Graduation Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again! High school seniors all over the country are graduating, and that means we all need gift ideas. When searching for graduation gifts, remember that not all new graduates are going away to college. Some are joining the military. Some are going to college but living at home. Some are going to work. Some are taking a gap year to travel. And some still haven’t figured out what they want to do yet. Therefore, it’s important to tailor each gift to each graduate.

First, here’s what we all need to remember: Cash is king! Grads want cash! Some of them want cash to go on a trip after school gets out. Some want cash to take to college. Some need cash to put a down payment on an apartment or automobile. No matter how they use it…cash is still king. It was king when I graduated from high school in the 1980s, and in 2019, it still reigns supreme.

But if you have lots of gifts to give, you might rather get a meaningful gift instead of giving someone a small amount of cash. I’ve done some research, and here are some great gift ideas:

  • Weighted blanket.¬†I know…I’ve sung the praises of the weighted blanket before, but I’m doing it again. College can be stressful. I always felt like I earned all the fun I had in college, because of the stress brought on by tests and exams. Weighted blankets are great for reducing anxiety. It’s like a big hug. On Amazon, they start at about $60. I have one made by Calming Comfort. I haven’t tried the others, but I love the one I have, and it is priced at about $129 on Amazon here.
  • First Aid Kit.¬†I know it sounds corny, but everyone should have one. If the person for whom you are buying is planning to travel, you might opt for a waterproof travel version. Amazon has tons. I’m not even going to provide a link, because there are so many different types, but go to Amazon.com and search for what you need here.
  • Netflix Gift Card.¬†Young people who are trying to find their way in the world need some downtime. Sure, they have their phones for communicating with friends, but it’s easy to lose track of time. With a Netflix gift card, they can watch a comforting episode of Friends or Fuller House, and when it’s over, they know it’s time to get back to studying. Purchase them in Walmart or Target for $10 and up.
  • Amazon Gift¬†Card.¬†This one comes in especially handy, because they can order whatever they need and have it delivered. Plus, if they get enough money on Amazon, they can purchase a Prime Membership for $119. That will bring them fast, free delivery on lots of items, and they can watch Amazon Prime TV shows and movies. Purchase here.
  • Target Gift Card.¬†Because every college student arrives at college and realizes he/she needs a few more things, Target gift cards are perfect. You can purchase them online or in any Target store. They are perfect when they realize they took all the perfect decorating pieces but forgot to take soap and lotion. Maybe they need a mattress topper after discovering the dorm bed is not comfortable? They can get it all at Target!
  • Personalized items.¬†Personalized stationery, personalized pillowcases, personalized slippers…all these make great gifts. When I went off to college, I had those plus a personalized bathrobe, a personalized shower caddy, a personalized towel wrap, personalized pictures frames, and lots of my friends had personalized sheets for their twin-sized dorm beds. Honestly, anything personalized is…well, personal. It means you actually thought of the graduate. I think a personalized bathrobe with a little cash stuck in the pocket makes a great gift. Maybe stick a fabric marker in the pocket too, so they can put their name in all their clothing. Lots of students take advantage of on-campus laundry services now, so it’s always good to have a name in items. Bed Bath & Beyond offers lots of the items listed here, and will personalize them for you too! They also offer gift cards….not a bad idea either.
  • Insider’s guide or journal.¬†OK, stay with me here. I know some of them are going straight to college and not traveling any before they go. But they might not know about things to do in the area where they are going. I know a girl who is going to NYU in the fall, and I think giving her an insider’s guide to New York City would be great. I’m no “insider,” but if I can’t find the perfect book (in which I would slip some cash), I can get my friends who are insiders to put together some information! People really do enjoy sharing their secrets about cities. Child going to Emory? Give Atlanta info! Child going to Vanderbilt? Lots of good Nashville info out there! I know one who would love to know about all the best thrift stores, and I know the perfect person to compile the info! If not, maybe you give them a book in which they can write all the things they find themselves! And of course…stick some cash in it.

Whatever you do for the grad, it will be appreciated. I read somewhere recently that someone said, “Congratulations, grad! You’ve finished the easiest years of your life!” While that may be true for many of them, the best is yet to come for most of them.

