Category Archives: Life

Idea: Amazon School Supply List

Today, my son and I picked up some last minute supplies for his first day of middle school tomorrow, and this idea popped into my head.

Amazon.com is in a perfect position to make this a reality, though other online retailers could do it.

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Amazon will allow school districts, schools and/or teachers to create school supply lists through an easy interface in their system. Families will be able to log on to Amazon.com, find their school or teacher, and see the whole list of supplies needed for the school year. The families can then buy the whole list, or edit the supplies if they already have things on the list. When they do buy the items, they will have the option to ship the supplies directly to the school, and the student will be able to get them on the first day of school.

Teachers will also be able to post wish list items for the families, instead of having little slips of paper at the open house asking for Clorox wipes or Kleenex. When the families are checking out on Amazon.com, they can choose to add one of the wish list items.

Prices will be kept low because they will be supplemented from the companies whose products are featured through the list process. For example, Elmer’s Glue will be the only brand of glue that teachers can add to their supply lists, and this exclusivity would be paid for by Elmer’s, which would pass savings on to the consumers. (Families could deselect a brand if they would like a different one.)

The student won’t need to worry about forgetting an important supply at school, or losing something before the first day because it was bought weeks before. The parents won’t need to worry about wasting gas and time trying to find the supplies going from store to store. They won’t need to worry about getting the supply list from the teachers.

The teachers will be confident that their students have access to the list and to the supplies, and that the students will have what they need. There will be consistency in the products the kids are using so there’s no confusion about white glue versus glue sticks or something other than a No. 2 pencil.

Another option that will be available through this service will allow people to donate school supplies. This can be done either through an add-a-dollar process, that adds money onto the final amount of the sale, or the donor can select a school district and donate a full supply list to the school to give to a student in need. Schools would be able to sign up for up to a certain amount of donated supply lists.

In Central Florida, 172,000 children are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program and 10,000 are homeless (source). If their families have difficulty putting food on the table, you know they will be unable to purchase school supplies. This opportunity to help other students would be a great benefit to all communities.

Since this is just an idea, I would encourage you to find a way to help out students in need this school year. Here in Central Florida, we have an organization called A Gift For Teaching that helps meet these needs by allowing teachers to shop in a Free Store for donated school supplies. They are associated with the Kids in Need Foundation who can help you help others in your own community.

So what do you think of the idea?

And how do we make it happen? Well, if you happen to work for Amazon, or another internet retailer – just run with it. If you don’t work for a company like that, this could start from the grassroots – send a letter to Amazon, to your school district or both. It seems like a win for students, parents, teachers and the community, as well as for the school supply business.

The school supply industry is pretty recession-proof. Kids don’t stop going to school when the economy is down. According to this article in the Porterville Recorder, “Total spending on back-to-school is expected to reach $26.7 billion; and total back-to-school and back-to-college spending combined, $72.5 billion.”

Yardwork: What I Do and How I Do It

I bought my house 18 months ago. I’ve not done much to the indoor decor beyond painting two rooms and pushing around furniture. Most of the work has been outside in the yard.

One of the first things I did after I moved in was rip out what my sister-in-law calls “snake bushes.” They’re these low slung evergreen bushes that were a prominent part of the yard when I bought the house. Grass has been a challenge to grow in the front yard – the soil is very sandy, and there’s a big oak tree that shades half of the yard. I like the shade of the oak tree, but grass likes sunlight. I did compare a picture taken last year to one taken now, and the grass does look much improved, though. I’ve tried using the Scott’s Turf Builder EZ Seed, but the oak tree shade isn’t a friend to the bermuda grass, it seems.


I’m pretty old school when it comes to taking care of the yard. I use a push reel mower from Craftsman. It was one of my first purchases for the new home – I bought it on sale at Sears for less than $100. I like it a lot. It’s not perfect – it takes more work to get the yard mowed than it would with a gas powered mower, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s a bit of a workout. But the best thing is that it’s quiet. I wake up fairly early, even on weekends, so it’s nice that I can get up and mow the lawn when it’s still cool in the morning, even in the Florida summers, without bothering neighbors. I don’t really care that I might have to go over thick spots twice.

