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graduate2

Malia Obama, oldest daughter of President Barack Obama, is in her senior year of high school, and she has been accepted to attend Harvard University as her college of choice. However, before the first daughter attends her very first college class, she will be taking a year off—otherwise known as a “gap year.”

Big in Europe and Australia, and just now catching on in the US, a gap year is when students decide to delay their entry to college to either catch their breath after high school, or to gather some life or work experiences before embarking on their college career.

For Malia, the decision to take a gap year makes sense. Her father is in his last year of presidency, and there will be a lot of changes as the family adjusts to life after the White House. So, it doesn’t really seem like a big surprise that she isn’t jumping right into college after she graduates from high school.

For me, however, a gap year was not my parents’ favorite decision that I made. I wanted to move out with my boyfriend and begin working full-time right away. They wanted me to go away to college and pursue the classes I need toward the writing or teaching career I had often talked about.

In the end, I won out. I moved out the day after high school, increased my hours at work, and gained some real life experience. A year later, and I still wasn’t going to college. More than that, we were broke, and had accidentally started a family. Whoops.

My education took an alternative turn from the traditional route of college. I was lucky in that my experiences still led me to where I wanted to be in life. But because of the hardships I also faced from this life decision, I don’t heartily recommend taking a gap year.

Finally, my daughter—the one we started our family with—is graduating from high school this year. I’m proud to say that she’s not taking a gap year, as she will be starting classes at Sonoma State University in the fall.

With all that said, I still recognize that there are many students who are disciplined enough to take a year off after high school, and still sign up for college courses a year later. If that is your choice (or your child’s choice), here are 10 things you can do in that break between high school and college.

1. Travel
Trust me when I say this, there will never be a more perfect time for you to journey someplace new and live out of a suitcase. Later on, you will have a career, a family, obligations, responsibilities…. There will be so many things that will chain you where you are, making it difficult to just get up and go. Take a road trip to a new state. Or grab your passport and get on a plane. Peruse Groupon or Travelocity for deals, or split the tab with a few good friends.

2. Get a job….and save!
Work experience is worth its weight in gold. Future employers want to know about your past jobs, and they want to know you’ll be a good employee. This is a great time to pad your resume with a few small-time jobs, and even work your way up the ladder. Plus, a portion of that money can go toward next year’s college tuition, saving you money in the long run.

3. Join the Peace Corps
This is an opportunity for you to do something great for mankind, and to also see the world in the least expensive way possible. There is an application process and a few requirements involved, but if you’re approved, you will find yourself in a new part of the world, making new friends, and aiding others who are relying on your help.

4. Cross a few things off your bucket list
I know you have one. Perhaps it’s seeing the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s running a marathon. Whatever it is, this is a great time for you to create a few memories, do all the things you’ve always wanted to do, and give you a few new stories you’ll tell your grandkids one day.

5. Hike the PCT.
You know, like Cheryl Strayed did (and told about in her memoir, “Wild”). Or just do a week-long backpacking trip like my friend, Inga Aksamit, did (and told about in her own memoir, “Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail“).  Make sure you have a pair of sturdy shoes!

6. Learn something new
Take a sail-boating class. Learn how to bone a fish. Discover how tie every knot there is. Learn how to sew your own outfit, or how to knit a scarf. Practice putting up a tent on your own, and then how to tear it down. Take a dance class, a yoga class, a jujitsu class, or a singing class. Learn how to ride a horse. Learn how to do a back flip. Learn to speak a new language. Take all the fun classes you can now. The possibilities are endless.

7. Write a book
You know you have one in you. Might as well use this time to jot it down. Who knows? It could become the next bestseller.

8. Learn some life skills
You know good ol’ Mom and Dad? They actually have a few tricks up their sleeve. They can balance a checkbook in the blink of an eye. They can whip up a meal for five in 30 minutes. They can change the oil on the car, or switch out the windshield wipers. They can budget their finances with a few bucks leftover. Use this next year to learn everything you can from these wise people you call parents.

9. Do nice things for others
If you love animals, the local animal shelter would probably love your help. Enjoy farm work? See if any of the local farms need a hand. Have a neighbor with an overgrown lawn? Grab your dad’s lawnmower and mow their lawn. During this next year, look for ways you can add brightness to someone else’s life through random kind gestures.

