INCOMING SENIORS at Vernon Hills High School (Vernon Hills, IL)  are anticipating their swan song of 12th grade, including solidifying college plans, Homecoming week and dance, Senior Prank, the Senior Lip Synch competition, and sporting kiddie backpacks.

Yes, a tradition at Vernon Hills and growing trend is young adults buying and using school backpacks traditionally enjoyed by grade-school aged children. Think: My Pretty Pony, Paw Patrol, Barbie, Spiderman, Disney princesses.

“Seniors only,” says Julia McGuire, senior considering University of Alabama for criminal justice.

And if an underclassman tried sporting a superhero backpack?

“They’d get the message quickly” through unspoken looks and body language, or even a kind word, according to Brandon “BMO” Harris, a senior considering several Big Ten schools for business.

“It’s a fun tradition, silly, and it’s been going on for as long as I can remember” states senior Kaylin Mann, looking at Illinois State. “Personally, I’m hoping for Alice in Wonderland” – seniors often find a character that matches their own physical appearance.

Jeremy Getlin, a 240-pound defensive lineman who is considering University of Kansas, offers: “Me, I’m looking for a Snoopy backpack. He’s a classic.” Getlin recalls a past senior who was another 100 pounds heftier by comparison, trying to squeeze into a Thomas the Train backpack.

Embracing being silly

With college approaching, these Cougar seniors know there will be major changes coming up in their lives. But now, instead of hoping to look and act older, they’re embracing being silly, planning to enjoy their final high school year.

And while they have their wish lists – Sleeping Beauty, Minnie Mouse, Elsa from Frozen, Power Rangers – these seniors typically wait until very last second to do their shopping. “Day before school starts” admits senior Agne Jurgelaityte, considering Western Michigan. and other broad format retailers offer wide selections.

Not all will be so easy to find. “I’m searching for an Olivia the Pig backpack” states Olivia Sheldon, an ambitious senior considering Stanford and Cal PolyTech for Industrial Art and Design.

What’s inside

These seniors admitted to stuffing their backpacks with typical high school items, with organizational skills widely ranging from color-coded folders for each class (“I’m a neat freak”) to a bunch of loose papers and a handful of pencils at the bottom (“I fish for the right stuff. It’s all there.”). ChapStick. Chromebooks. Car keys. Cell phones. Their lunches – when they remember them.

“I cleaned out my junior backpack just a few weeks ago” confesses one of the seniors, “and I found my lunch from the last day of classes. A banana got crushed and it was rotten. Believe me, I need a new one” she admits.

Lexie Smolic, senior considering Miami of Ohio, once found a dog treat in her backpack. “Not for me, but my dog. Honest.”

Spill reminders remain in past backpacks: ranch dressing, yogurt, burst ketchup packets, melted gum, a whole can of Coke.

Along with stress-busters – these are high performing seniors, like Roman Magazu, applying to South Carolina for sports management – fidget spinners, Snapple bottlecaps, even Play-Doh. “They give it out as a stress reliever” says Magazu. “I found chunks of Play-Doh at the bottom of mine” recalls Sheldon.

So if you spy a 6’ plus young man sporting an emoji-based backpack, or an SUV-driving young lady donning a Deadpool-themed one, they’re likely just high school seniors enjoying their final year and expressing themselves through their kiddie backpacks.





7 Tips on Packing the Car for Back to Campus

Your first college lesson involves a bit of geometry and logic: packing the car and heading off to school.

Use these 7 tips to ace the test.

Photo credit: Odyssey

1. Corral your clothes.

Before you pack your entire wardrobe, remember that dorm room clothing storage is generally limited. Some dorms will only have a standing wardrobe, others will have small closets. You’ll also want to limit how much you take to the shared laundry space. Think about leaving your out-of-season items at home, or limiting your seasonal pieces. Do you really need to pack your ski gear or ugly holiday sweater? Probably not yet.

Once you’ve pared down what you will be bringing, take your hanging items and gather them together. Put a rubberband around the top of the hangers and slide a garbage bag over the bunch – instant garment bag.

Gather the rest of your clothes and pack them into your laundry basket or laundry tote. There’s no need to pack clothing into boxes with this method. Grab your gym bag while you’re at it, and put your shoes inside.

2. Things and Linens.

Vacuum bags are key in this department. Put your bed and bath linens in vacuum bags and suck out all that excess air. This will shrink your comforter, sheets, blankets and towels to a fraction of their original size, perfect for placing them in the bottom of your trunk or truck bed.

Photo credit: The Container Store 

3. Ban the boxes.

If you don’t have any vacuum bags on hand and don’t have time to purchase them, use trash bags or plastic grocery bags. Bags are always better than boxes when packing your belongings into a vehicle. Bags are flexible and soft; use their squishiness to your advantage to shove them into smaller areas.

