July 13th, 2016

My New Home Office Is Up And Running! SmartDesk Review

My New Home Office Is Up And Running! SmartDesk Review

It took longer than planned, but my home office is finally set up. Things took longer than planned due to a delay of shipment on my desk, but now I’ve got it! It’s so nice finally having a room where I can work and not be surrounded by the kids.

My desk is a sit-stand SmartDesk from Autonomous. So far I love it. The controls are easy to use and the desk goes up and down smoothly and quietly. There are programmable settings so that I can choose a height for it at the touch of a button. I like the way the desk looks, too.

smartdesk controls

I could wish for some desk drawers, but in my office they aren’t all that necessary – I have a wall of cabinets and drawers in here. Something right at the desk would be nice, but I can always get a file cabinet for that purpose.

standing deskThe desk is stable even though it’s on carpet. My carpet has excellent padding under it, which is nice when I stand. No matter the height I put the desk at, it doesn’t wobble at all. I’ve heard wobble is a problem with some standing desks, but that’s not a problem I have with mine.

Setup was a bit challenging but not all that difficult. The directions were almost entirely in picture form and it was sometimes a little hard to see what to do next. About all you have to do is put the screws in the right place, so it’s not that hard to figure out.. The desk is very heavy, so I had to have my husband help with parts.

The really neat part for me was that I was able to go out and pick up my desk directly from Autonomous. They’re currently located less than 10 miles from me in a town called Mentone. That saved me the shipping fee, which was a nice price break. That wasn’t an actual deciding factor for me in the purchase, as I had already decided on this desk, but it was a wonderful bonus.

I bought the most basic desk, but Autonomous offers some interesting upgrades for those who want more features. One accessory kit offers things such as a speaker, USB charger and wireless charger, while the other offers an AI Personal Assistant, Smart Home Controls and more. The top is real wood – mine is just painted black but you can have white, oak or walnut, or even a bamboo top. The price was only $299, which is much cheaper than other sit-stand desks of similar quality. Some options will increase the price.

My cats aren’t certain what to think of my SmartDesk. They’ve each had a ride on it, which didn’t frighten either very much but I don’t think they liked it either. I’ve put a folded blanket on one corner of the desk so that a cat can nap on my desk without being much in the way – we’ll see if that works or not. As my cats follow me everywhere in the house (I can’t even use the bathroom alone), I wanted to have a spot for them.

I will be adding a monitor to my current setup. I use a laptop right now, and while I can put my SmartDesk into an ergonomic typing position, that leaves the screen lower than is ideal. It should be easy enough to find a monitor and monitor arm to add to my setup. Eventually I’m thinking desktop computer and dual monitors but my husband isn’t yet convinced that I need to upgrade that much. We’re trying to go easy on spending (still getting used to the expenses of home ownership), but it will eventually come to the “this is a business expense, not a personal purchase” point, when I know it will be easier to afford.

My office chair is nice too. Comfortable and a bargain I couldn’t resist – $5 at a garage sale. It was a little dusty but works perfectly and is in great condition now that I’ve cleaned it up.

All in all, I love my new home office setup. I may decide to add a cat door so I can close the door without the cats scratching at it, but otherwise it’s working well.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

July 11th, 2016

How to Encourage Your Kids to Reach Their Summer Goals

How to Encourage Your Kids to Reach Their Summer Goals

If your kids are like mine, they talk a lot about the things they’d like to do over the summer. Mine have talked for the past couple summers, for example, about building a hovercraft. It hasn’t happened yet. I decided to see what I could do to encourage them. They also have other things they want to make, learn or do.

The method we’re using is pretty simple. First I had them write out the things they want to get done this summer. I’m not talking family vacation stuff – that was a different conversation. I also don’t mean summer academics for the most part. Helping kids remember the stuff they learned in school has its place, but not in excess. Besides, sometimes the things they want to do will take that place up quite nicely.

My oldest daughter wants to be a better artist, learn to play harp, build that hovercraft, start a YouTube channel reviewing her favorite video games and learn to design apps. My son also wants to build a hovercraft and a go cart, learn to solder electronics and he has already finished building his Meccano Meccanoid. My youngest daughter wants to do a lot of crafts and learn to make doll videos.

Now, if we let this summer go like usual, once every week or two they’d remember a project and maybe work on it. Mostly, however, they’d just play together or on computers whenever I’d let them. Nothing much would actually get done toward their goals.

Here’s How We’re Fixing That

The kids and I looked over their goals and made a weekly schedule for each of them. The schedules for the younger two are very flexible. The schedule for my oldest is more strict, but we planned it that way. She wishes she could have a summer job, but isn’t old enough for one, so the things she wants to do which might make money are scheduled to be like a summer job.