Oh, the places they’ll go!

 

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Gardening…again

Last year, I tried my hand at a very small garden and had lots of success, so this year, I’ve decided to do it again. Before, I had tomatoes, sweet corn, and sunflowers, so I’m going to see if lightning will strike twice. As I said last year, I’m no gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing. But dang it…it’s fun!

We are planting corn this year on the side of the house, and it will be visible (a little) from the street once it gets tall. I’m not sure how much grain growing is allowed in the neighborhood, but I guess we will find out! I will let everyone know if we receive some sort of written notice. My husband is lucky, because I really wanted to plant it out front. I think corn stalks are beautiful, but he put his foot down on that. I learned last year that I had planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to pollinate them by hand. We still had corn to eat, but it was a chore making sure they were all pollinated. Therefore, this year, I’m planting them in clusters, so they can pollinate each other. Nature’s way is best, so planting them closer together is the way to go. I learned from the past. I was actually surprised the corn grew last year, and I was doubly surprised when it actually produced ears of corn!

The tomato plants are going into the ground near where they were last year, because our knockout roses are in the same area. I believe our tomatoes survived last year, simply because of the knockout roses. The roses attracted braconid wasps, which in turn, killed the tomato grubs that tried to invade the garden. I had no idea about that when we planted the tomatoes, but I noticed a tomato grub with little eggs all over his back and looked it up. They were the eggs of the wasp, and they killed the tomato grubs. Thank you, braconids! Therefore, we are going to put our tomatoes near some roses again.

If you’ve never had a garden of any type, you might find it therapeutic. Last summer, when I woke up every day, I would walk outside and water our garden. And sometimes, I would water them in the evening too. We had tomatoes galore! But it was also a way for me to relax. Sure, I can sit by the pool during the summer and relax. And I can spend time with friends and family, but there was something about the quiet solitude of tending the plants that was good for my psyche. My mother had died the December before, and I truly believe gardening helped me with that. My parents both loved tomatoes and sunflowers. I knew they would have been pleased with what I was doing. Nobody loved a tomato sandwich more than my daddy, and I was able to enjoy them all summer long last year. Store-bought tomatoes just don’t cut it, so I grew my own! We hope to have the same this year…good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

So today, instead of doing all the things I should be doing, I will be doing what I want to do. I will have my hands in the dirt. OK, mostly it will be a trowel in the dirt. But I will have it in the dirt, transferring my seedling plants from the little clear cups into the ground. I discovered last year that birds and moles ate most of the seeds I planted, so I had more luck when I transplanted seedlings for corn and sunflowers. Tomato plants will go into the ground near the roses, and we will see if lightning strikes twice.

I’ve had terrible laryngitis for the better part of the week, so having something quiet to do will be perfect for me today. I haven’t felt much like doing anything, but today, it is on!

 

 

 

 

Finish Well

It’s May…or what we call “Maycember,” because it’s as busy as the holidays. I’m taking a deep breath and thanking the Lord we made it through April before I dive in for the last five weeks of school. We need to finish well.

The last week of April was full of surprises at our house. Our checking account was hacked. My car was clipped in the Target parking lot by a man who was convinced he “had the right of way” until I proved him wrong. Not that it mattered if he had the right of way…he hit my car! And I had various meetings at school for projects there, and at home, for projects there.

So, I’m actually happy to see April in my rearview mirror. May is usually a happy month in our household. It is the month of Mother’s Day, my husband’s birthday, and my birthday! It’s also the last month of school for our daughter and her classmates. May 31st is their last official day of school, and mine is counting down. Because they have a few days off between now and then, I count only 17 more school day wake ups. As my daddy used to say, “You can make 17 days standing on your head!”

Of course, by this point in the school year, we’re all tired of school. We love our school, but,¬†dang it…I’m ready for summer! It happens to me every single year. And I know our daughter is ready…pool time, social time, vacations, free time…she is soooo ready, but first, she has to finish her freshman year of high school.

