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Creating Chore Lists Using Office 365 Home Premium


Our busy family of five keeps organized as long as our schedule is managed and under control. A messy schedule results in a messy family life. I use technology to create a workflow and make sure everyone understands their responsibilities. Listed below are some of my tips on how to use technology to create a family workflow. To see my family using our family chore tech in action, check out this video:





1. Create a digital chore list: Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel from Office 365 Home Premium are two of my favorite tech tools for keeping the family on the straight and narrow. Staying on top of things is much easier when the family is organized and everyone knows their responsibilities. Using the Office 365 Home Premium child’s chore chart template, I can individually color everyone’s duties.



Office 365 Chore list Template



We put homework on the chore list because it was a central way to keep track of daily duties. They can then either use the mouse or the stylus on our touch screen Windows 8 devices to check chores off when complete so my husband and I know what has been completed and who needs a reminder. Because I store the chore list on SkyDrive, we can access it on any device (no need to print a chore list anymore – that always seems to get lost!). I use the Excel To-do lists to help me manage family projects.



Microsoft Excel Office 365 Home Premium To do list



There are so many great Office 365 Home Premium templates to choose from, I am always finding new ones to use to help organize my family life. I also store my Excel To-do lists on SkyDrive so I can access them across my devices, and update them wherever I am!



2. Tie completing chores to screen time or other activities: Some kids get their allowance for completing chores, but in our house we decided instead to use incentives. Our kids value screen time and other special activities, so we set up a system that allows them to earn time with electronics by doing chores. One of my kids enjoys Minecraft, so he knows to do his daily chore first and then check it off on the To-do list before he can play his game. My other young son likes to go to the Radio Shack hobby section and buy electrical supplies for experiments. He earns money to buy his supplies only after checking off his chores on the list.



Incentives for Chores



My teen, on the other hand, likes to choose his screen time depending on how he feels that day and how much homework he may have – so he knows to check off his chores before he socializes online or plays games on the family PC.



3. Add music to liven up the chores: Doing chores seemed to be a strain for my kids… until we suggested they listen to music while doing their work. All three kids lightened up and started dancing to the music while working. My teen can rock out to his favorite group, Green Day, while cleaning the dishes and one of my hip hop obsessed twin 10 year-old boys can listen to hip hop while he “hops” around mopping the floor after dinner. My other twin son prefers to vacuum, so he decided to listen to music on his MP3 player using earphones. We use a few different platforms to manage our family’s music from our Windows 8 PC. My favorite Windows 8 music apps are:

  • Slacker Radio: While I prefer my kids listen to the Slacker Radio Classical Music light station, they prefer classic “rock” instead. We all enjoy listening to the Slacker Radio festival channel. So even though we can’t go to festival like SXSW Music, that does not mean we can’t feel like we’re right there just by listening to the music on our PC!
  • iHeart Radio: If we feel like listening to the radio, we use the iHeart Radio app to listen to our favorite local stations.
  • Xbox Music: We enjoy Xbox music to stream songs on our Windows devices.
  • Shazam – We installed the Shazam app on our Windows devices to help identify the names of songs we don’t recognize.



How do you manage your family chore list and what incentives do you use?




Top Tools To Keep Kid’s Homework on Track



Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium at 1

With my busy life as a working mom, I am always on the move. This requires my technology to be flexible, fit my lifestyle and be available for the kids especially when it’s homework time. Finding the right technology tools can help my family have more productive days. Using Office 365 Home Premium is not only a game changer for families, but it is a great way to keep my kid’s homework on the right track.



Listed below are my homework tech tips and video of my family in action ( click below to view the video).





Tip 1 – Homework storage and document management: The first step for homework management in my house was to create a storage and document management system. It’s important that I can access and review my kid’s homework from anywhere, and now I can do this with Office 365 Home Premium, as it is now integrated with SkyDrive – Microsoft’s storage in the cloud.