All of the kids have a lot of completely free time in their schedules, and I consider this part important. They can work on their projects longer than scheduled if they want or cut the time short, especially for the younger ones. All of the kids are often free to do whatever they want, provided it doesn’t involve staring at a screen.

For the younger kids in particular, they’re also allowed to say when they’d really rather just play that day. The point in the schedule isn’t to force the kids to work on something; it’s to make them remember the things they said they want to do. Most times, they’ll want to do it, and they often work on whatever thing for longer than I put into the schedule.

That the scheduled time is on the short side deliberate on my part. I don’t want them feeling that these things they want to do for fun are burdens. There’s lots of completely free time surrounding the scheduled times, so that it’s easy to spend that extra time on a project that is going well.

Boring things such as chores are also listed on the schedule.

So far, this has worked pretty well. My son had been overwhelmed by the thought of assembling his Meccanoid at first, but once he got going on it, he realized it wasn’t that difficult. I ordered a Snowball microphone for my oldest so she can do her video game reviews. With the right software, she can start that soon.

The kids have taken advantage of the schedule’s flexibility. The day after he finished his robot, my son said he didn’t want to do project time; he just wanted to play with the robot. I told him of course he could – playing with what you made is certainly part of that kind of project. Even if he had wanted to do something else I would have been fine with it. It’s good for kids to just be kids during the summer, after all.

I hope that this whole plan will help my kids to plan their own time better. My goal was to add just a little structure to their days without controlling their activities too much. Unstructured time is very important to children – it helps them learn to make their own decisions and be more creative. The schedule we’re using is more of a reminder of what they said they want to do than a demand from me, and I hope that will be a good thing for them.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

June 28th, 2016

How to Make Your Work at Home Day More Productive

How to Make Your Work at Home Day More Productive

One of the great challenges of working at home is all the distractions. You sit down at your computer, and the whole internet is available to you. It’s all too easy to start off with something fun rather than something productive. But when you want to have a productive day working at home, you need to do your best to start off right.

Set Your Browser For Productivity

One thing that I have found works for me is to have my browser open up to pages that are productive for me to start on. Right now that’s my work at home job board administration page and a job search page. They aren’t what I need every time I open my browser, but what page is?

Those are the pages where I start my day. If I were to start my day out writing, I would start out in Google Drive, as I do most of my writing there.

The idea here is to make sure that you aren’t starting on a distracting page. Don’t start out on Facebook or any other social media unless you know you will start out working there.

Where’s the Caffeine?!?

If you need coffee to start your day, have your coffeemaker ready to go for the morning, or go get it as soon as possible if you prefer to buy it at Starbucks or some such. Don’t sit about delaying things over something you have every day – get moving.

The same goes for breakfast. Make sure you have the supplies on hand and easy to get together. You don’t have to eat breakfast right away if that’s not your routine – if you get up earlier than the rest of the family, you’re probably waiting for them – but make time for it in there somewhere, and make it convenient to prepare. Or teach the kids to do it once they’re old enough.

Plan for Distractions

You work at home. There are going to be distractions, that’s just the way it is. But you can decide which ones you will allow to distract you.

Kids are generally a distraction, especially when they’re babies. If your work can’t allow you that kind of distraction, have someone available to care for the baby.

As kids get older, you’ll probably need less help with the kids, at least if you don’t need a totally quiet environment in which to work. Teach them age appropriate ways to decide if they can interrupt you or not.

Try not to let basic household chores distract you beyond what you’ve planned for. I do laundry on certain days, and that’s when I know I will be getting up regularly to deal with it. I won’t touch it other days – if someone has an urgent need to get something washed, pretty much everyone here is old enough to handle it themselves. I only handle laundry at all on weekdays because I like our weekends free for family stuff, even when it’s just working around the house.

Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid interruptions. If something has to be repaired around the house you may not be able to decide what the best day is, or have your spouse home to deal with it. But when you have time, try to make sure such interruptions are planned for in your goals for the day.

Close the Door

This is one of the things I love about our new home – I can close my office door. We haven’t had a room that could also be a home office before.

Closing the door when you’re working is a good way to tell kids, spouses and pets to leave you alone as much as possible. Okay, maybe not the pets. At least, my cats consider a closed door more an invitation than a barrier. We’re working on that part with them.

Plan for the Next Day

Plan out your work day the day before. It’s a good way to wind down each work day. It helps you avoid indecision first thing in the morning.

If I have to stop in the middle of something and have a bunch of tabs open in my browser for it, I’ll bookmark the group to make it easier to continue the next day, or just leave the browser open. Bookmarked groups are dated so that I know when I did it if I don’t get back to it right away or forget to delete the group once I’m done.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

May 24th, 2016

Pinterest Is Allowing Affiliate Links Again. How Should You Use Them?