While I have been telling her we just need to survive the last five weeks of school, she¬†recently reminded me she needs to finish well. She’s right. I was so happy to hear her say that, because I’ve heard the head of her school say it many times. I’ve heard him tell us in Parents’ Council meetings that it’s not just about finishing…it’s about finishing well.

How do we encourage our kids to finish well? How do we, as parents, finish well?

With exams standing between our daughter and the lazy-is days of summer, we know we need to do everything we can to help her finish well. We will make sure she is well-fed and as well-rested as any teenager can be. On the advice of a friend, I will help her get her room clean before she starts studying for exams…just to get rid of clutter (and there is clutter). We will stock the pantry with all her favorite junk food snacks and some healthy options too. (See below for her list of favorites.) We will make her laugh. We will remind her to take breaks. We might suggest she watch some familiar, comforting TV shows like iCarly, Zoey 101, Henry Danger, and Drake and Josh during breaks.¬†We will offer encouragement and be available. We encourage our daughter to look at things from a positive perspective, and I think that is crucial as the end of the school year approaches. And if she finds she needs extra help studying for exams, we will get her that too. Whatever it takes to finish well.

I’ve given it some thought, and for me, personally, finishing well means going into the final five weeks of school with a good attitude. It means putting a smile on my face, participating in end-of-year meetings, and circling back with friends before we get out for school. It means I need to appear calm throughout our daughter’s exams, so I can don’t stress her out. It means shoring up our plans for the summer, and making sure the whole family is on the same page…coordinating our calendars.

So here we go…the countdown is on. Only 17 more school day wake ups. Only 17 more times to get up early and get out the door. Let’s finish well!

And then we can enjoy the lazy, fun, crazy days of summer!

Bring on the vacations!

Finish well!

Our daughter’s favorite snacks, healthy and not-so-healthy:

  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Berries
  • Cheerios
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Pop Tarts
  • Cheez-Its
  • Cheetos
  • Oatmeal
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Cinnamon Toast
  • Waffles
  • Granola/cereal bars
  • Ice cream

 

Let’s Talk Curfews

My 15-year-old daughter went to a Travis Scott concert called Astroworld with some friends last weekend. An adult who had been to a previous show assured me it would be pretty tame. My daughter doesn’t have a driver’s license, and almost all her friends can’t drive yet either, so I dropped off four of them at the concert with the understanding they would be sleeping over at one house.

A few hours before the concert, the mother with whom they would be staying texted the rest of the moms, telling us, “I told my daughter they had to be home by midnight. She acted like I’m the mean mom. What do you think?”

I assured her that I agreed with her, and the other moms did too.

Before we picked up all the others on the way to the concert, my daughter and I had this exchange:

  • Me: You understand that you have to be in by midnight, right?”
  • Daughter: Yes ma’am.
  • Me: Even if the concert isn’t over, you have to be back to your friend’s house by midnight. Understand?
  • Daughter: Yes ma’am.
  • Me: That doesn’t mean you can wander around uptown after the concert if it ends at 10:30.
  • Daughter: What?!? Why would we wander around uptown?!?

Whew! She does have sense! Sometimes, when you’re the parent of a teenager, you wonder if they have sense, and sometimes, you wonder if you’ve lost your mind.

So all that curfew talk led to more questions from her. She is rapidly approaching driving age. She asked what would happen to her if she misses curfew when she can drive.

I explained to her that I would rather have her get home a couple of minutes late than drive too fast trying to get home. She has been in the car with me three times when a teenager in our neighborhood nearly ran us off the road trying to make it home in time for her curfew. (For the record, if you’re reading this, the teenager is not yours.) I told her that the best case scenario would be for her to call me if she is going to be late, and of course, she asked, “What if I’m driving?” I told her she should know before she leaves somewhere if she is going to be late, but if she finds herself stuck in traffic, it’s OK to use voice text and let me know, but do not pick up the phone.

We discussed the fact that curfew isn’t just to make her come home; it’s also a way for me to know she is safe. If she doesn’t make curfew, I will start worrying, and we might need to start looking for her…not because we don’t trust her, but because something might have happened.