Microsoft Office 365 Skydrive



Once we store our Microsoft Word, OneNote, PowerPoint or Excel documents on SkyDrive, my family can even view and edit them using Office Web Apps from a browser! How cool is that?





Office 365 Home Premium web apps enable classmates (or anyone we want to share documents with) to edit or view group assignments by using the links we send them.



Microsoft Office 365 Skydrive



If we happen to be out of the house using a PC that has Windows 7 or higher, logging into our Microsoft account will allow us to stream a version of Office 365 Home Premium to that PC for a one time use.



Tip 2 – Organize Homework Tools: I set up a system to help my kids have the right tools for homework and know where to store digital documents. We have homework supplies such as paper, pencils, paper clips, stapler, rulers and pens in a desk drawer of our family room desk (where our shared family Windows 8 desktop is located). With Office 365 Home Premium, our family has all the most current Office tools (Word, Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and more) and all their work is stored on SkyDrive in organized folders. They use OneNote for gathering information, Word to create their essays, PowerPoint to create presentations and Excel for spreadsheets in math class. Our kids use OneNote, to create “homework” notebooks that allow them to write and edit using touch, type or stylus.



Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium OneNote



For some math work, a good old fashioned pencil and ruler is good enough. But when my kids work on equations, they enjoy using OneNote’s equation editor on our Windows 8 touch desktop, allowing them to use a stylus to write the equation and then have it converted to type.



Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium OneNote



They also use OneNote tools to record audio and video.



Microsoft Office 365 OneNote Home Premium



My kids’ OneNote notebooks are also the place they can gather information about their projects, including links to web pages, inserted photos and even embedded Excel spreadsheets that update the original spreadsheet when changes are made. Word allows my kids to insert online pictures to their essays and the resume reading feature allows me to utilize small pockets of time during the day to review their book reports, and resume each time at the same place I left off. There are also great templates for my kids to use when creating their book reports.





With PowerPoint my kids can give their presentations with the advantage of using Presenter mode.



Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Powerpoint



With Excel, kids can use formulas, charts and tables to represent math equations and percentages. Using those tools to represent math assignments helps them understand the concepts. And it looks great when turned into the teacher!





3. Set Up Ways to Move and Work – to Help Keep Kids Focused: Some kids need movement to focus and get work done. One of my boys responds very well to homework breaks where he is really exercising his muscles and alternates between jogs around the house and bouncing on a mini-trampoline in the back yard. Then, quite by accident, I discovered that he finishes his work more quickly if he sits (ok… bounces) on my big, inflated yoga ball when attacking his math and writing assignments. He now looks to that yoga ball as his favorite chair, and is able to focus on his homework for longer periods of time because he moves when needed. He even learned to type while bouncing! My next purchase may need to be a balance ball chair. For longer sessions requiring significant writing or typing we ask him to use a regular chair. When sitting, he is usually squeezing a small hand therapy ball for some stationary “hand exercise”. At least that keeps him seated!





4. Teach Your Kids How to Get homework done From Anywhere. With all of our afterschool activities (and especially during Spring Little League), we can’t seem to find a regular time during the week to sit down and do homework together. It is especially challenging when I am at work or a meeting late in the day for my sitter to spread out his time between all of my kids. Luckily our documents are on SkyDrive (in the cloud), so I can help my kids with homework (and “remind” them about their assignments) even if I am not at home. When they have questions on their homework and provide me with a file name, I can take a look and help. Even though they may not especially like that I can always see the latest version of their homework files, they DO appreciate that we can edit together so their assignments get done. After my kids saw how I use Office 365 Home Premium to get assignments done no matter where I am, they started asking to do that as well. My older son figured out that while my twins are playing a baseball game during a school night, he can be there to watch but also work on school projects using one of our Windows 8 devices. Learning to get work done by utilizing available segments during the day is an important skill not only for my kids’ homework but also for their future careers. This also enables our family to check off our list of work each day, so that we can have quality time at night before bed, just talking – no tech in sight.




