Make Learning Fun with ABCMouse (Plus a Special Discount)

Please Note: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small kickback -- which, if I am being honest, will go back into growing the site -- if you sign up via any of the links. Thank you for supporting the Side Hustle Mom mission!

For many school-age kids, summer vacation is here, which goes hand-in-hand with being outside 24/7, playing with friends, and the dreaded summer slide ("the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year"). While I am constantly reading to, crafting with, and taking taking my boys (ages 4 and 18 months) on little educational field trips around town, I still worry about my oldest losing his newfound writing skills over break, which is where the science behind ABCMouse comes in handy.

If you have a toddler or young child who has watched PBS Kids, Sprout, Disney, or Nickelodeon in the last year, there is a good chance that you are familiar with advertisements for an online, early learning academy called ABCMouse. Like most commercials and advertisements, I didn’t give this program a second thought… After all, how great could this online learning program be? Aren’t there a million others? What makes this one in particular so special?

Fellow parents: I cannot rave about this program enough.

  via

Starting from the time he was one, my husband and I were constantly working with our oldest on numbers and letters, so he was starting to get it/point to most of them on command, but adding ABCMouse into the mix after he turned two took it above and beyond! 

By creating fun games that go more in-depth than most parents think to go (there is an entire series on each letter, number, color, shape, etc.), ABCmouse is creating a safe and enjoyable learning experience for children and parents alike.

One of my favorite things about ABCmouse is their way of teaching through song — isn’t it amazing how much easier things are to remember when set to music? When I was in kindergarten, we learned a song about the continents that has always stuck with me, and now my two-year-old is learning catchy tune about the sound each letter makes, as well as classic children’s songs (I’m a Little Tea PotFive Little Monkeys, etc.). Another plus to using the program? It is a fantastic bribing tool! (“Jax, do you want to do ABCmouse? Okay, we can do it as soon as you take a bath!”)

Moms and dads: I truly cannot recommend this program enough. It’s affordable, educational, reinforces what you’re already teaching, and is a perfect way to either jump start your child’s education or keep it up during these hot summer months! 

Ready to start ABCMouse? Right now they are offering Side Hustle Mom readers one month FREE or 2 years for only $99 (a 49% savings)! Click here to get started. 

Mom Boss Interview: Nancy Miracle from Miracle Farms

I am so so excited about today's mom boss, not only because she is one of the hardest working and most talented people I know, but because she is my mother-in-law as well :P If you know my "Mamma Nancy," you know she does it all: Farming, crafting, selling, flipping, AND working full-time at a school... she is seriously AMAZING (and she puts 100% into everything she does). I can go on and on about this fabulous woman, but I will let her tell you the rest:

15826749_1634279043255038_7685997057980587771_n.jpg

Nancy, can you please tell our readers who haven't had the pleasure to meet you more about you?

I am 55 years old and have worked for South Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative for the past 5 years. Basically I travel to 15 South Central Schools and help Special Ed students find jobs and get them job experience. I love my job but I do look forward to my summers when I can stay home and pursue my own interests such as working with my animals and canning and whatever else I decide to make. This year I am expanding my interests to making lotions, exfoliating lotions, bath bombs, candles and play dough for the kids.  

You have worn many hats over the years in terms of your careers, so can you tell us a little bit of what types of jobs you have had since you began working?

I've had many jobs over the years from fast food to banking to beauty products to Home Improvement to womens clothing, novelty and para.  I often held two and for a while 3 jobs at the same time.

I grew up on a  farm up in North Dakota and never really appreciated how wonderful it truly was until after I moved off when I graduated from high school.  I've lived in town since I was 18.  I've been a "city girl" from then until about 4 years ago. I never thought I would ever live on a farm again, but I always thought it would be nice to lie in the country on a little "Hobby Farm", but still have our regular jobs in town.

Fast forward to when you met your (now) husband a few years ago... you made a pretty big change by moving from the city to the country! Did you know from the start that you were going to start a side business from your new farm?

