Earn an A+

(Family Features) Back-to-school season means it’s time to get back to the business of learning. This year you can ace your back-to-school shopping excursion with these time- and money-saving steps that can make getting the whole family ready for a new school year a breeze.

Start with a list.
Walking into the store without a list is an open invitation for impulse buys and forgotten items that end up costing you more time and money with a return trip. Create a thorough list by categorizing all the items you’ll shop for, such as supplies, electronics and clothing. If you want to take an extra-organized approach, try color coding items by the section of the store where you would expect to find them.

Set a budget.
Knowing what you can afford to spend ahead of time can save regret and returns after you shop. Calculate how much you’ll need to cover all the items your students truly need, then tack on some room for wants. One must-have is a high-quality backpack, like the High Sierra Access Backpack, which includes a dedicated storage area for your child’s laptop, among other features. If your total budgeted expenses exceed your available funds, consider browsing weekly circulars to keep your budget in check.

Explore your inventory.
It may be buried under a summer’s worth of knick-knacks, but digging out the supplies your child cast aside at the end of the last school year may be worth the effort. Items like scissors, rulers and protractors may not need to be replaced every year if they’re still in working condition. Assess what items you have that can be reused and those that need to be replaced for the new school year.

Cut extra stops.
Dashing all over town to find all the items on your supply list is not only time-consuming, it’s unnecessary. At stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax, you can find all the academic tools and supplies your student needs to head back to the classroom. What’s more, a store that specializes in school supplies will have a broad selection and ample stock of the essentials.

Try online shopping.
When you know exactly what you need, shopping online is a great time-saving solution. Online shopping makes it incredibly simple to keep tabs on your budget before you make purchases and easily keep track of the items in your shopping cart. If you need to hand-select a few items in person, you can always take advantage of a “buy online, pick-up in store” option. This service lets you do your shopping from home with just a quick stop in-store to pick-up your purchases.

Buy in bulk.
It may seem counter-intuitive when you’re trying to trim your spending, but if you can swing it, go ahead and buy extra items that you’ll likely need to replace mid-year. The sale prices during the back-to-school season aren’t likely to repeat during the school year, so in the long run you’ll save money and avoid a last-minute shopping trip on a busy school night in the future. Items like Stellar fashion notebooks, which give note-taking a fashionable twist, are great to have on hand throughout the school year.

Research specials and promotions.
For many stores, the back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holidays. This means you can expect widespread sales, promotions and special deals, such as “deals as low as a penny.” Some states also offer tax-free holidays near the beginning of the school year, which are honored at multiple retailers and generally restricted to school-related purchases like clothing, supplies and some technology.

Weigh quality vs. quantity.
When you have a lengthy list of items to purchase for each child, it can be tempting to cut corners and skimp on spending. In some cases, being cost-efficient is smart, but do your research beforehand to avoid selecting items based solely on price. Value and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand and if you buy an item that falls apart or breaks down quickly, you may end up spending more to replace the items later. While it may be simpler for students to use printers and other machines at school, an all-in-one Epson Expression EcoTank Wireless Printer at home can be a convenient solution when late-night homework is bearing down.

Make dollars do double duty.
While most families expect to spend a sizable amount on back-to-school purchases (nearly $700, according to a 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation), making that money go a little further can soften the blow. You can help improve education in your community by shopping at stores that give a percentage of proceeds back to local schools. Programs vary; in some cases, you can even designate proceeds to the school district of your choice.

Take more notes on smart back-to-school shopping ideas and deals at officedepot.com.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Office Depot

New (School) Year, New You

(Family Features) Forget Jan. 1. Parents know the real new year begins when you can smell the fresh pink erasers and hear the clatter of brand new pencils on still-smooth notebook covers.

Even if you don’t have kids in school, the end of summer and the beginning of fall is a great time to reassess, realign, hit the restart button and make resolutions that will help carry your family smoothly through until next summer – or at least until the holidays.

Here are some tips from parents about resolutions they’ve made for the coming school year:

Learn to love mornings
My Life and Kids blogger Anna Luther said she used to hate mornings.

“It was a disaster,” she said. “There was a lot of yelling, a lot of missing socks, a lot of arguments about eating a good breakfast – it was just not the way to start a productive, happy day.”

Luther decided to turn the first – and worst – hour of her day into one of the best by waking up earlier, exercising and turning on music.

Luther also changed the way she looked at breakfast.

“It doesn’t have to be from scratch,” she said, “but it does have to have protein – and be fast. We love frozen breakfast burritos, for example.”

