Grad gifts

After two consecutive years of graduating my off-spring, this year I'm taking a break. Phew! Graduation and it's associated festivities are so solemn, and final, and just plain exhausting. Yep, this year I can just sit back and admire those darling graduates without intermittent anxiety attacks. My anxiety meter needed a rest anyhow.

I thought it might be helpful to round up some groovy grad gifts. Also, I'm procrastinating, and searching the Internet is my favorite go-to procrastination activity. You can thank me later.

image via  AnniePants

image via AnniePants

I LOVE this stamped penny pendant. There is also a keychain for boys.


One of my girls' favorite grad gifts was a Scentsy warmer with their school logo. They have an entire collegiate collection.

My girls also received some cool personalized water bottles and tumblers with their college logo and name. Check out these.

For kids going out of state to college -- a little reminder of home is always nice. My girls loved these Texas Ts.

Money is ALWAYS nice. The eighteen25 girls are so clever.

Here's something super easy, quick, and budget friendly. Buy this image download for only $5. Print, slip into a frame, and voila . . . instant dorm room art.

Guest post: Flying to the trees

I'm happy to introduce you to today's guest writer, Jennifer Blaylock. Jenny lives with her family in Maryland, where she is the mother of five children--four sons and a daughter. We happen to share a great grandmother (remember the one who said "go easy on the oldest"?) but even if we weren't related, I hope I would be lucky enough to still number her among my wise and true friends. She's currently in the throes of launching her second son, which prompted today's post. 

The spring of 2014 finds me with the second of my children getting ready to graduate from high school. Honestly, it is still a little surreal to me that these babies of mine have reached such a milestone. “The days are long, but the years are short” is no joke, I’m telling you.

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As we get ready for all the busyness that surrounds the end of a senior year, I am making a more conscious effort to savor this time without becoming annoyingly morose and melancholic (you’re welcome, children)—to be joyful in celebrating this launch of my second baby (all 6’4” of him), while making sure he knows how much I have loved the ride. The good, the bad, the ugly, the sweet, the hard, the…well, if you’re a parent, you know. As I think back on my firstborn’s graduation, I am reminded of a little side story that accompanied and paralleled our whirlwind weeks before graduation, and how it poignantly nudged its way into the forefront of that whole experience of graduating a child from high school. I think of it to remind myself that it’s going to be okay.  Life is constantly moving. For everyone. And life is good.

May 22

One day, while we were sprucing up our gazebo attached to the deck with a little spring-cleaning and some new cushions, we found a nest.  The most perfect little bird’s nest you’ve ever seen. Inside were three gorgeous blue eggs.

The mama bird was quite put out when the weather turned nice and she found her secluded spot inhabited by a family wanting to enjoy their outdoor spaces.  The nest lies in a perfect spot, nestled between the outside of the gazebo screen and the tall evergreen bush that rests against it. We have an incredible view, and the nest, mama, and eggs are well protected from accidental touches from the humans. Yesterday our babies hatched! They may not be much to look at now. But they will be.

May 28

Birdie Update

Our little birdies’ rate of growth is amazing. Often, we check on them in the morning and by the evening they have changed. They are getting so big—and even a little fluffy now! Quite a difference from the squirmy, weak, naked-bald babies that came out of those gorgeous blue eggs.

June 6

Today after church I went out to the gazebo to check on our baby birds.  As I opened the door, I immediately froze. One of our baby birds was perched on the ledge next to, but out of the nest. He turned his head all the way around to look at me and then nervously took a few steps—hops really—back and forth; a few inches away from the nest, a few inches back. Time was frozen: me standing there, he making his decision. I watched silently, mesmerized. 

And then, he flew away to the trees.

I walked slowly to the nest. The other two birds were snugly inside and showed no signs of unrest. There they sat, perfectly content, looking up at me. I went around to the side of the gazebo where the nest was secured in the tall evergreen bush and I searched the ground next to the elevated structure and then all around a large nearby tree in our yard. I breathed a sigh of relief. He was not there. He was in the trees.

I had mixed emotions of sadness and pride that our little birdie was ready to fly so fast (only sixteen days!), and felt a strange comfort that the other two remained tucked safely in the nest. I wasn't ready to see them go just yet.

At lunch I told the kids I had been able to witness the little bird flying away. "It was exciting," I said, re-telling the story of his back and forth hopping before his decision to fly away. "But the others are still there." I said.

After lunch we all went out to look.

The nest was empty. 

I thought about it for the rest of the day.
And couldn't help thinking of my own emptying nest. 

Graduation night, a few days ago, was very unemotional for me.

This surprised me a little.