10. Gain some perspective
What are your goals in life? What do you wish to accomplish by the time you’re 25, 30, 40 and more? What kind of career will make you happy? What are the values you wish to always take with you, and what are the bad habits you hope to shed? Use this next year to become clear on what you wish for your life, and to start mapping out your plan to make that happen!

What would you add to a gap year list? Did you take a gap year? What was your experience like?

writingletter

With a household of young adults aged 15-20, I am in the final years of my hands-on parenting stage, and the empty nest is getting closer and closer. If I think too hard about this fact, I am liable to burst into tears. However, sometimes this revelation is a light in a tunnel of teenage moodiness and rebellion.

Each stage of parenting has both pros and cons, and these later teen years are no exception. I love that my kids are so independent now. I no longer need to coordinate their every move, or ensure they are properly entertained. All of my kids are capable of jumping on a bus or driving a car downtown to go hang out with their friends, and they earn their own money to pay their way for non-essentials. They make many of their own meals and keep track of their own homework. And I thoroughly enjoy conversations with them, because they are at a level where we can discuss things from current events to their natural day-to-day.

However, their growing independence comes with a price. Being so close to total independence, my kids tend to believe they should have the kind of absolute freedom all adults have, even while they are still a dependent in our household. They fight certain rules and obligations, and the power struggle is real. They have reached an age when forcing them to do anything is no longer realistic, and I have to rely heavily on the ideals I’ve raised them with, and hope with all my might that these ideals possess some sort of pull in their current decision making.

There are many times when I feel like just throwing my hands up in the air, and maybe even giving them the house while I move to some deserted island. But just when I have reached my breaking point with these rebellious, stubborn teens, they do something to remind me that they are really just brilliant human beings that I cherish more than anything, and they are only testing their wings before they are ready to fly.

I came across an article I wrote when my daughter was 13. In it, I was going through an especially difficult time with her, and I was frustrated with how far our relationship had fallen in such a short amount of time. But then I put myself in her shoes, remembering what it was like when I was 13 years old. I ended up writing a letter to my 13-year-old self, telling my younger self all the things I would have loved to have known back then. You can read that letter here.

My daughter is now nearing her high school graduation, my son is finishing his first year of high school, and my stepson is figuring out his career goals after college. It’s so easy to place my adult ideals on their day-to-day actions, and grow frustrated when they don’t do things the way I would do them. However, if I look back at the person I was at their age, and remember what it was like as an older teen getting ready to leave the nest, I gain a bit of perspective about their role in life.

I also remember all the things I grappled with at their age.

So in favor of understanding my teens a bit better, I took a stroll down memory lane and wrote a new letter to myself from way back when. Here’s what I came up with:

Dear 18-year-old Crissi,

At this moment, you are preparing for high school prom, graduation, and the moment when you can pack your bags and leave your over-controlling parents and all of their ridiculous rules. I get it. You can’t wait for your freedom. These are exciting times. However, as your 38-year-old self, I feel it my duty to share a few things I’ve learned about us in the past 20 years. I hope you will take some of these things in consideration.

1. If you are given the choice between moving in with that exciting bad boy or getting a college education, CHOOSE EDUCATION. Trust me on this, it’s going to save you a lot of headaches. That being said, I know you’re not going to listen to me. See #8.

2. Smoking does not make you look cool. Just stop.

3. Pay attention to who your real friends are, and stop wishing you were hanging out with the “cool kids.” Years from now, those cool kids won’t even know who you are. But your real friends? They’ll still care for you 20 years after you graduate.

4. You don’t have to fall in love with every boy who pays attention to you.

5. YOU ARE NOT FAT.

6. Right now, you believe you are completely plain and forgettable. But years from now, you are going to find out from several people that they looked up to you, had a crush on you, or wished they had been better friends with you. You are not as invisible as you think you are. However, the biggest takeaway I want you to gain from this knowledge is that you should really be kinder to yourself. You’re kind of awesome.

7. You will have a daughter JUST LIKE YOU. Sorry. And congratulations.

8. That boy you’re dating is going to be the worst thing that ever happened to you. He is also going to be one of the best. Through him, you get to have two really awesome kids, and you are also going to gain a real life education.

9. You are going to be way too young when you start having kids. You are going to make countless mistakes. However, you will also learn so much as you all grow together. And when they are older, you will get to be the cool, “young” mom, and you will share a unique bond with your kids.