Empower the kids
Luther said that another thing that made mornings exhausting was that she tried to do everything herself, from finding socks and brushing hair to heating up healthy breakfasts.

But kids are eager to help, she said. Just like adults, they feel empowered when they can do things for themselves.

Luther decided to empower her kids and simplify her life at the same time by creating “Get Ready Buckets,” which hold everything they need to get moving in the morning, from hairbrushes to socks.

That same message of empowerment can simplify and improve other stressful times of day. Do the kids walk in the door hungry and cranky and leave you feeling the same way? Stock the freezer with hearty snacks, such as El Monterey Taquitos, that kids can heat up on their own.

Appreciate others
Blogger Kristyn Merkley of Lil’ Luna, has resolved to show the teachers in her life how much she and her family appreciate them.

“Our teachers put so much time and effort into their jobs,” Merkley said, “and we’re so grateful for that.”

While she usually gives teachers a gift card at the end of the year, she doesn’t wait until then to send notes and emails with a simple, “Thank you.” She also makes sure to say thanks in person – and in front of her kids.

Make fun a priority
There are plenty of must-dos on your list every day, but is fun one of them? Merkley said it should be, and she’s making family fun a resolution this school year. She collects activities on her blog that kids and adults can do together and plans family fun nights around them.

“When we laugh and make things and learn things together,” she said, “we’re making memories. I want my kids to remember their childhoods as more than just getting to school on time and cleaning their rooms.”

Be a team
Kristy Denney, of the Boys Ahoy blog, is raising three wild boys, as she calls them. But even the wildest of kids wants to know that you’re on their team – and they’re on yours. Denney and her husband, Brett, chose a family motto for the school year so that everyone on their family team knows what they’re working toward.

As their motto, the Denneys chose, “Work hard and be nice.” It’s simple, succinct and sums up what they want for their family.

Fuel up with real food
Kids have to eat, and most insist on eating three or more times a day. Denney said she loves to cook from scratch, but she doesn’t want time in the kitchen to keep her away from her family. So, this year, she’s resolving to focus on what’s important: real ingredients.

“Sometimes I’ll buy the ingredients myself to cook from scratch and sometimes I’ll look for foods I recognize on the label,” she said. “When I pick up El Monterey Signature Burritos, I see ingredients like fresh-baked tortillas, real cheddar cheese – foods I would buy anyway for my family, so I feel great about that.”

Make snacks work hard
Jess Kielman, who writes the blog Mom 4 Real, said that snacking can sometimes be a problem in her house. Kids (and adults) sometimes snack because they’re bored – or just out of habit, so she’s reining in snack time and making snacks work just as hard as meals.

“Protein and real food – that’s what I’m going to look for in afternoon snacks,” she said. “Something that fills the kids up and gets them ready to get back out the door and play, or buckle down and do their homework.”

Cheer on #momwins
Kielman said that this year her resolution is to start giving herself a little more credit for her “mom wins,” big or small.

“Checking off every last thing on my spring cleaning checklist is a win, for sure,” she said, “but so is a good, smooth morning with my family. So is a sit-down dinner that didn’t stress me out. So is feeling good about what we’re eating. So is every little hug. Those are all #momwins, and I’m going to give myself a little pat on the back for every one.”

For more breakfast, snack and dinner ideas to help you keep your family resolutions, visit ElMonterey.com.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (family eating)

El Monterey

Be a life-long learner


This is an exciting time of the year. Or, it is a terrifying and dreadful time of the year.

It’s all about perspective. Some are excited to for school to be starting up again, while others hate it.

Usually, those who hate it are students. Older students. High school students.

Elementary students are usually excited because they get to see their friends again and meet their new teachers and get a bunch of cool gear to start the school year off right.

Sure, high school students might get all of that as well, but it isn’t as high of a priority. And in an age of social media, they can Facebook, Tweet and Snapchat their friends whenever they want, so though school may be more of a socialize venture for them, they can still socialize in the summer without even having to step foot into their buildings of education.

For me personally, I am always excited, if not a little nervous, about August rolling around.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am also a teacher, and my lovely new wife is a teacher as well.

It can be hectic trying to get plans ready, classrooms set up and simply into the right mindset to teach again.

However, I enjoy it. I consider myself a life-long learner. I enjoy acquiring new skills and knowledge, and I try to impart that upon my own students.