Maybe it was the after effects of such a busy swirl of events that was the month of May. (I am still reeling!) Maybe it was the 400+ graduating class sardined into a high school gymnasium with moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings. Maybe it was the woman sitting next to us who had maybe started celebrating a little early and stumbled and fell every one of the many times she trekked up and down the bleachers during the ceremony (or maybe the fact that she kept yelling for her daughter to turn around through the entire thing). Or maybe it was the heat.

Maybe it was because of the impersonality of it all or the quickened pace of names read and seniors parading across the stage.

A name called; applause, a yell.


I thought maybe I would be more emotional at home during our own little "after party." Seeing all of my children together. Watching Jameson read the sweet cards his brothers and sister had made for him. Fun, yes. Emotional? Not really. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

And then there were things to take care of. A summer job in a different state meant a flurry of last minute things: packing, flight check-in, good-byes to friends.

The mucking out of his bedroom. (Yes, son, I'm sorry, it is no longer yours. Twenty-four hours gone has found another's sleepy head in "your" space. Being the oldest, it happened to me as well, and is often the way in large families.)

And then, due to a planning oversight and major error, Bruce and I attended seminary (four-year scripture study) graduation ceremony alone tonight, with our graduate settling in far away on the other side of the country.

The chapel.
The quiet.
The peace.

The images of my son as a baby flashed on the large screen as part of a slide show honoring the seniors. The "awwww" from the crowd.

It hit me then. My son had flown away to the trees.

I was filled with that same strange mix of emotion I had felt for our baby birds: happy-sadness (is there such a thing?), and I no longer held back my tears.

I thought about the empty nest from earlier that day. I thought about how this is the beginning of the emptying of my own little nest.

My little nest that I have carefully, and painstakingly labored over. My little nest that I have kept tidy and nourished my babes in. My little nest that I have kept watch over and made valiant and vigilant attempts to keep predators at bay. And that image of the empty nest filled me with great sadness at what will inevitably come. Until…I had another thought. 

The nest at the gazebo's edge was empty. Completely empty. That mother and father had flown to the trees, too. They did not wait and fret over an empty nest. They had joined their children in a chapter of new adventures high in the trees.

And they sang.

grad trips

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Jordan may kill me for posting this picture, but I love it. It perfectly depicts our first up-close look at the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful day. We were weary from travel, but the tower? It perked us right up -- what with its grandeur and iconic nature and all.

Sterling and I never intended to institute a graduation trip "tradition." Even now, I'm not entirely sure that's what to call it. I got lucky last summer and was able to present a paper on Dickens at a conference in England at the beginning of July, and it seemed like a fine idea to bring just-graduated Jordan along. Plus, having her company was way more fun for me. We looked around London for a few days, took a train south for the conference, and then chunneled our way to Paris.

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Despite tiny airplane seats, an entire jet-lagged day spent wandering London (before our hotel room was ready), squishy subway cars, and one very drafty, extremely moldy hotel experience, the trip was a smashing success. Here's why:

  • One on one time with Jordan. This was our last summer before she left for college, and it helped ease my have-I-really-done-everything-I-could-as-a-parent anxieties. Not that traveling abroad is a necessary part of the parenting experience in any way, but in the busyness of graduation and prom and college prep, we had plenty of time to contemplate and discuss family life and friends and her adulthood. Gulp.
  • Travel experience. We took multiple planes, trains, subways, and taxis on this trip. We had to navigate a number of public transportation systems, one with instructions only in French. By the end of the trip Jordan was a pro, which gave her a much-needed boost of confidence for traveling alone once she left for college. On her first trip home from BYU (at Thanksgiving), her flight was delayed and she missed her connection in Denver. She had to take a shuttle 20 minutes away from the airport to a hotel, spend the night, and then make her way back to the airport the next morning -- alone. She was, rightfully, nervous but managed the logistics easily.
  • And, of course, it was an exciting introduction to both the thrilling highs and grouchy lows of adventurous undertakings. One of my concerns for my children as they leave home is that they learn to be happy -- to make themselves happy despite their immediate circumstances. I think a big part of that is understanding how to enjoy the journey. The destination itself is important, don't get me wrong, but the bulk of the trip is comprised of getting there. You have to learn to smile at the tired toddler who is encroaching deeply into your already-limited airplane leg room. You have to search out a side-street ice cream shop to break up a long walk back to your room. You have to appreciate the brightly painted doors, or the quaint tea shops, or the unexpectedly fabulous Italian restaurant at the end of the street where your less-than-ideal hotel room waits for you. I want them to find happiness and satisfaction in all of that. And that analogy seems to pop up often while traveling.
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Perhaps I'm fumbling the sentiment here. What I wanted to teach Jordan is aptly expressed in one of my favorite quotes by Jenkin Lloyd Jones:

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.” 