4. Use every space.

Let no car space go wasted when moving to your new dorm. Use the area under the front seats of your vehicle to store smaller items, like your school supplies. Binders, folders and notebooks fit almost too perfectly in this spot.

Taking storage systems like plastic drawer units? Fill those up too before putting them in your car. It’s good to put the more fragile items, like electronics, wrapped in clothing you’re already packing, and then place them in these containers.

If you are moving into an off-campus apartment or will have a small kitchen in your dorm, you may want to consider getting a rooftop cargo carrier. You’ll be able to fit extra gear with room to spare.

Photo credit: Travel BLAT

5. No car? No problem.

If you don’t have the opportunity to take a car or truck to school, download the Truxx app, load up the truck and have your driver deliver all you goods to campus for you! Plus, you’ll earn CASHBACK in points to use on things you need for school. Start here.

6. Be strategic

Keep what you will need during the trip easily accessible. Snacks, important documents and anything for a possible overnight stay need to be reachable after packing up the car.

The key to loading up and leaving for school is to pack lightly. Don’t take what you don’t need, and do think through what will be useful while away from home. If you have your future roommates’ contact info, coordinate with them on what you will be bringing so that there aren’t duplicates cluttering up your car (and dorm). Keeping it simple will keep you sane on your journey.

7. Tune it up

Before you drive off, be sure to get a tune up and inspection on your vehicle. The pros at Sears Auto Center are happy to do that. Check your Shop Your Way coupons before making your appointment to see how you can save, and use your CASHBACK in points for future services.

Score 7 out of 7?  You’re ready to roll.

Vacation + Staycation = Lo-Cation

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Vacation + Stay-cation = Lo-cation

Vacation: an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.

Staycation: a vacation spent at home.

Lo-cation: ??

When the ideal time to recreate is dwindling, and a vacation isn’t in the cards, but a staycation just doesn’t seem to be quite enough, consider a lo-cation.

As a local-vacation, a “lo-cation” fulfils the whole idea of getting away, but without having to get away too far, or for too long. Hassle is minimal, but enjoyment is maximized.


  1. The first step is to determine your destination. Draw a digital circle around your home and map out what is reachable by a tank of gas or less. It may be as close as the town next door. Remember, it’s not necessarily about you going a good distance away, but to distance yourself away for good away time.

Make the close drive a rewarding one: GasBuddy saves you $ on every gallon, and when linked with your Shop Your Way membership, you earn even more in CASHBACK points. Check it out.


  1. Book your hotel. This is a key step in a great lo-cation, as the whole idea of a comfortable place where you’ve all the conveniences of home…only better: cleaning and cooking are done for you, and (finally!) people are paid to look after your needs. Again, better than home.

Might as well be rewarded for hotel booking as well: check out Shop Your Way Hotels, for the ideal lo-cation spot.

Image credit: Marriott

  1. Embrace the not-so-commonplace. Every town has its unique tastes – in recreation and dining. Visit an old drive in for popcorn and a (really) big screen movie, find a legit toboggan run in the winter, or even a mom & pop antique or funky art store any time of year. Nearly every town has its own local historical area for stretches of sweet boutiques and one-off shops. These retail stores thrive off tourists, so unearth a treasure or two to take home. You can even be rewarded for it by using the Sears® Mastercard® with Shop Your Way®.

For dining, eat where the locals eat – a good word from a citizen or friendly passersby when you get there will go a long way to seeing you enjoy what the town has to offer. A great tip: join the local Facebook group and see what the townsfolk rave about.

Alternatively, embrace the commonplace/comfort-place. A hotel even in the next town over means someone else washes the towels, someone else makes the bed, someone else cooks the food, someone else cleans the pool.

If you’re a family person, the kids may blissfully not know the difference from going across town versus going across country. The hotel pool (indoor or out) is just as splashy, the hotel bed is just as bouncy, the pizza delivery is just as yummy, and eating while sitting on the (bouncy) bed watching a pay-per-view movie is just as rule-breakingly acceptable.

If it’s just you and your S.O., many of the same rules apply: order room service, put out the do not disturb sign, take a long bath, sleep in, all from the exotic locale of the next town over.

So summer’s not over… not quite yet. Enjoy it while you can with a stress-free, fun-filled Lo-Cation.

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Forget Something? It may actually be good for you.

image source: myspark

Your car keys. That phone number. Your wallet. That person’s name. That….um, I forgot.

We chastise ourselves over forgetting. It slows our day and becomes extremely frustrating.

But it’s 100% perfectly normal…and may actually be good for you.

Think of it this way: what if we were able to remember everything? Memories and their associations occur briskly – they “could completely overrun our life and make it impossible to learn and retrieve things if they were left alone, and could just overpower the rest of memory.” This comes from science – Dr. Ben Storm at the University of Illinois-Chicago – in studies on memory.

“Memory is difficult,” Storm states. “We need to rethink how we’re talking about forgetting and realize that…it does play an important role in memory.”