When I think about it, I haven’t been out of school since I first started. There might have been a year in there when I was running a weekly newspaper in central Kansas. This was between the completion of my bachelor’s degree from the esteemed Wichita State University and my deciding to become a teacher by pursing my credentials and master’s degree from Fort Hays State University. That span of time hardly counts, right?

I firmly believe education is important for our society. That doesn’t mean everyone should earn a four-year degree or a master’s degree. Maybe it means securing a vocational certification or getting an associate’s degree.

It all comes down to where a person wants to see his or her life go. There is no one right answer. It is an individual decision.

The key is know what you want and then taking the appropriate steps to achieve it.

Never stop learning. Seize every opportunity to better yourself and your mind. And, most importantly, embrace back-to-school time.

— Todd Vogts, publisher

Jill-E bag combines style, functionality

By Todd Vogts

JACK Lenox Portfolio Front
JACK Lenox Portfolio Front

It is that time of the year when you are buying school supplies, new sneakers and an updated wardrobe for your children, but why should they be the only ones that use this time of the year to freshen up their looks?

Jill-E Designs has a plethora of great accessories for mom and dad, and these stylish accoutrements will make you as excited about a new week at work or running errands as the children are about getting back to school and friends.

The ladies always have options when it comes to picking out something new to set of their look, but it can be more difficult to find something for the guys. Luckily, Jill-E has the JACK Lenox Portfolio.

This over-the-shoulder back is the perfect combination of style and functionality. It can hold your laptop or tablet with ease, and there is a pocket for your phone. It has space for pens and cards as well, and it is all contained within sleek and soft brown-leather.

It comes in two sizes depending upon your needs: a 13-inch and a 15-inch.

JACK Lenox Portfolio Interior
JACK Lenox Portfolio Interior

This may not sound like a huge amount of space, but it is perfect for whatever device you need in your day-to-day efforts. And, if you are like me, the limited space helps you stay away from carrying extra clutter you don’t really need.

I highly recommend this bag for the stylish man in your life. They start at only $169.99.

Check out www.jill-e.com to purchase this bag and check out everything else they have to offer.

JACK Lenox Portfolio on a Mannequin
JACK Lenox Portfolio on a Mannequin
JACK Lenox Portfolio Side
JACK Lenox Portfolio Side

Fall Without Summer

By Ian Anderson

Globe_and_BookTeachers have it easy, and I can say so because I am one. Of all the professions, teaching allows for a whole season of escape. I’ve heard rumors of year-round school, and talk of ridding the system of the old agrarian way of doing education. We simply do not need summers off because so few engage in farming anymore. That’s how the talk goes, and there’s more about the benefits of a year-round schedule, how students are more likely to hold on to what they’ve learned if the long summer break doesn’t interrupt the flow of learning.

The advantages of year-round school aside, I have something to say about summer — especially because the school year approaches so quickly, and I want to cling to it a little longer.

There are different kinds of leisure, two that float up before me. One includes swimming, books, and long naps; the other kind isn’t one that we think of quite as quickly — it’s work that doesn’t require much of our brain.

The first is what we all want right when the last school bell rings in May, even those of us who haven’t had a proper summer break since school days. The heat and the water call to us, or maybe it’s the hum of the air conditioner or the sound of a fishing reel. Memories forged from the unforgiving July sky aren’t readily forgotten. This kind of rest gives the mind a fresh starting place for the flurry of the fall.

As a student I didn’t see my summer painting job as a leisure activity, but I see it now. In between lifting weights and running for fall sports, I did the slow work of rolling and brushing paint on thirsty walls. I would wake early and work long hours, sometimes outside in the heat, sometimes inside. I could let my mind wander while my arms and hands did the work. Even now, similar tasks at home allow me the space my mind needs to have ideas and think through problems. Often it’s during these times that I pray, too.

Perhaps our nation has outgrown the original purpose of summer break, but perhaps not. Students and teachers alike not only need time to choose their own reading, or do a bit of sleeping in, but also the opportunity to work at things that allow for reflective thought. As the school year energy begins to flow, I wonder whether it would come without summer break; I don’t want to find out.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

10 ways to simply back-to-school shopping

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

While kids and parents alike eagerly await the fresh start of a new school year, the back-to-school season is not without its share of stressors for busy families. The start of school means new schedules, teachers, shoes, backpacks and friends; as well as new academic challenges.

Adding some fun and excitement to the newness can help smooth the way. For example, allowing kids to help choose their outfits for the first day of school can help diffuse that nervous anticipation. Similarly, the chance to put a fresh set of pens to use or show off a cool new notebook can provide a distraction from those first-day jitters.