In addition, I explained to her that if she frivolously or repeatedly misses curfew or breaks other rules along the way, the gravy train stops. She will stop getting to do things she wants. She will stop getting things she wants. She will stop having so much freedom. We don’t reward bad behavior. As long as she follows our rules, she will continue to have “privileges.”

Oh my gosh…I am my mother.

It made me think of when I was a teenager back in the 80s. Good times. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones, so our parents didn’t always know where we were, and they couldn’t always get in touch with us. Back then, if I were going to be late, I had to call my parents from a pay phone and let them know. I’d be hard pressed to find a pay phone now!

My little exchange with my daughter about curfew didn’t turn into a lecture or argument. It was simply a conversation outlining expectations. It is a conversation we will have many times before she goes off to college, and frankly, I’m glad we’re talking about it now.

Maybe that Travis Scott Astroworld concert was a good thing…a good opportunity for the two of us to talk about expectations. And she even texted me from the concert, sending me video clips and saying how much I would have enjoyed it. Seriously, it looked pretty tame. And for the record, they were home a little after 11:00.

Thanks, Travis Scott. Who thought I’d ever say that?!?

 

 

 

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I Arrived, But My Luggage Didn’t

One would think your luggage would always arrive as expected on a nonstop flight…not always the case.

Lots of folks will be flying out for Spring Break soon! Students are parents are looking forward to lots of fun. But it’s not fun to arrive without luggage.

On New Year’s Day, my teenage daughter and I traveled to Los Angeles to meet some friends from Ohio. We live in a city that is a hub for American Airlines, so we are fortunate to have lots of nonstop choices. One would think your luggage would always arrive as expected on a nonstop flight…not always the case.

American Airlines handles lots of bags successfully every single day. I’ve flown American Airlines countless times over the past 18 years, and I’d never had an issue till this LA trip. I love American Airlines, so I’m not bashing them. I’m simply telling a story in hopes that someone will learn something.

Upon arrival in LA, my daughter and I walked down to the luggage carousel to retrieve our checked bags. We had just reached the carousel when I received a message from American Airlines, telling me one of the two bags we had checked was delayed. I told my daughter, and she looked terrified, saying, “I hope it’s not mine!” Because we took an early flight out of Charlotte, she wore more casual clothes than I did. I don’t dress up when I fly, but I don’t dress down either.

While my daughter waited at the carousel for one bag, I got in line at the baggage counter. The line was short…only one person ahead of me. When it was my turn, I told the agent one of our bags had been delayed, and we would need to have it delivered to our hotel. I wasn’t frantic. I wasn’t angry. The info I was getting from American Airlines said it would arrive on the next flight. While I was talking to the American Airlines agent, my daughter approached with her bag. She was smiling, knowing she would be able to change as soon as we got to the hotel. Whew!

Could I have been angry? Maybe. Should I have been angry? No. Was I worried? No. Was I panicked about our dinner plans for the evening? No.

I’ve only had my bag delayed one other time…on a different airline. And I learned some valuable lessons from that first experience. I’m going to share those lessons, so maybe no one else will panic when their bags don’t arrive.