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Valentine’s Day

I’m not a big celebrator of Valentine’s Day. I just think rather than reserve one day a year to celebrate your love for someone, you should do it the other 364 days a year. And take one day off – love can be exhausting!

But even though I think Valentine’s Day is silly, I think these are super cute! I saw them at Target today. The one on the right is a candy dish, and the other is a cookie jar. I don’t think my blurry picture does them justice.

They had plates and stuff with these elephants and with whales. They had cutesy messages like “I love you a ton” and “I love you this much.”

Music in the Home

I used to fall asleep to music all the time, but fell out of the practice. I’ve been more of a white noise person, with a box fan to generate it, and then more recently when I moved into the house, just the ceiling fan.

Last night, something prompted me to turn on some music. I don’t have a grand sound system or anything. I just plugged in some little speakers into the headphone jack of my aging iPod, and let it play all the Joe Hisaishi music I have.

Joe Hisaishi is a Japanese composer, probably best known for his soundtracks to Hayao Miyazaki films. I have some music from those films, but Hisaishi has some beautiful albums that are not soundtracks. He has a several “Piano Stories” albums that are beautiful.

Little bit of trivia: Joe Hisaishi is not his given name. Hisaishi is the same word using Japanese kanji characters as “Quincy,” and Joe is from Jones, so Joe Hisaishi is his pseudonym in honor of Quincy Jones.

So I’ve found Joe Hisaishi music easy to fall asleep to. That’s not to say it’s boring or anything. The music is intricate and full of emotion, bright and happy, or dark and sorrowful, or fast and full of action. BUt I’ve become so familiar with them, they are extremely soothing.

Once I woke up, I realized I liked the music playing in the house and kept it on through the morning as I got ready for work. I’ve listened to music in the house before. But I haven’t really embraced music as the background to it. There’s a reason that Walt Disney World plays background music everywhere you go, and it’s something that you often don’t pay any attention to, but sometimes, you can stop and listen and actively enjoy the music, and if you stop and listen and it’s not there, then you miss it.

Music offers enrichment in a way nothing else can. I am making a promise to myself to play more music through the house.

And so I ask you, dear readers, does music enrich your home? Do you fall asleep to music? What’s the best music you’ve found to fall asleep to?

If I had a blank, I could blank!

If I had a       (school supply)     , I could         (verb)       .

How would you fill in those blanks?

That’s what A Gift for Teaching is challenging you to ask yourself during the 2011 PUSH campaign that’s going on this month. When given the right tools, a child’s potential is limitless.

I would fill in the blanks as:
If I had a      book      , I could       go on an adventure       !

When I was growing up, I loved books… and I still love books!
I love that books can take me to other worlds.
I love that books can let me experience things I’d never do in real life.
I love that books let me use my imagination.
I love that books inspire me to write.

Here are some books that meant a lot to me when I was a kid, in order of influence.

  • Any of the Little Golden Books, like The Little Red Caboose
  • Winnie the Pooh books
  • Everything by Dr. Seuss
  • Beverly Cleary books like Ralph S. Mouse, The Mouse and The Motorcycle  and all of the Hennry Huggins books
  • Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, on which Disney based The Black Cauldron
  • C.S. Lewis  books (Narnia and his space trilogy)
  • Anything by Stephen R. Lawhead
  • John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights 
  • Everything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Those are just ones of the top of my head. There were so many more.
What books do you remember reading as a kid?
Of course, so many kids aren’t able to afford to buy books. They have to rely on public libraries and school libraries. And these days, school library funding is in trouble.
But you can help a child have access to books!
A Gift for Teaching offers a free store for teachers that has a corner devoted to books! Teachers can come to A Gift For Teaching and shop for free and take books for their classrooms and students.
Please consider donating the price of your favorite book to A Gift for Teaching. You can do that by going to my fundraising site at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/matthew-hoskins-1/agiftforteaching-matthoskins.
Right now, I’m almost halfway to my goal of $200. With AGFT’s stewardship, they can turn that $200 into $2000 worth of school supplies. Including books!
Thank you so much! And don’t forget to fill in the blanks in the comments below!

A Gift for Teaching PUSH Campaign 2011

It’s that time of year again, when the asphalt begins to bubble and parents start to buy school supplies for their kids to go back to school.