10. You will one day be friends with your parents. Right now, you don’t get why they are so strict, and why there are so many rules. You are even plotting all the ways you will be a much better parent than they are. Trust me, they actually know what they are doing—at least for the most part. One day, you will reach a point in your parenthood when you understand why they did things a certain way, especially when your own kids are being buttheads. You will also have many days when you want to call them and apologize.

If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say?

Easter-basket-pin.jpg

When it comes to Easter baskets, kids are easy to shop for. Grab some jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, gather a few small toys, add the artificial grass and voila, you have created the magic of the Easter Bunny.

And then they become teens, and the Easter basket dilemma begins.

First off, don’t think for a second that teenagers are too old to wake up to an Easter basket on Easter morning. It’s more important than ever for parents to keep the magic alive as long as possible – and Easter morning is just one of those occasions to do just that.

However, teens are notoriously hard to shop for. They have specific tastes in style and gifts, and many times their tastes can be more expensive than the average Easter basket item.

With the help of other parents of teens, I have gathered more than 100 things to place in your teenager’s Easter basket – most of them completely affordable. If I’ve missed any, be sure to leave them in the comments.

(P.S. To see 50 more things, click here)

Alternatives to Traditional Baskets
– Fill an upside-down umbrella
– Use a portable shower caddy
– Fill a lunch box
– Use a reusable shopping bag
– Create an Origami box

Handmade Coupons
– Get out of chore
– Date night with Mom or Dad
– Day at the beach
– Teen’s choice for family outing

It’s All About the Money
– Eggs filled with coins
– $5 gift card to local business
– Gift certificate for mani/pedi
– Gas card

Toys for the Kid in All of Us
– Stuffed animals
– Nerf guns
– Bubbles
– Wind-up toys
– Family game
– Lego set
– Playing cards
– Hula hoop
– Jump rope

Get Ready for Summertime
– Beach towel
– Swim trunks or bathing suit
– Pool toys
– Sunglasses
– Swim goggles
– Flip flops
– Sunblock
– Baseball cap or floppy hat
– Snorkeling gear
– Beach umbrella

Subtle Hints for Upcoming Vacation
– Disney coffee (or hot chocolate) mug
– Pine cone (for hiking or camping)
– Seashells
– Pineapple (for Hawaii)
– Croissant (for Paris)
– Calendar or photo book of destination

Plan for Rainy Weather
– Umbrella
– Rain boots
– Rain jacket

Tasty treats
– Candy, of course
– Cheese sticks
– Beef jerky
– Trail mix
– Old-fashioned soda
– Handi-snacks
– Granola bars
– Cereal
– Hot chocolate

Bath Time is Fun Time
– Bath toys
– Bubble bath
– Bath salts
– Washcloths
– Bath towel
– New robe
– Hair brush
– Bath sponge
– Pumice stone

Practical, But Cool
– Cute socks
– A new outfit
– Underwear
– Key chains
– Deodorant
– Flavored tooth floss
– New toothbrush
– Colored shoelaces
– New pajamas
– Travel mug
– Water bottle
– Fingerless gloves

For the Creative Teen
– Colored pencils
– Colored chalk
– Scented markers
– Coloring book
– Water color paints
– Gel pens
– Polaroid camera
– Sketch book

For the Studious
– A new book ;-)
– Cool pens
– Colored paper clips
– Cute office supplies, like this cat shaped Post-it dispenser
Refrigerator magnets
– Mad libs
– Erasers
– Flash drives

Things to Do
– Movie passes
– Sports equipment (basketball, bucket of baseballs, etc)
– DVD of their favorite movie
– New video game

For the Teen With the Green Thumb
– Flower seeds
– Gardening gloves
– Gardening tools
– Potting materials
– Collection of succulents
– Hummingbird feeder

For the Music Lover
– iTunes gift card
– ‘Retro’ mixed cassette tapes
– Concert tickets

For the Girly Girl
– Nail polish
– Lip gloss
Metallic temporary tattoos (I want these!)
– Mini lotions
– Hair accessories
– Jewelry
– EOS chapstick (shaped like an egg!)
– Body spray or perfume
– Henna kit

What else?

flying kite blogThis weekend, Petaluma is encouraging everyone to detach from their devices and join the community for some unplugged fun. From April 10-12, Petalumans will be out and about, enjoying picnics together, enjoying the waterfront, strolling downtown and more.