  1. Don’t dress down when flying. This doesn’t mean you need to dress up. Wear something you will be OK wearing for the first full day of your stay, in case your bag is delayed. On the January trip, I wore something on the flight I could wear anywhere we went that day…even to dinner. My shoes were cute and comfortable, so I was fine in those for the day and night as well. On that particular day, I had opted for mostly black…pretty safe for most places.
  2. Don’t put valuables in checked bags.¬†Jewelry and expensive shoes/accessories do not belong in your checked baggage. On our trip, I was wearing the most expensive shoes and jewelry I was taking for the trip, so I didn’t have to worry about never seeing them again. I had a few more pieces of jewelry and another nice pair of shoes with me, but they were in my carry-on. Never check anything that’s irreplaceable.
  3. Carry medications/change of clothes/makeup in your carry-on.¬†I have some necessary restless leg medications that I cannot live without. Well, I could live without them, but I wouldn’t sleep. I always put them in my carry-on. Same for makeup. Yes, I can live without it, but I don’t want to. And frankly, makeup is expensive and difficult to replace on the fly. I also like to have a lightweight change of clothes in my carry-on. And if you’re going to a sunny destination, stick a swimsuit in your bag, so you can hit the pool/beach till your bag arrives. Toothbrush/toothpaste/hairbrush…all in my carry-on. Follow TSA regulations for liquids/gels.
  4. Take a photo of your bag with your smart phone. Take a photo of your checked bags, so if one is lost, you can show it to the baggage agent. In LA, the baggage agent was thrilled when I was able to show that to her, making her job easier.
  5. Make sure you have your name/number on your bag. The tag should list your last name and cell phone number. I also put a sticker inside my bag with my name and number on it. That way, if the bag is misplaced, someone can call me if they find it.
  6. When checking your bag, make sure the airline tag shows your name and destination.¬†This sounds silly, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check. If the wrong tag gets put on your bag, you might never see it again.
  7. Take a photo of your bag claim check.¬†I’m the queen of misplacing things, so I always take a photo of my claim check, thinking I’m more likely to lose that than I am to lose my phone.
  8. Download the airline app before you travel. Because I use the American Airlines app, I was informed via message through the app that my bag had been delayed.  It makes it a lot easier to keep track of where your bag is.
  9. As soon as you realize your bag is delayed, report to the baggage counter.¬†In our case, because there were two of us, my daughter could wait for one bag while I spoke with the agent. Make sure the agent has the correct delivery information. Before walking away, I asked her to read my hotel’s name/address/telephone number and my number back to me. And I got her name and direct phone number, as well.
  10. When you arrive, inform the hotel you are expecting a delayed bag. When we were checking in at our hotel, I told the bellman and the front desk agent we would be receiving a delayed bag later. They assured me they would accept the delivery and take it to my room as soon as it arrived.

On our trip, just as promised, American Airlines delivered my bags later that day. In fact, it arrived earlier than promised. I was prepared to wear the outfit I had on to dinner that night, but when the bellman brought my bag to the room, I was thrilled. But if the bag hadn’t arrived till later, I would have been fine too, because I had planned ahead.

Happy Travels!

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I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane (Spring Break!)

“I’m leaving on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again…”

John Denver wrote about it in 1969, but Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of the song is the most popular. If you’re not familiar with it, you can hear the song here.

When I was in first and second grades at Brewton Elementary School, in Brewton, Alabama, we would swing as high as we could on the swingset on the school playground, and when we did, we would sing that song. Well, we sang that and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, but that’s another story. ¬†When I think of I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane, I think of happy childhood days.

And I think about it a lot…mostly when I’m preparing for a vacation. While I’m packing, I walk around my house singing, “All my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go…” I can’t help myself. I get excited about vacations, and I guess that song represents the joy of childhood and the joy of a vacation for me.

Our next vacation will be spring break…just two weeks away. I need spring break. I need it every year. My friends laugh at me, because I start making plans in October or November. By the time we’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve, I’m already looking forward to spring break. I count down the days, and as of right now, we will be leaving in fourteen days. Bring it on!

Before I continue, you should know I do a lot of travel research before I plan a trip. Friends also make fun of me for that, but I don’t really care, because it’s rare for me to have big surprises about hotels or destinations. My very favorite site is TripAdvisor, because it has reviews on hotels, airlines, restaurants, and places to visit. I read carefully, and if I have questions about something, I call resorts or hotels directly, or I call friends who have visited the same place before, if I know someone who has been.

We are doing a beachy, sunny vacation this year, and I need it. We’ve had so much rain this winter in Charlotte….it’s depressing. I need the warm sunshine on my face, so I can produce some much-needed Vitamin D. Aside from that, I need worry-free time. I need to be away from the city in which I live. Seriously, I love Charlotte, but occasionally, and I don’t care where you live, you need to get away from the same four walls, the same people, and the same scenery.¬†I just need a break.¬†I need a week of no homework, no sports practices, no cooking, no cleaning, no obligations…just a week to do whatever we want to do.

Here’s the thing about Spring Break, though. For me, it doesn’t have to be somewhere glamorous. The main thing for me is that it has to be somewhere that’s easy to get to. Because it’s just a week, I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the getting there and getting home. I want to get to my destination quickly and get home just as quickly.