P.S. Madison and I are planning a grad trip to NYC in July. I'm thinking of a VRBO in Brooklyn and some Broadway shows. Any suggestions from New Yorkers out there?

Thinking about grad parties

In our neck of the woods it's pretty typical to host an open-house-type party in honor of the graduating senior. My girls have never been ones to turn down a party, so last year I threw my inaugural graduation party, and this year . . . it's a second annual kind of event -- meaning child number two is up at the proverbial graduation bat. These are the types of things that happen when you have kids 15 months apart. 

Last year I searched the Interwebs repeatedly for the "best graduation party ever." Surprisingly, I didn't find a whole lot. I did buy the Martha Stewart Living issue which featured a neon and neutrals grad party. That Martha -- her ideas are awesome, but she always forgets that I'M NOT RICH. Still, we took the neons and neutrals and ran with it.

[Please disregard the orange paint in the dining room. I really need to redo that but I'm too busy buying things I don't need from Target.] 

[Please disregard the orange paint in the dining room. I really need to redo that but I'm too busy buying things I don't need from Target.] 

Martha's folks had the clever idea to hang up a giant diploma-like roll of craft paper, leaving space for friends to fill it up with well wishes on florescent-colored post-it notes. This was great fun, particularly toward the end of the night when Jordan's friends went crazy with the post-its, labeling everything in site. The piano was labeled 'piano.' The table 'table.' I got a note reading 'Jordan's mom,' and so on. That's what 13 years of public education gets you.

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The tissue poms and tassle garland I purchased from Studio Mucci on Etsy. She let me pick my own colors, and since I didn't want to deviate from Martha's prescribed neons and neutrals, her flexibility worked splendidly. (Repeatedly writing neons and neutrals is making me think of blush and bashful. Movie reference anyone?)

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For food I went completely with desserts. I, along with my mom, sister-in-law, and a phalanx of friends, baked until the very AIR was laced with sugar. I know Texas isn't technically "the South," but we still hold strongly to two southern principles: everything is better with sugar AND running out of food at a soiree is completely unacceptable. In response to my upbringing then, I made WAY too many desserts. 

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Guys, my girls and I did some serious push pop graduation hat construction. I really hoped that visitors would take a push pop or two home as a reminder of a lovely evening. In actuality people were reticent to mess up the display. When I realized that the pops were essentially abandoned, I started dashing about handing them out like a mad woman. I was a pop pusher. I can't deny it.

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Probably the smartest thing I did was hire Amy's Ice Cream to some set up shop on the back patio. Amy's provided three flavors, toppings, and an ice cream man to do the heavy dipping. The ice cream was fun and having an attraction outside kept people moving through the house. Flow, when it comes right down to it, is also a party essential.

So now? On to Madison's party. I'm thinking I really like this idea. Or maybe a variation of this. Or, if I started preparing right now and worked round the clock until Maddie's graduation in June, I could possibly pull off something like this. Or maybe not. What about you guys? Any graduation ideas out there? 

Instagram Gift!

I know it's only March, but I can already feel the end of the year lurching towards me. With Madison's graduation and Jordan's mission staring me square in the eyes, I'm feeling like I'd better start getting my ducks in a row (and yes, I'm now fresh out of cliches). For Christmas I made one of these photo books for each of my kids -- a soft-cover book with instagram pics from all of 2012. {Note: You don't have to use Instagram, but I'm lazy so I have lots of Instagram pics.} Now I'm thinking this could make a cool end-of-the-year or graduation gift. And seriously, folks, you can't beat it for $10.99. (I'm not a paid spokeswoman, I just play one on this blog. No, seriously, Artifact Uprising doesn't even know I'm writing this.)

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This is the book I made for Sterling and I. For the kids' books I selected photos that I thought would be memorable for each individual kiddo. That took some time, but I had a ball putting it together -- reliving the memories . . . eating cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes are a theme here. 

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The book is approximately 5" x 5" and I thought the printing was fantastic. Unlike the traditional scrapbooking I did in the late 90s, none of the pics are cut in the shape of the Easter bunny. No, this is way more classy.

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I thought this would be cool for Maddie to make for her friends -- maybe all pics of their senior year. I'm going to make one for Jordan to take with her when she goes to France -- with a picture of me ON EVERY PAGE. Just kidding. Sort of.

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Any other good graduation or end-of-year gifts out there? I'm all ears.

Enjoy your weekend!