I met Russell on line about 6 years ago.  He also lived in town and works as a mechanic.  He had lived on a farm as a kid and also wanted a place out in the country.  So when I decided to move 2 hours away from my home to go live with and marry Russell, shortly after, we found a place in the country and decided to buy it.

When I say you do it all, I mean you do. it. all. For those of our readers who may not know you in real life, what all do you make and sell from your farm?

When we moved to the country I had no idea at the time that I would get so involved in gardening canning and especially my animals.  Honestly, Russell is more of the gardener, but like he says, I sure do like to sell it at the Farmer's Market.  I however, really enjoy my animals.  We started out with a few baby chicks that Russell surprised me with and put them in a small building that was already there and built them a pen.  It didn't take long and my few chicks and one house and pen turned into 9!  Before I knew it I had over 150 chickens!  I had ducks, geese and turkeys for a while but decided to just stick with chickens.

Once the word got out that I had chickens the egg orders started coming in!  So the first thing off my farm that I started selling were my eggs. 

I have 6 different breeds of chickens that I incubate their eggs and then sell them at a poultry auction that's held once a month.  From chickens we quickly went to pigs, cows and goats!  Along with several cats, two German Shepard dogs and one boarder collie.  Oh, and I can't forget my peacocks Romeo and Juliet!

How do you sell your products? Do you do anything online or is it all in person?

The first year out at our farm we noticed tons of sand plums growing.  And I decided I wanted to try and make sand plum jelly.  That was a big hit, so then I tried watermelon jelly and that too did very well.  Once the garden started producing I started selling at the Farmer's Market.  My produce, jellies and salsa, which I make from my own home grown vegetables, sold so well that I now sell at two different Farmer's Markets once a week.  This year I decided to try a few other things.

If you had to choose one of your side businesses as your favorite, which would it be?

I love making things and it's very rewarding when I can sell it to people who really enjoy it and also make a little profit from it! I'm always coming up with different things to make.  (Oh, I can't forget my zucchini bread made from my home grown zucchini and pumpkin bread made from my home made pumpkins!)  I also make signs  etc. from pallets

Can I say on here that I am also making home made wine and beer?  The beer I haven't quite mastered yet but the apple wine is the best!!  Of course I can't sell that but my family members sure like it when Christmas comes around!

In closing, I have to give kudos to my wonderful husband who is my biggest supporter! He encourages me in everything I do!  No matter how outrageous it seams he says "Whatever you want. If it makes you happy, why not?"

Here Are The 10 Best Freebies for Mother’s Day

Sunday is Mother’s Day, which means it is time to treat your moms, grandmas, aunts, sisters, friends, and other important women in your life to something extra special! If you do not have the funds this year to treat mom, don’t panic, for countless businesses are pulling out the stops to help you celebrate the special women in your life, via these 10 Mother’s Day freebies:

10 Best Mother’s Day Freebies.png

TCBY: FREE 6 oz. cup or cone of froyo

Shoney’s: FREE slice of strawberry pie

Kneaders: FREE French toast

Ruth’s Chris Steak House: FREE $25 dining card at participating locations

Long John Silver’s: Buy one platter, get one FREE

Pilot Flying J: FREE cup of hot or iced coffee (any size)

Wienerschnitzel: FREE chili dog, small fry, and drink

LaMar’s Donuts and Coffee: FREE donut and small coffee

Bass Pro Shops: FREE 4x6 family photo (plus, the first 100 families will also receive a free accessories bag and neoprene sunglasses case!)

Hooters: FREE entree from special Mother’s Day menu

Do you know of any other Mother's Day freebies? Let us know in the comments!
 

Mom Boss Interview: Lesley Higgins, Contract Background Investigator

You guys are going to LOVE today's mom boss, as she is not only an amazing wife and mom, but has a fascinating background in politics and quite possibly the most exciting remote job I have ever heard of!