This year my daughter is taking a friend with her, and I am taking a friend too. My husband is staying home…he doesn’t enjoy traveling as much as we do. I offered…he didn’t want to go. He’ll probably enjoy the quiet time he’ll have at home without us!

I’ve already arranged our airport transfers and reserved our poolside cabana. Having the cabana ensures we will have a spot by the pool every single day we are there. I don’t want to have to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning while I’m on vacation, just so I can have a chair by the pool. It also makes it easy for my daughter and her friend to find us if they need us. But who am I kidding? They will avoid us like the plague!

I hope to come home rested, tan, happy, and ready to tackle the rest of the school year…a little over two months after the break is over, but we do have a nice Easter break in there. Once spring break is over, I’ll be counting down to that…for the record, that break will start 25 days after spring break ends.

Two more weeks till we get the party started! Maybe I should call now to order a bottle of champagne for our cabana…

“So kiss me and smile for me…tell me that you’ll wait for me…”

Thieves And A Stick Shift

My friend, Mary Ann, just sent me a link to a news story about some guys who attempted to steal a car from a gas station in Mobile, Alabama. Apparently, the would-be car thieves jumped into a car and tried to drive away while the owner of the car was inside the gas station.

But they failed.

They couldn’t drive a stick shift car.

To anyone under 30, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I was growing up, lots of people still drove cars with manual transmissions. I know it’s rare today, but it wasn’t so rare back then. It was a life skill.

As far as I can remember, my family only had two cars with manual transmissions when I was growing up: a Volkswagen microbus and a Jeep. Maybe we had more, but those are the two I remember. My mother, back in the early 70s, decided she wanted a VW bus for road trips. She had never driven a stick shift, so Daddy had to teach her. Mother must have been 33 or 34. I still remember stalling out at a few traffic lights, but Mother mastered that life skill! She drove us all over the place in that VW bus. When I was 17, we got a Jeep, and that’s when I learned to drive a stick. My brother was barely 16 when we got the Jeep, but somehow, he just knew how to drive a car with a manual transmission. But then, there was that time when he was 14 and he got in big trouble because Mother saw him driving a friend’s car…probably a manual transmission…that’s probably when he learned.

My husband can drive a stick, thankfully. I learned that before we were married when a friend needed him to bring a car to him. We got into the car, and when I saw it was a manual transmission, I thought, “Oh, please let him know how to drive this car.” It sounds shallow, and I know it, but he was going to lose some masculinity points if he couldn’t drive it. Like I said…I know that’s shallow, but I just can’t help it. Fortunately, he got in the driver’s seat and drove away…without even thinking about it. In my mind, there are just certain things men need to know how to do: drive a car with a manual transmission, throw a ball correctly, and operate a chainsaw, to name a few (unless there are extenuating circumstances like a disability). It’s not like they are going to need those skills very often, but when they need them, they need them. And that day we got into that car, I would have been absolutely mortified if my then-husband-to-be had turned to me and said, “I can’t drive this car.” Go ahead…say I’m shallow. I know! I know it’s shallow, but it’s just one of those things I can’t get past!

Of course, in my daughter’s generation, there will be fewer people who know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. It’s likely there will be fewer people who know how to throw a ball correctly or operate a chainsaw, unless you can do it from a computer. I don’t even know how my own daughter will ever learn to drive a stick shift, because they are so few and far between these days! Maybe I need to talk my husband into buying a vintage VW microbus for road trips.

As it turns out, the almost-stolen car at the gas station in the news story belonged to a friend of Mary Ann’s brother. He left the keys in the car while he ran inside to get something. Lucky for him, the would-be car thieves couldn’t drive a stick. Lucky for him, he’s driving a car that requires a life skill those thieves didn’t have. Of course, if the thieves could drive a stick, they might be able to get jobs somewhere, and they wouldn’t need to steal other people’s cars. They ended up being identified by a video taken by the car’s owner, so now everybody knows they tried to steal a car and they can’t drive a stick!

Those thieves lost some masculinity points.

***To see the news story about the would-be thieves, click here.***