If the shopping itself is adding stress to your household, ease the back-to-school burden on your family with these helpful tips to simplify shopping for the school year ahead.

Make note of your inventory. School lists often carry over each school year, so make sure you aren’t buying multiples of things you already own. Some supplies are more exciting when refreshed every year, but buying the same old boring ruler year after year is simply a waste of money.

12705_bPOMake a list with your children. Put everything you need on that list, and be clear that once the list is done, it’s done. Having everyone on the same page with a complete list helps ensure nothing vital is forgotten, and the list can serve as a handy tool to keep your budget in check. Get uber organized using vibrant Sarasa gel pens by Zebra to create lists color-coded by kid or category to make your shopping more manageable.

Begin shopping as early as possible. Hunt bargains before the traditional back-to-school season to get the best deals. Not only will you save some cash, shopping before the rush will give you a wider selection to choose from, so you’re sure to find the items you need in the styles you (and your kids) want. Spreading the shopping over several weeks or months also allows you to distribute the expense across several pay periods, helping lessen the chance that you blow your monthly budget with one mega shopping excursion.

Be a savvy online shopper. Check out your favorite brands and retailers online, and sign up for their email alerts, so you’ll be in the know when the best deals hit. Many retailers now offer online-only specials, so watch ads closely to know when you’re better served making purchases in-store or online. Also keep an eye out for free or reduced shipping for extra savings that make it even cheaper than buying in person when you factor in the cost of gas. Remember that you can also rely on social media to follow back-to-school offers and hashtags.

Create a back-up bin at home. You may find that your kids consistently run out of certain items midyear. Devote a special area of your home to keep extras in stock, and take advantage of sales during back-to-school season or buy in bulk to get a better price.

Put quality ahead of price. While it’s tempting to go for cheap when your list is long, remember that sometimes quality buys actually save more in the long run. You can buy a ton of cheap pens that skip, or simply stop working. Or you can look at alternatives, such as Zebra’s Z-Grip brand, which are affordable, quality pens that allow children to focus on writing, not on the pen. Known for delivering a smooth-flowing writing experience at a great value, a Z-Grip pen truly delivers for young learners.

Make your children shopping buddies. Involve your kids in the back-to-school shopping process by giving them a budget. Help them allocate money for all the expenses, including clothing, school supplies, shoes and more. Use the opportunity to talk about how shopping smart for the necessities can leave room for some fun buys, too.

Reduce and reuse. Save plastic and money by encouraging kids to embrace reusable items, such as lunch bags in place of paper sacks and plastic containers instead of sandwich bags. If water bottles are allowed at school, look for a durable refillable option that can be used again and again.

Make the old new again. Turn barely used items into something new by decorating or adding stickers. Not only is this a fun activity that can help get the kids excited about and engaged in planning for the year ahead, it’s easy on the budget and eco-friendly. Keep leftover supplies on hand to revive the enthusiasm with fresh designs at the end of the quarter or semester.

Swap with other moms. Make back-to-school time more fun by hosting a swap event with other moms for clothing, backpacks, shoes, etc. It seems that kids are forever trading with their friends, so embrace that mindset and see what exciting new treasures you can find for your kids to call their own.

Find your zen during back-to-school shopping at www.zebrapen.com/findzen.

Make it a peaceful shopping experience

Though back-to-school shopping can be fun, it can also be overwhelming. These tricks may help you add some Zen to the experience, or at least cut some of the chaos.

Know yourself: Are you better at doing all of your shopping all at once, or would you rather make separate trips throughout a couple of weeks to ease the stress? There is no one “right” way to tackle back-to-school shopping; just go with what works best for you.

Create a democratic shopping experience: Instead of taking it upon yourself to get the supplies you think your kids need, turn it into a fun experience for every-one to enjoy. Ask what your kids want and what colors they like. Encourage them to stimulate creativity with whimsical supplies, such as the fun and funky patterns of Cadoozles mechanical pencils.

Want your high school or college bound academians to have a little extra swag for school? Look for a few simple purchases that reflect their confidence, such as Zebra Steel pens, with a sleek design perfect for the advancing student.

— Family Features

Better bets for back to school

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

As you gear up for a new school year, it’s important to put your kids’ nutrition on the school checklist. Countless studies link school performance and healthy eating habits. Treat this season of “academic beginnings” as a chance for the whole family to take a fresh approach to better-for-you eating.

