Uncommon Graduation Gifts for Guys

My second born graduated from high school a few weeks ago. Thankfully I was much less emotional this time around. (That is not to say that I was not emotional, but I was not feeling as mournful as I was when our firstborn graduated!) I really, really, love being a mom, so transitions such as graduations really get to me.

While it is true that most graduates really appreciate the gift of cold, hard, cash, I think it is fun to give graduates a little something extra. However, choosing graduation gifts for guys can be challenging. I’ve found, in my life in a houseful of five guys, that their taste in gifts runs more toward the funky and ironic. However, the mom in me likes to keep things practical as well!

When I look for fun, funky and unique gifts, UncommonGoods is often my first choice. I enjoy the many handcrafted items and appreciate that much of what they sell is made right here in the USA, and 1/3 of the collection incorporates recycled and upcycled materials. And, as a non-profit fundraiser, I LOVE that with every purchase, UncommonGoods will donate $1 to a non-profit of your choice. In the past 12 years, they have donated over $1 Million to charities around the world!

I was asked to select some fun graduation gifts for guys and UncommonGoods kindly sent them to me for my review. These were a huge hit with my recent graduates!

Will is a huge outdoors guy. As a matter of fact, a few weeks after graduation he headed out for his third summer of working at camp. He also, like most 18-year-olds, is very attached to his phone. It may as well be an additional appendage. So this Waka Waka solar-powered charger and light was a most appreciated gift. This handy portable charger can be charged the traditional way, via USB, or it can be charged with the large solar panel on the back. The nice, bright light will give off light for up to 150 hours! Hello, bedtime reading in a power outage!

Waka-Waka Solar powered charger and light

My boys have a slight addiction to microwave mac and cheese. As a foodie mom, this alternates between being disturbing and distressing to me. I work on redirecting. (Young adults are not so different from toddlers!) These handy microwave recipe mugs just may help my young men eat a slightly more balanced, real food, diet in their first apartment. This set of four mugs includes recipes for one that can be made within the mugs (including the mixing) for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  From hearty oatmeal that does not come from a packet to yes, even mac and cheese from scratch, these mugs will have your graduate eating slightly better, or at least eating at home.

recipe mugs

College chemistry is not much fun. However, it is a necessary evil for those going into healthcare careers, like my son. Why not make it a little more fun with these Periodic Table Building Blocks? These blocks are made in Michigan (where my heart resides) from Basswood and printed with non-toxic inks. Even my little girls think these are fun, maybe they will get a head start on their chemistry education!  Periodic Table Building Blocks


You can spend all the time in the world teaching your son how to be a proper man, however, they will forget. Help them to remember, during their hands of penny poker in the dorms with this unique card deck.  From how to tie a tie, to what to say to your future, in-laws, the bases are covered on how to be a proper gentleman.  Gentleman's card deck

No matter who is on your gift list, I am guessing you can find something that you like here.

Chime in! What is your favorite graduation gift (other than cash) to give? What is the most memorable gift that you have received?

Summer Fun: Teach Your Kids to Cook

cooking with kids

Ahhhh Summer!

I’ve enjoyed summer as a stay at home mom, and now I ma experiencing summer as a working mom. Both scenarios have some unique challenges.

WhenI was a stay at home mom, I felt the pressure to make a “magical” summer full of outings, activities, and Pinterest-worthy projects.

As a working mom, I feel the pressure to do all of the above, PLUS, figure out how to keep my kids happy and healthy while I am at work. Now that I have teen sons capable of childcare, some of the pressure is off–but we still have the chore and clean house problem (more on that later this week). We also still want to make some great summer memories even with our limited time.

I’m a multi-tasker.

I know that dinner needs to be prepared each night, and I also know that this is when a certain pair of seven-year-olds wants to spend A LOT of time with me. I also know that I want to continue to teach my children good food habits. Healthy eating and living has always been a soapbox issue for me, and I have tried not to compromise it much since going back to work full time.

So, I use dinner prep time as a time to teach my kids to cook. I’ve always done this. (I have to admit, time in the kitchen with my kids is some of my favorite time with them–I think most of our photos together are in our tiny kitchen!)

I have some favorite resources.

My first is the Kids Cook Real Food video course by Katie Kimball at Kitchen Stewardship.

What it is:

  • Over 30 Basic Kitchen Skills your child needs to make their own food – even if they only want to eat 5 foods right now
  • Up to 24 Weeks of Lessons at your own pace
  • Over 45 Professionally Produced Videos that will captivate your child’s attention, even if they have trouble sitting still
  • Over 200 Pages of PDF Downloads – super skimmable for busy parents!
  • Recipe Books Made Just for Kids (but with real dinners wayyyy beyond chicken nuggets and French fries)
  • 3 Skill Levels to reach your child no matter what they have already done (or not) in the kitchen
  • Quality Time with your Children in a chaotic world – that’s actually productive!

Why I love it:

This video course covers all fo the bases. Kattie is a great teacher and my kids love watching the videos and working alongside them. I can be a little (okay, a lot) bossy, so sometimes it is really great to have someone else telling my kids the same things I tell them about safety etc.but in a nicer way! I love the focus on real, whole foods. I love that Katie gives the kids the skills to cook with real kitchen tools alongside me (though my family still freaks out when they see a Facebook photo of my girls holding and using sharp knives!). I also love that this course covers beginning, intermediate and advanced levels so that even my 13 and 15-year-old sons can learn important cooking skills.

My second is the super-fun KidStir Subscription.