PATUE Meetup: Assistive Tech Tools To Support Learning

On Nov 27, I was excited to participate in the Palo Alto Tech Using Educators (PATUE) weekly edtech conference series. The organizer of this discussion was Sam Patterson (@LearningsLiving). His website, “Paperless Classroom”, is a great resource for information on how technology can help students learn. Meetups such as this one, hosted by PATUE, help both educators and parents like me interested in technology for kids with learning differences share important information.


I started my talk with a brief perspective as a parent who uses what is commonly called “assistive technology” to help my kids, each of whom has a different learning style. Speaking with me at the PATUE meetup was Shelley Haven of “Technology to Unlock Potential”. We met about a year ago when I attended one of her classes. Shelley is an educational technology consultant who provides assistive technology services including assessments, training, tech configuration, hands-on workshops, classes and more.


Her website is a great resource in this field and includes what she refers to as her Assistive Technology Toolbox, listing technology tools she uses with students and suggested resources. Shelley highlights on her website,, that “Assistive technology can be a great equalizer, helping to level the academic playing field. The right technology tools can reduce the impact of learning barriers, leverage a student’s strengths, or provide an alternative means to accomplish a task.”


The two topics I discussed were 1) the Immersion Reading feature of the Kindle Fire and 2) the new Livescribe Sky WiFi Pen. Immersion Reading is a feature exclusive to the newest models of the Kindle Fire. Readers who purchase a Kindle eBook as well as the corresponding audiobook from can listen to a professionally narrated book while watching it “come alive” with real time highlighting on the Kindle Fire. What I like about the Immersion Reading feature is the professional narration of the audio book making the story come alive, rather than a computer-generated electronic voice.


I stumbled onto this feature when looking into options for one of my fourth grade twins who loves stories but does not like to read. So for now, the Immersion Reading feature of the Kindle, when combined with audio books, is enabling my 9 year old “resistant reader” to listen (and follow) a new book every few days. When we ask him about the story he describes it in vivid detail, demonstrating high comprehension. He also is learning grammar and punctuation by following along in the text.

Here is a video on the Immersion Reading Feature:




The Business Wire press release on Immersion Reading explained:

“Academic research supports the assertion that all readers can benefit from listening while reading. In an influential 2007 study, “Learning through Listening in the Digital World,” neuropsychologist David Rose, Ed.D. and professor Bridget Dalton, Ed.D. drew upon cognitive educational research to report that “both learning to listen and listening to learn are critical to literacy in the 21st century as new technologies rebalance what it means to be literate and to learn.”


Professor David Dockterman commented on Rose’s and Dalton’s findings, “For struggling readers, narration can provide decoding support, but there’s an added benefit to well-narrated text that helps even competent readers. Hearing something read with expression provides additional clues to the meaning beyond the words themselves.”



The next assistive tech topic I covered was the new Livescribe Sky WiFi pen called Sky. This product is brand new and now has WiFi and cloud integration via Evernote. From the press release: “Livescribe smartpens digitally capture everything you hear and write, allowing you to simply tap your ink and play back everything you recorded at that moment.


“The Sky wifi smartpen wirelessly syncs your notes and audio with your Evernote account, making them immediately accessible on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or the web. When paired with your mobile device, Sky offers the natural feel and precision of writing on paper with the advantages of viewing, sharing, and saving handwritten notes on a tablet.”



Here is a video the demonstrates the Livescribe Smartpens:


Shelley Haven then discussed a wide range of assistive technology tools that can help “lower the hurdles” for those who learn differently. Shelley pointed out that even students who are successful at school may have learning differences, such as someone who can easily articulate an essay verbally but has trouble writing it down.


Some of the tools Shelley discussed during the PATUE meeting were audio textbooks from Learning Ally, electronic text and text-to-speech apps from (Read2Go for iPhone and GoRead for Android audio), Inspiration for visual mind mapping, Kurzweil 3000 for study skills, Microsoft OneNote and Evernote for digital organization and Livescribe Pens for capturing handwritten notes and synchronizing these with recorded audio, allowing students to target audio playback.