From on-the-go breakfasts and brag-worthy brown bag lunches to after-school snacks and family-friendly dinners, there are plenty of ways to pack nutrition and flavor into every meal. Often, creating healthier meals can be as easy as simply trading-up or swapping one food ingredient for a more nutritious choice.

Selecting menu options that help your family eat better begins at the grocery store with your shopping decisions. If the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s of food labels make your head spin, you can rely on tools such as the NuVal(r) Nutritional Scoring System, which provides scores near the price on the shelf tag to identify better-for-you foods. Based on a scale of 1 to 100, the scores rank foods and beverages on their nutritional content with the most nutritious choices scoring highest.

You can take other steps to make shopping easier for healthy eating, says Marisa Paolillo, a nutritionist with NuVal.

First and foremost, she says, don’t go when you’re hungry.

“It really is true. If you shop hungry, you’re more likely to toss foods into your cart that will satisfy the hunger pangs at the moment, rather than what you actually need for the week ahead,” she adds.

12673_bPOAnother smart shopping tip is to plan, plan, plan. Paolillo suggests starting out right by planning a full week’s worth of menus, then creating a shopping list. This not only streamlines meal preparation, it saves household budget, aids nutrition choices and reduces the frustration and extra time associated with return trips to the store.

1. Determine what you will serve for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.

2. Create a grocery list of food ingredients that are needed.

3. Don’t forget to check specials and coupons in your store’s weekly circular. (Consider swapping listed ingredients for seasonal or on-sale foods.)

“Taking a list to the grocery store will ensure that you stick to your budget and only buy what you need,” says Paolillo.

If you’re pressed for time and on a spur-of-the-moment shopping run, however, keep these better-for-you food basics in mind. Consider these:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs are a quick and easy breakfast – but hardboiled eggs are a great option for an on-the-go snack.

Mid-Day Snack: Get a quick protein and calcium boost during the day with cottage cheese or plain yogurt with fruit or granola.

Lunch and Dinner: Make sure to include vegetables in all meals.

On-the-Go Snack: Fruit like apples, bananas, tangerines and pears are perfectly portable for on-the-go ease.

Dinner: Round out your day with lean protein at dinner, such as poultry or fish seasoned with herbs.

Paolillo offers some final healthy eating, back-to-school shopping tips. Take advantage of in-store nutritional scoring systems or services to help guide food choices, and make the majority of food selections from the outer perimeter of the store.

“Think produce, dairy, fish and meat,” Paolillo says. “This will ensure that most of your food choices are more nutrient-packed and fresh, versus heavily processed foods that tend to be loaded with additional sugar, salt and fat.”

Find nutritious trade-ups and family-friendly meals to kick off the new school year at

Bring Breakfast-to-Go

Even if breakfast finds you crunched for time, prime the kids with morning nutrients to energize their day. Give them a breakfast boost with make-ahead options that can be enjoyed on-the-go in cars and buses. Try portable Scrambled Egg Cups or Oatmeal Cups, which provide plenty of protein to get them through the day.

Unbeatable “Brown Bag” Tips

When it comes to packing school lunches, stick to what your kids like. If they aren’t crazy about something, it may end up in the garbage or get traded for an unhealthy snack.

These simple swaps will make your kids’ brown bag lunch unbeatable:

1. For sandwiches, swap white bread for a higher NuVal-scoring brown bread or pita.

2. Replace deli meats with lean roasted beef or poultry or low fat cheese.

3. For a delicious, nutritious sandwich spread, trade mayonnaise for a mashed avocado. Make fruits and vegetables a go-to snack. Chop up carrots, peppers and celery in advance and stash some in lunch bags with hummus; or sprinkle apple and pear slices with lemon and cinnamon to satisfy a sweet tooth.

4. Choose water to hydrate and calcium- and vitamin D-rich milk to strengthen growing bones.

Smart Swaps for After School

Chips and packaged cookies, move out of the way. Swap them for smart after-school snacks that are homemade, nutritious and fun to make.

Custom-create a smoothie. Have kids choose their favorite fruit and vegetables.

Toss them into the blender with ice and fat free yogurt for a snack that’s easy, fun and filling.

Make banana sushi rolls. Top a whole grain tortilla with nut butter and a whole banana sprinkled with cinnamon.

Roll it up and slice like sushi rolls. (These are great for lunches, too.)

Other after-school smart snacks include:

• Apple slices topped with almond butter.

• Air-popped popcorn (Avoid microwave popcorn, which is often high in trans-fat and sodium.)

• Fresh salsa and tortilla chips.

— Family Features