What it is: 

KidStir is a monthly subscription box that packs fun, kid-sized tools, tasty, nutritious recipes, and food education. Each monthly kit contains:

  • o   3 step-by-step recipes covering all food groups

    o   3 educational foodie pages

    o   2 kid-sized cooking tools and themed activity materials

    o   A digital and printed shopping list

    o   3 fun games and puzzles

    o   An e-newsletter packed with recipes and printables

Why I love it:

Let’s face it, kids love mail. When my girls received their first kit, we were cooking right out of the box! They are building up a collection of their OWN cooking tools, and also compiling their very own cookbook. (each 12-month subscription includes a special KidStir Binder for keeping all of the recipes in.) My girls enjoyed the bright graphics, the beautiful photography, and the readable recipes. Better yet, they enjoyed making the new recipes for the family right away (most of the ingredients were already in our kitchen!) Each month covers a different fun theme (so far we have explored the breakfast theme) and has easy, medium and difficult recipes. Each 12-month subscription also comes with a 2-year subscription to Family Fun Magazine or EveryDay With Rachael Ray–both of which are a FABULOUS source of cooking adventures for you and the kids.

I really enjoy spending this time with the kids in the kitchen each night. I have to make dinner anyway, so it is nice to have help. This is a great side benefit–I never peel carrots or potatoes anymore and I rarely chop onions–my little assistants do that for me! I’ve also found that when the kids help prepare a meal, they are a lot more willing to try new things. We like to add a “secret ingredient” and challenge the rest of the family to figure out what we used!

This week, I’ll be sharing a lot more kids in the kitchen tips on my Facebook Page, so make sure to join our community there!

Do you want to see some of our favorite family recipes and large family cooking tips? I have a whole section of the blog devoted to Cooking for 8!

What is your favorite thing to cook with your kids? Leave a comment!


On Making a Difference

We all want to know that we are making a difference in the world. Most of us hope it will be a positive difference.
I’m pretty sure I’m making a difference in my kids lives. I mostly hope that they won’t have to go to too much therapy as they get older.

I’m not sure that I making much difference in my community, but I am trying to leave it better than when I arrived.

I’m pretty sure I make a difference at work. And that feels pretty good.

I work for a cystic fibrosis nonprofit. I organize the fundraising and manage much  of the communication–especially social media. It is a dream job for me, really. It is a perfect fit for my skill set and I enjoy the work.

What did surprise me though, is how much I would really care about my job. I work to help real people. I meet their families. I meet their friends. Some are  quite healthy and do very well. Others are very very sick, and sadly I’ve been to more funerals then I would at a different job. 

Selfishly, I’d like to think that I am making a difference in the lives of those I serve. And I assume that I do.

Today I had the rare gift of meeting someone that I’d only known on paper for the past four years. His daughter recently lost her fight against cystic fibrosis. It is a sad story. She was a valiant fighter. But what was most amazing was to hear her father tell of her very strong faith. This brave young woman was thinking of others even in her dying moments. She knew where her salvation was. She knew death was not the end. And because of her faith, she was able to make a difference. She touched lives all over the United States.

This grieving father greeted me with a hug. And then he thanked me for what I do every day. It was a good reminder to know that the little, sometimes tedious, things that I do every day really do make a difference. The people that we serve who are  living with CF know that there’s someone on their side. I’m happy to be that person. It made my day to know that I made someone else’s day.

So don’t underestimate the difference you are making in someone else’s life. Sometimes the ordinary, every day, expressions of love make the deepest impact.

Senior Year Last Times

Last night was a final band concert for kid #2.

Somehow in the hubub of mothering, two of my baby chicks managed to make it to adulthood (mostly) unscathed.

Graduating a second kid is much easier than the first time around. Three years ago I was totally emotionally unprepared for the feelings that would wash over me. And mostly, I feared that I would lose my son. I feared that somehow, he would graduate, move away and never need me again. Thre years later, I KNOW that this is not true. I’ve also really enjoyed our changing and growing relationship.

So, part of this round of the senior year, I’ve spent looking forward to that child to adult transition.

Perhaps things are eased with knowing that graduation does not equal moving out for this young man. He will be living at home and attending college locally. Perhaps, I just really (mostly) like the young man he has become. I’m really super proud of what he has accomplished. Elementary school and middle school were a real struggle for him, but he has excelled in high school and has become organized and responsible.

And yet, as happy as I am for his future, I still choked up a bit at that concert last night. Not during the music itself. During the music, I just soaked it in. (and I secretly enjoyed that it was 12th-grade level music versus the 5th-grade level that he started with!) I choked up at the final applause. Because, really, it is his final applause. I don’t see him playing horn in college, or in the community symphony. He’s pretty much done. And finality is a funny thing.

He has a lot of great things ahead of him…plenty of first things…and plenty of lasts.

The challenge will be to find the joy in both the firsts and the lasts.

Happy Easter!

For Pastor’s Wives, I should just say, “yay! We survived!”

But really, no matter our vocation, we all have difficult times. We have periods as moms where our lives have more things on the schedule than times to do them, or more items on the shopping list than money to pay for them.

I’m emerging from a post-lenten fog.

I’ve had a lot on my plate.

I’m beginning to think that March is not my favorite month. Last year I struggled with my oldest son being away at basic training in March, and this year I just, well, struggled. It was nothing I can put my finger on, but I can tell that I am coming out from the other side.

I’m enjoying my family again.

I’m feeling productive.

Yarn is flying off of my crochet hook and knitting needles.

Decent meals are being cooked.

The house, while not company ready, IS family ready.

I’m getting my work mojo back.

It is all good.

And I am so thankful to God for sustaining me through my rough times as well as my up times.

We all have down times.

And that is OK.