Lesley is a fellow Denver girl (who I have yet to meet in real life -- my aunt actually told me all about her and then we officially "met" via a work-from-home mom Facebook group) who is currently working as a Contract Background Investigator, which -- yes -- is as cool as it sounds! 

I know you are skipping through my blabbing to get to the good stuff, so without further ado, here is Lesley:

31959152_10106147144145753_8620521068454477824_n.jpg

Lesley, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your fascinating background... you used to work in politics, correct?

I still work in politics and somewhat consider it my bread and butter. On a monthly basis, it makes up around 50% to 90% of my income. I do is financial compliance, vetting and opposition research for political committees (campaigns or PACs), with a little social media and website updates peppered in here and there. 

Fast forward to when you had your sweet son: Did you still work outside of the home or did you begin to transition to more remote work? 

My son was born in 2013 and I actually haven’t worked full time in an office since 2008. I have had a handful of jobs where I have spent part of my time in an office, but not since the end of 2012. The ground work was well laid before he came along. 

Before meeting my husband and deciding to bring our minion into the world, the freedom of being remote first allowed me to be what I called a “fake professional runner.” Since I was only going into the office part time, I was able to fit adequate training to qualify for and compete at the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 3000m steeplechase. I missed qualifying for the 2012 trials by half a second, but had some solid personal achievements between 2008 and 2012, including a mile personal best and three weeks of racing in Europe. 

At the end of 2012, we decided to have our son. At that time I was fully remote. I was also in a major dry spell with campaigns following the end of the 2012 election cycle, so I decided that was a good time to follow a suggestion from a colleague, who was also the CEO of a company that conducts background checks for the federal government. He had been urging me to do this as a supplement to an athlete’s lifestyle for awhile, but I was nervous about a job that required calling strangers and knocking on doors. However, at the time I was a little desperate and did not want to return to office life, so I decided to take the plunge.  

You are now working as a freelance background investigator, which sounds like the coolest job ever! What exactly do you do and what does your day-to-day entail?

Conducting background checks for the federal government is a fully remote job because rather than sending one investigator around the country to investigate one person, they have thousands of investigators covering the entire country, each taking elements of the investigation. By elements I mean record checks in places a subject has previously lived or references they provided that live around the country. There is also a lengthy interview of the individual going through the background check. 

Background investigations now fluctuate between my side-hustle and my main-hustle. The most I have worked as an investigator is a 65 hour week, which was terrible and clearly full-time. However, we moved from NYC to Colorado at the end of 2016 and now things are more reasonably paced. I currently average around 15 hours per week of background investigation work.

My days involve four different parts of the background investigation process: phone calls, interviews, writing and administrative tasks. I receive cases through a computer system, call the subject of the investigation or their references, interview them and then write it up. The administrative stuff mostly involves organizing notes and shipping my materials to the contracting company that I work for.

Subject interviews are basically recapping the last 10 years of their life and discussing their finances, foreign ties and past criminal activity. This process has played out pretty dramatically in the public eye thanks to Jared Kushner.

Examples of people I interview are employees at defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, federal employees at agencies like the TSA, ICE, CBP and the DEA, and the military.

How does one become a background investigator? Is it something you recommend for other stay-at-home moms? 

If you go on Indeed.com and search far “background investigator” several options come up. The first will likely be KeyPoint, which is where I started. Far someone with no experience, that might be a good place to start, as they hire inexperienced investigators en mass. Other companies you might see are CSRA, ISN, CACI and SCIS. Those last 4 are smaller and are more likely to want experienced investigators. However, they will hire new investigators where there is need and are worth looking into if a job posting comes up. You can also go straight to all those websites and search for Background Investigator jobs. I am currently with ISN and they are a fantastic company. I highly recommend ISN and CSRA as the first place to look.

After getting hired, you go through the same background investigation process that you will be performing once you get cleared. It’s not a fast process, but it’s faster for investigators than it is for many other government positions, because they are always in need of more investigators. The background check took around 4 months for me to get through from filling out my paperwork to being notified of my adjudication. I then had 5 weeks of unpaid training, including three weeks of classroom training. This is definitely not a job for a parents who needs to start making money, like, next week. 

