, and I have to say, I fully agree with this.

Americans who no longer subscribe to cable or satellite TV have increased 44% in the past four years, according to an Experian Marketing Services report. 

We are at an interesting point in time when most everything you could ever want (or need) to see is online.  There are so many options available between Netflix and Hulu, and they only run you $7.99/month – much more affordable than a cable subscription.

TV’s come equipped with internet capabilities, and for those who don’t have a smart TV, you can have a box like Roku, Apple TV or Amazon FireAll of these are great options when you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for cable.

I think the biggest issue that I have with cable is the mindlessness of it.  I can easily sit down in the evening and flip through my 500 channels and not watch anything at all, or I can spend 10 seconds turning on my favorite show (that was on last night but I was putting the kids to bed and couldn’t watch) on Hulu. 

I think with the creation of smartphones and tablets, it is so easy to move away from cable. 

I remember back when I got my first iPhone and thought, why would I watch TV on that?  Of course then I proceeded to binge watch the first season of The Vampire Diaries, and I realized that I could easily watch TV on a 3 inch device.  Now my iPhone 5s is much bigger than that, and they are getting larger! 

Flexibility is the key.  I don’t want to have to think about programming a DVR or making sure I am home at a specific time in order to watch my favorite show.  I like that I can stream my local news in the morning, and find all of my shows online as well.  And I feel like binge watching is a big thing these days with so many great shows being added to Netflix and Hulu.

It isn’t just at home that you have that opportunity.  With US Cellular’s 4G LTE Network, it is easy to keep up with programming while you are traveling (or waiting a very long time for a dr.’s appointment with two children).

Granted, there are some people who watch a lot of sporting events and a wide range of other television programming, and in those cases, cutting the cable probably would not work out so well.  But, if you mainly have a few favorites, and want to watch whenever and wherever you are, cutting the cord and using a service such as Netflix or Hulu is the way to go.

Now, I am not saying that we should all have our noses in our own device and completely disengage from the rest of our family, that is where smart TV’s and a Roku box come in.  You have the flexibility to watch together as a family, without advertisements.   If you are worried about what your kids are going to be watching on their devices, don’t forget to download the Parent/Child Agreement and make sure that you set those expectations up front!

Have you cut the cable cord?  Are you unsure of whether or not you want to?  What is keeping you plugged in to cable?

I am a member of the US Cellular Blogger Brigade and have received compensation for this post, however, all words and opinions are my own.

Homeschooling Science Part One

Out of all the subjects that I teach to my kids, science is the hardest.  Why is that?  I love science, I enjoyed it in high school and college, and I love nature.  So why is it so hard?

I think it might have something to do with the fact that my kids are still quite little.  Finally I went online to see what the kids were learning about at the public school this year.  What I found was that they were learning about weather, the change in seasons, and the cycle of a year.  Well, that made me feel a lot better!

I thought it might be nice to share some of the resources we are using this year for Science.

First and foremost we will be reading a lot of books.  These are pulled from all of the cores that we have used so far from Sonlight.  This is not an exhaustive collection of course, it is just the beginning.  I fully support interest led learning, so when there is a subject that really catches the eye of my children, we will follow that, taking more books out of the library.

Every morning we have circle time.  It is a time where we read our Bible story for the day; we do some morning stretches and sing some silly songs.  But, the favorite part for my kids is doing their calendar.  We have a magnetic calendar from Melissa & Doug that the kids do together.  And the favorite part on the calendar is the weather.  They talk about what is going on outside our window, decide on how warm (or cold) it is, what the weather might be like for the whole day, and how that will impact our time outside.  It is something we have been doing since Emma was two.  It has gotten more advanced as the years have gone on, but what is going on outside our window has always been a part of it.

Another resource that I absolutely love this year is the Wild Kratts games on PBSkids.org.  Seriously, if you have not checked out this free resource, you should.  It is amazing the information that Emma and Jack will report back to me after they have their screen-time on the computer.

I also love the Magic School Bus shows, which are on Netflix instant.  There is an entire Magic School Bus curriculum for science, but we do not have that.  Instead the kids will watch a show and then tell me about what they have learned and draw pictures in their Science notebooks.  I love to be able to give them something to watch that has educational value, so they feel like they are getting to watch something fun, but also learning at the same time.

Being outside is another big resource, at least until the snow flies around here.  Getting out into nature not only helps my kids concentrate better on their other school subjects, it allows them to get dirty and messy and explore God’s creation around them.  Some days they spend a lot of time digging up worms and chasing butterflies, and others they go outside to sit in their tree fort for a bit then come back inside.  I try and give them the freedom to explore, and then report back on what they are doing. 

Finally, we do include some experiments.  However, these seem to be few and far between.  It is something that I struggle with doing, and will touch on it more next week in Part 2 of our Science resources for this year.

For a couple of years we mainly did science during the summer.  I spend a lot of time out in the garden, and having the kids involved in that is such a huge learning experience for them.  But, they are becoming pros at planting seeds in the dead of winter and nurturing them to grow into something edible in the summer, so we need to keep going. 

Is there a subject you struggle with teaching?  What do you do to make sure you cover everything?

fall is in the air!

It is amazing how quickly the seasons seem to change in Maine.  I feel like we were just in 90 degree, high humidity weather.  Well, I guess that is because we were.

Those days definitely seem to be behind us now.  This past weekend we were waking up to temperatures in the 40's and day time highs in the 60's...with the mention of frost warnings on the weather.  The summer garden is definitely done for us.

Right now it is actually a big field of weeds.  I stopped weeding a couple weeks ago, and it is amazing how quickly all of those weeds grow!  The husband will *hopefully* be getting that all taken care of in the next week or so.  

Now we are looking forward to the lovely weather that is fall around here.  It makes going outside so much more enjoyable for the kids.  They are true Mainers, when it is hot hot hot they want to lay around inside the house.  But, when the fall weather comes, everyone seems to gravitate to the outside.

We are looking forward to all the wonderful fall activities we typically do, first up will be apple picking.  I have high hopes that I can get my canning done...even though we are expecting a baby in a few short weeks!  Wish me luck!

What are you most looking forward to about fall this year?

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