Do you use any assistive technology for yourself or your kids? If so, please share what you use.



Exciting Announcement: TechMama is guest columnist at Laptop Mag

For years, reading online and buying Laptop Magazine has been one of my regular stops to catch up on the latest in mobile tech. Laptop Magazine was (and is) an important part of my daily curation of family technology and social media.


Other then my personal blog ( and as a big fan of CoolMomPicks),  I was thrilled to be part of the team at their sister site CoolMomTech – the top tech shopping site for moms. It was also my dream as a tech blogger to contribute to a mainstream tech site.


I am excited to announce that I am a guest columnist at none other then Laptop Magazine (ok, yes I am giddy)! My first column discusses if Augmented Reality toys are bad for your kids. To find out my thoughts – you will need to check out Laptop Magazine online or the May magazine issue. Even better if you do both. As I head out on a business trip next week, I picked up my regular “plane” – shut off your electronics and read a magazine – reading. I must say, buying the recent issue of Laptop Magazine was extra special this time.




Adventures in Budgeting With The American Express Prepaid Card

see disclosures at bottom of post*

My new career blogging about technology began after I left full time employment in the field of technology consulting to focus on raising three wonderful boys. Blogging introduced me to an amazing social media community, not only online but also at meetups, conferences and social media events. Even though I had traveled plenty for business before having kids, I found traveling for my own business very different than traveling for an employer. It really started to add up. First a conference ticket, then a hotel and taxi. Add in food and a “must have” new pair of shoes, as well as other assorted travel expenses, and I seemed to always exceed my target for travel expenses. Like others who followed a passion that lead to a business, I too learned a little too late that when running your own company, budgeting is a must.


OK, maybe I did not need the new pair of shoes and a new outfit, but considering I spend most work days at home dressed in sweats, I like to spruce it up a bit for business conferences.


So instead of spending less – I increased the budget. This works for the trip – but when I return home reality takes over. I need better fiscal control.


Enter American Express Prepaid Card for my trip to BlogWorld LA and my first attempt to stay on budget.



Business Trip Tips Using The American Express Prepaid Card from Beth Blecherman on Vimeo.


For my trip to BlogWorld Los Angeles in November, I used the American Express prepaid card to manage my spending and pre-loaded it with, for the first time, only the amount in my budget. Because it is prepaid I could only spend the amount I loaded on the card.



As a first step, I estimated how much the hotel, airfare and travel expenses would cost for the trip. I even included funds for a new shirt. Next, I signed up for the American Express prepaid card a few weeks in advance so that I could load only the *budgeted* amount onto the card. Signing up for the card was easy, and although it took a few weeks to set up, I was happy that the validation steps were put in place to protect me. One feature that helped me manage my spending was not paying any fees: The American Express prepaid card has no annual, customer services, overdraft or transaction fees. No fees saves me money.


Before Blogworld, I used the American Express prepaid card to pay for airfare, register for an Expo pass and buy a new blue shirt.  Examining the card’s balance, I decided to close my eyes and walk past the beautiful new pair of shoes in the store window, wearing a pair from my closet instead. At Blogworld, I used the prepaid card for my hotel, meals, incidentals and taxis. Easily checking the balance online, I verified there was had enough left over to take a business associate out to lunch. Arriving home after Blogworld, trip complete and budget met, there were no remaining funds on the card. For the first time in a while, I had stuck to my budget.


Another neat feature of American Express prepaid card is that I can order up to three cards. if I hired a personal assistant, I can give that person a card to cover their business purchases. And when I hire a video editor (my son, he’s 12 years old and VERY talented, that is my unbiased opinion of course) – I can give him a card to buy new video editing software.  Because the card is prepaid, it would also protect me from any un-expected purchases my son may spontaneously decide to attempt (like a new video game or 2). He will need to wait for his birthday for that!