Think of it as your email in-box. If you weighed all emails as equally important, you’d eventually have great difficulty remembering the ones you wanted. Rather, you delete less important ones with the goal of being able to act on those that come in that are more important.

It’s not necessary to remember where you parked your car two days ago, but today. What’s your phone number? No need to recite your past three-to-four list of digits, only the current one. image source: omega performance

V. Wlassoff, PhD. echoes that “forgetting is part of the process of memorizing, and (forgetting) doesn’t make us any less smart.” It’s about retaining the most relevant information.

Every day, our brains are bombarded with millions of details – most of which are “noise” that reduces clarity of thought. Remembering what is truly important is a cost-saving process – holding onto what’s important (and letting go what’s not) is the key, according to researchers Paul Frankland and Blake Richards of the University of Toronto.

“We should stop being so hard on ourselves” says Richards. “If (you) forget the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”

How to help keep it working this way? “Exercise increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus” – the place in the brain associated with learning new things – so hitting the gym or getting in some cardiovascular work …simply walking… helps ‘clean out’ your memory system on a regular basis.

Lesson learned: don’t worry about recalling the names and corresponding universities mentioned in this story – focus on the big picture.

So the next time something’s on the tip of your tongue (but stays there) or a bit foggier in your imagination, consider yourself:



An advanced problem-solver.

A big-picture thinker.

But not necessarily forgetful.

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4 Unique Ideas for Celebrating the Fourth

Whether the weather has you indoors or out, here are four fun, Fourth of July activities you can do inside or take to the great outdoors.

Fireworks Craft

Things are about to get messy, but the messier the better when it comes to crafting! Find a suitable place indoors, or bring this activity out to the yard, deck or patio for ultimate fun.

You’ll need a few things to get started:

  • Paint (finger, tempera or acrylic will work best – make it washable!)
  • Disposable plates
  • Paper
  • Household supplies to make the ‘fireworks’ such as plastic forks, empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes and a round scrub brush. Feel free to get creative with your tool selection.

Simple instructions:

  1. Pour paint into different disposable plates. One for each color.
  2. If using toilet paper or paper towel tubes, cut the tubes lengthwise into strips. Cut the tubes at different lengths to make different sized fireworks.

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3. Use the tools you’ve selected to create fireworks of different sizes and textures. Let kids explore with different tools and techniques.


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4. Once dry, you can use your festive artwork as placemats for your Fourth of July feast or turn them into cards and send to military personnel and first responders (see below).

Add some zest to your BBQ

Set up a build-a-kabob station at your party and let your guests assemble their own culinary creations (meaning less work for you–win!). Be sure to keep red meat, seafood, poultry and veggies separate; refrigerate items until guests are ready to assemble.

Photo credit: Food Network
Grilling is standard American fare on Independence Day, but taking it indoors? That’s chic! If the rain or scorching temps are keeping you inside, your party game doesn’t need to fizzle–get out an electric tabletop grill.

Amp up the entertainment factor and have guests do the grilling. They’ll gain some laughs, gathering around your impromptu indoor barbeque.

Image source: Sears

Serve with your favorite sides and beverages for a fun, festive Fourth of July celebration indoors or out.

Drive-in movies (without the drive)

After the fireworks, enjoy watching your favorite American film outdoors, drive-in-movie style! Set up your movie-watching area during the day using a simple sheet or garage door for projecting. Recreate your own outdoor theater with the following:

  • Determine the area: You will want a your space to have access to electricity and to be plenty dark–avoid areas with outdoor lighting.
  • Build the screen: If you don’t have a screen ready, you’ll want to create one by hanging a white sheet from a high enough space, and backing it with a dark-colored sheet. Add weights to your screen if you feel it may shift in the breeze.
  • Set it up: Connect your DVD player to the projector, then connect audio the DVD player to your speakers. Computer speakers work well if you have them on hand.
    Idea credit: Laura Marie Meyers

Photo credit: Pinterest

Not in the mood to deal with the elements? Pop into your local movie theatre and enjoy the air conditioning while catching the latest blockbuster, or stream your favorite binge-program’s Independence Day episode.

Honoring those who’ve served

Our independence is celebrated annually each July, but made possible by those who serve us every day, making our freedoms possible — this time of year is ideal to show your appreciation for those who have served and are currently serving.

A very simple way to help is by writing a letter that will lift the spirits of someone who needs it ( This is an activity great for all ages, so don’t be shy about including kids or young party guests. Remember that artwork we created earlier? Transform it into cards!

If you have more time on your hands, another way to help is by contributing to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. This is an ongoing effort to preserve veteran stories and there are two main ways you can help. If you know a veteran who would be willing to share their story, gather details using the provided Field Kit and send the completed collection to the Library of Congress. You can also help by searching the submissions and sharing them with friends on social media.

No matter how you’re celebrating the Fourth of July, we hope you have a blast, relishing in all the red, white and blue America has to offer.