Pinterest Is Allowing Affiliate Links Again

Pinterest has decided to allow affiliate links again. They’re now confident in their ability to decide what’s spam. That’s great news if you’ve wanted to share affiliate links on your Pinterest boards. Now you just need to make sure you aren’t spamming your affiliate links.

This brings up the question of just what is spam on Pinterest anyhow? It’s pretty obvious that if you’re pinning nothing but affiliate links, they may be flagged as spam. An occasional affiliate link here and there, will probably not be flagged. What you need to consider is where pinning affiliate links crosses that line.

Much of that will probably depend on the type of affiliate links you pin. If you’re pinning questionable business opportunities, poorly tested alternative medications and other ethically dubious things, they’ll probably be flagged as spam. Pin that hilarious shirt you found on Amazon, it probably won’t be a problem. It’s all up to Pinterest’s discretion, of course, not mine. I can only guess.

Pinterest had been a good source of income for affiliate marketers who did a good job of pinning things people wanted. With this news, I’m sure it will be again.

The key to doing well I expect to be understanding why people come to Pinterest, and to your boards in particular. What gets a lot of clicks, likes and repins? You can get some ideas from this post about what people are searching for, or check the popular board. In general, food, fashion and ideas for around the home seem popular. People want ideas when they come to Pinterest; how are you going to to give them ideas?

That said, you don’t have to pin affiliate links just because Pinterest says you can now. I prefer to have more control over my links, so I will probably stick to using affiliate links primarily on my websites rather than on my Pinterest boards. I prefer the greater control that gives me. A blog post where I can change out the links if something goes wrong is more appealing to me.

Obey the Rules

There are a few rules you must obey if you pin affiliate links… or use them anywhere, for that matter.

The first has to do with disclosure. You must always obey FTC rules and do a disclosure. A hashtag such as #ad, #aff or #affiliate is generally considered acceptable, although there is no FTC guidance saying if that’s enough or not. Make sure it’s prominent. Just the word works too. Alternatively, make a statement about your connection within the text of your pin.

You also must make sure that you’re obeying the rules of your affiliate agreement. Know if you are allowed to share your affiliate links with each company on social media or not. Not all companies want you to do that. If you’ve read the policies of the program and you still aren’t certain, email the company and ask. You don’t want to lose a valuable account because you didn’t realize that you couldn’t share the links directly on social media.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

May 13th, 2016

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

Nearly two years ago, my husband and I decided to drag our phone numbers off his parents’ account and switch to Ting. We had realized that it was beyond time to get onto smart phones, not to mention onto our own service. We signed up with Ting, having determined that it was likely our best option. The monthly cost of service with Ting, we figured, would be less than what his parents were paying for cell phone service that lacked both data and texting services.

So, how has it gone?

Great, I would say. We’re still generally light users, although we do sometimes hit the medium level for one service or another with Ting. Our most recent bill came to $39.43 – our biggest ever! This past month was a little on the busy side, and there’s good reason why that one came up higher than usual.

Our bills mostly run in the low $30s. I’ve included a screenshot of some of our bill totals so you can see. That’s pretty good considering that we added our teenage daughter to the plan last year, making it three smartphones on our plan. She doesn’t talk on the phone a lot, but does she ever text with her friends! Fortunately, most of those go over our home wifi, and don’t impact the cost of our plans. She uses the iMessage app on her iPhone, which defaults to wifi texting whenever possible. With how much she and her friends text each other, that’s a very good thing.

Ting screenshot

I am considering upgrading my iPhone 4 later this year – the screen is just a little smaller than I’d like. Considering that I bought it for $227.45 on Amazon, I’d say I’ve done well to avoid having a contract. My overall costs have been quite low. My current phone will go to my son when I upgrade, as it’s still a decent phone.

Ting has changed some in the past two years. They used to only offer service over Sprint’s CDMA network. They now offer GSM service as well, and the great part is that you can have phones on different networks but still be on the same plan.

Service at our new house isn’t quite as good as it was at our old one. I really need to look into getting some kind of a booster for it. I just need to make the time to figure out what the right solution is, probably an Airave. Coverage at my address is on the weak side with most cell phone coverage maps I’ve seen, so this isn’t a surprise.

As you can probably imagine after reading this, I definitely still recommend Ting as a cell phone provider, especially if you’re not a heavy user. Go over your old phone bills, check your usage and see if you’d save money too. If you’re not trapped in a contract, it may be worth the switch. You may even be able to bring over your current smartphone if it’s not under contract. You can check the BYOD link on the Ting website to be certain.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.