Disclosure: Travel Expenses for my trip to Blogworld were covered by (and on) The American Express Prepaid Card.


Technology Enabled Remote Working

Like many in the technology industry, I gave up my desk long ago and adopted the lifestyle of a mobile worker. First as an international auditor for a large pharmaceutical firm and then as a consultant for Deloitte, I was frequently traveling and remote work was just part of the job.  Clients’ offices were frequently outfitted with all the technology and infrastructure to get the job done. It wasn’t a struggle at all. Now, as a work-at-home mom and entrepreneur, I continue to see the value of working remotely and the need to create a professional remote work infrastructure.

The recently published a study on remote work that found “Almost one-third of firms cite costs or limited funds as obstacles to implementing workplace flexibility arrangements. However, the benefits of adopting such management practices can outweigh the costs by reducing absenteeism, lowering turnover, improving the health of workers, and increasing productivity.”

My own informal study of neighborhood parents who travel each morning to work outside of the home confirms that while their companies may offer some flexibility to work remotely, they also require that a majority of the work be done at the office. Why? Can’t a video teleconference or online collaboration do the job just as effectively? Why don’t more companies save travel time and costs by offering the option to work remotely?

Collaboration is certainly important, but with many online collaboration tools now available a face to face meeting is not essential. Remote working arrangements enable working mothers and fathers with great skills and family commitments (i.e. child or elder care) to return to work.

Some of the true trailblazers for remote work are my fellow social media mom entrepreneurs. Many of them have day jobs at an office while also working at home, and all of them have harnessed the latest and greatest gadgets to make sure they can work remotely on a flexible schedule. This may even include a conference call while waiting in the school carpool lane (oh wait – I did that yesterday).


Kris Cain (LittleTechieGirl), Michele Rasner McGraw (Scraps of My Geek Life) and Lori Cunningham  (WellConnectedMom)  shared with me their list of remote work technologies, including online storage and productivity sites, smartphones, tablets, laptops, chargers, Bluetooth keyboards, cameras, accessories (device cases), storage (i.e. the EyeFi card) and most importantly, mobile broadband options to stay connected. Here are some of the key technologies in their and my “office on the go.”

Computers: My laptop and netbook are my workhorse devices. At home I have a laptop with a 17” screen and top features including a fast processor, lots of RAM and plenty of storage. For mobile use I have a netbook, small and light enough to fit into my purse. But after seeing the new Ultrabooks, the latest thinner and lighter laptops, I may just need to add one to my suite of mobile tools.


Tablet: I use my tablet mostly for media consumption and light work tasks. It also offers a wide range of entertainment and education apps for my kids.


Smartphone: One of my top remote work tools is a smartphone. Beyond making calls, smartphones enable work on the go with mobile productivity apps, voice dictation, internet browsing, document editing and updating of your professional network.

Online collaboration and productivity tools: I use online tools to create, store, share and collaborate on work projects. As my business grows, I realize that I also need professional suites of productivity tools for support (and recovery) of my work projects.


Broadband: There are multiple personal broadband devices that allow one (or more) people to connect mobile devices to the Internet on the go. While WiFi is available in many locations, mobile broadband offers access independent of location. At my home office, I upgraded the wireless router and broadband to the fastest available in my neighborhood.


Video conferencing: As computer features improve, so does the quality of video conferencing on computers. I use video conferencing for everything from basic meetings to paid presentations.


Wireless accessories: At my home office I enjoy using a big ergonomic keyboard and mouse. For remote work, I have a selection of wireless devices including Bluetooth keyboards, headsets, mouse and storage devices. Really – who needs wires anymore these days?


Fashionable devices bags and cases: I always say that tech is the new fashion statement so I prefer laptop bags, cases and accessories that not only protect my devices but also add a touch of my personal style. When it comes to tech accessories, I say colors and dynamic designs are the new black.


This commentary is part of Microsoft’s Your Office, Your Terms Forum  –  #Blog #YOYT

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