Training varies by company and things have also changed since I went through the process. Classroom training out-of-state can now be as short as just one week. For me, I was lucky that I was going through all of the training while I was still childless. For someone who is already a parent, going through training definitely requires a supportive spouse and/or supportive family for the time training out of state and for financial support during that first five weeks (which will still be unpaid).

One thing I should clarify, though, is that this industry hires both full-time employees and contractors. I am a contractor, which allows me a tremendous amount of flexibility in how much I work, but it’s also why my training was unpaid (I did receive comped travel and a per diem). For full-time employees of the company, they start getting paid when they start training. 

Once the barriers of getting hired, getting cleared and getting trained are cleared, it’s a fantastic job for a parent who wants to work from home. 

I should add that there are also non-investigator positions with these companies that allow you to fully work from home. There are reviewer positions and jobs that focus on records that are obtained by fax or phone only, as well as supervisory positions that don’t go out in the field. 

Give us a little glimpse into your day: I know from experience that every day with a 4-year-old is different, but what does your typical schedule consist of?

I wake up around 6 am, without an alarm. I think my body might permanently be on east coast time. 

I try to make the first thing I do every day involve some sort of writing. If I have investigation reports to write up, I do that. If I don’t, then I will try to work on my own side hustle blog, lesleyhiggins.com

My son wakes up around 7:30-8 am and at that time I usually drop what I am working on and switch into mom mode. I make him breakfast (a bagel) and prepare his lunch for school (usually leftover mac & cheese). During this the I also have to log onto a secure computer system to create a record of any material I am planning on removing from my home that day. This includes notes, filled out security forms and my credentials.

I take my kid to school at 9 am. He currently attends four half-days per week and my husband picks him up from school.

After dropping my kid off, my day varies quite a bit. If it is a day that I have scheduled an interview, I will drive to that meeting, which I usually schedule for 10 or 11 am. These interviews might be at their office, a library, or the airport. These interviews usually take between one to two hours. Reference interviews are much shorter and take 15 to 30 minutes. If I don’t have any interviews scheduled, I will head to the library to write up any pending reports, or head home to make phone calls. 

After an interview I usually find a place to run nearby. Because of this, I am always happy to accept case work close to the foothills so I can hit the trails. If I don’t have any interviews scheduled, I will run near the library or my son’s school before diving into work.

By 3 pm I usually have to take over parenting again, as my husband is a high school track coach and has to get to practice. Our son is finally old enough to not be annoying, though, so if something comes up, our son can go to track practice with my husband. I do my best to not schedule interviews alter 3 pm, but sometimes it's unavoidable. Part of my job is working around other people’s schedules, especially of it's a reference. 

On the weekends, if I am going to get any report writing done, it’s usually during that 6 am to 8 am window when no one else is awake yet. After that, my weekends are filled with my son’s activities and hanging out with my family. Conducting interviews on the weekends is incredibly rare. 

What opportunities has this job given you and your family (whether it be meeting new people, travel, etc.)?

For me, flexibility is king. I haven’t had to request a vacation day in over a decade. I am currently on a flight to NYC with my 4 year old for a three day weekend and I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. I can do track workouts in the middle of the day and take my kid to the pool during the summer. We hardly ever have to arrange childcare. 

I always like to end these interviews with a fun question, so can you share a favorite memory that stands out from working as a background investigator?

I have met some pretty interesting people through the course of this job.  I have interviewed a former US Attorney General and one almost US Attorney General. I have chatted on the phone with a former FBI director while standing an my in-law's porch. The first reference I ever interviewed was an actor that was on the show Dexter. I also interviewed a Law and Order star as an reference. One of the more interesting situations I have encountered was a guy who few his plane to work several days per week. He worked in Manhattan. 

Lesley is amazing, right?! To follow Lesley's adventures, be sure to check out her website