Last year, I introduced you to Pencil Boy. This year, I’ll just give it to you straight.

Did you know in Florida, about 50% of kids qualify for the Free or Reduced School Lunch Program. You can look at statistics here:http://www.fldoe.org/eias/eiaspubs/pdf/frplunch.pdf

In Orange County for the 2008-2009 school year, the percentage was 48.55%. In Osceola County, it was 65.11%!!

If these kids can’t afford lunch, how will they afford pencils and other school supplies?!

But there’s help!

A Gift For Teaching is an organization that distributes school supplies, including pencils, to teachers and students in need! They operate a Free Store for Teachers where the teachers can come in and shop without spending any money and get supplies for their students and classrooms. Through their excellent staff and kind donations and volunteers, they are able to take a $10 donation and stretch it into $100 worth of school supplies. That’s a LOT of pencils!

Please visit their website and find out more about them!

And you can help, too!

Please visit http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/matthew-hoskins-1/agiftforteaching-matthoskins and consider donating even a small amount to A Gift for Teaching. Every little bit counts! Skip today’s Starbucks run, and give that $5 to them so kids can have pencils and erasers, glue, paper, scissors, etc.

It only takes about $7 to fill a backpack with supplies for kids. Could you give $7 to fill a backpack?

Thank you so much for donating!

More United States Budget Ideas

A few months ago, I posted a blog with some United States budget ideas. You can review those ideas here: United States Budget Ideas

I’ve had some more ideas.

The other day on Twitter, I made this joke:

Can't the government sell antiques to @AmericanPicker to pay off the debt? I bet there's some cool stuff in the basement of the Smithsonian.

Maybe this really is a good idea? The Hope Diamond, if sold today, would bring between $200,000,000 and $250,000,000 according to Wikipedia.

The unique 1849 Double Eagle now has an estimated value of $20 million, according to the Professional Coin Grading Service Million Dollar Coin Club. (Photo credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.) 

The Smithsonian has over 137 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens in their collection. Less than 2% of the collection is on display at any given time! This includes things like Picasso paintings. We could sell just pieces of the collection and earn money to fight the US deficit. If they’re not on display, what good are they?

Did you know that the budget for the Smithsonian is over $750,000,000? For 2012, they’ve asked for more. Most of this is salaries. During the 1995-1996 Government Shutdown, the Smithsonian closed, due to lack of money to pay salaries. I’m not going to debate the merit of their budget, but let’s take a look at it.

Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriation (currently in place):
Salaries and Expenses: $636,161,000
Revitalization:                 $89,300,000
Planning and Design:    $15,700,000
Construction:                   $20,000,000
Total:                                   $761,161,000

The Smithsonian had a record year in 2009, with 30 million visitors. Admission to the Smithsonian is free, which makes sense, because our taxes pay for it. But plenty of non-taxpayers from other countries visit the museum. I say we should start charging for admission. Let’s say $10 per day on average. Even if we don’t maintain the attendance, that would reduce the budget needs above by more than a quarter of a billion dollars. I took my son to the Smithsonian in 2009, and I would have paid much more than that for admission.

I would actually go a step farther. Let’s privatize the whole thing. We can lease the land the museums sit on (with restrictions) and allow someone else to run the museums, charge for admission, sell pieces of the collection for financing. How much do you think the Smithsonian is worth in total? Would there be anyone who could afford it?

But the problem is, the US Government can’t afford it, either. So let’s let someone else take on the risk, and make the Smithsonian profitable. Then we still don’t need to spend the $750 million, and can apply it to other things needed in our budget.

I realize this is a controversial suggestion. But it’s going to take controversial suggestions to reduce our deficit.

I think we should look into the privatization of many government programs… Amtrak, the United States Postal Service, etc. There are plenty of concerns about doing that, but are they worse than bankrupting the country? If a private company can’t make the services sustainable, even if not profitable, then maybe they are services we can do without.

If we don’t cut these things, then we have to pay for them. And that means raising taxes or cutting other things. If we don’t cut these, what else can we cut?

Feel free to argue in the comments!

Edit to add: Reddit has a good article that explains the debt ceiling in the simplest of terms: Can someone describe the debt ceiling to me Like Im Five? : explainlikeimfive