There will also be plenty of unplugged events to choose from this weekend. On Friday, you can treat yourself to a self-guided tour of Petaluma’s waterways, or unplug with tea at Aqus Cafe from 4-6 p.m. On Saturday, there will be a hike at Helen Putnam Park, sheep shearing at Petaluma Adobe State Park, and sing-alongs at Aqus Cafe. On Sunday, Steamer Landing Park will be hosting free boat rides from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a kite flying picnic from 1-4 p.m.

To see a full list of events, visit petalumaunplugged.com.

Of course, you don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy a technology-free weekend. Here are a few things you can do to occupy your time when you’re not plugged in to your device.

1. Write a letter to a friend, your grandparents, a teacher or a relative. You know, the old-fashioned, snail mail kind. Tell them something fun that’s going on with you, or let them know why they’re important to you. Who knows, they may even write you a letter back, giving you the surprise of something nice coming in the mail among all your bills and advertisements.

2. Get lost….but in a good way. Explore your town, but leave the GPS at home. Find places you’ve never discovered before, and don’t worry about losing your way. After all, you can always ask someone for directions if you get lost.

3. Go outside and play. Take a hike in the hills. Go to the beach. Play on the playground. Go for a bike ride. Take the dog to the dog park. Strap on some roller skates. Build a fort. Play hopscotch or jacks (do you remember those?). The possibilities are endless!

4. Sit and do nothing. Seriously. Remember what it was like to NOT pull out your phone when you had idle time? Think of the things you could now do with that time. You could watch people walk by. You could stare at the leaves in the trees. You could try to make shapes out of clouds. Or…you could do nothing.

5. Color. As in, the kind where you have to stay inside the lines. Or don’t stay in the lines. Heck, scribble all over the page, if you want. Just grab a box of crayons, a book of pictures, and have at it. Coloring is an awesome way to just get lost in the moment.

6. Play board games. What’s the most obscure game you used to play as a child? Chutes and ladders? Pick up sticks? Risk? Clue? Candyland? Or perhaps you like some of the newer games like Apples to Apples or Cranium. Find a game you used to love, or discover a new one. To get you started, check out this list of 76 board games you can play.

7. Learn a new recipe. But not the kind you look up online. Grab one of your grandma’s old cookbooks and find the most interesting recipe you can find. Then make it for your family or friends.

8. Read a book. Not your Kindle, but an honest-to-goodness book, the kind that emits a light scent of paper, ink and glue.

9. Take a nap.

10. Journal. There’s a major difference between blogging and journaling. When you blog, you’re sharing your inner thoughts without eh whole world. But when you journal? Those thoughts are just for you. It’s here that you can get down your deepest thoughts without censoring yourself, being absolutely honest because there’s no one to offend and no one to make you feel stupid. It’s just you. And magic happens when you journal – you learn more about yourself than you thought you already knew. Try it every day for a week, and find out what happens.

What do you do to unplug?

Jonathon, Soskia and Gina, chowing down on Mexican food and Prosecco.

Jonathon, Saskia and Gina, chowing down on Mexican food and Prosecco.

Every Tuesday, a group of friends and I hang out, taking part in a shared meal before settling in with a video series by Rob Bell, an emergent pastor with some simple, yet huge, ideas. Two months ago, many of the people in this group were strangers to me. But something happens when you spend week after week with a group of people, breaking bread with delicious food, revealing your struggles and passions through whatever that week’s topic is….you become friends.

This was definitely true last night. We gathered around the island in Gina’s kitchen, talking about our highs and lows of the week over burritos and bubbly. Usually we drink wine with our dinner. But I had a bottle of Prosecco from Barefoot Wines I was dying to try. So we paired our Mexican meal with a glass of sparkling wine.

Prosecco1Let me pause here to rave about this Prosecco*. I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what I was in for. Gina popped the bottle and I poured us each a glass. The first thing we noticed was how light and refreshing it was. It has just a hint of sweetness, but leans more toward the dry side. We all agreed how good it was. Jonathon, who admitted to not being much of a champagne fan, even said that Prosecco was the way to go when it came to sparkling wine. And while I’m sure it would be a great accompaniment to a meal with light flavors, like seasoned veggies or salmon, I was quite impressed with how it tasted with our burritos.😉 I will most definitely be drinking this wine again.

At any rate, Gina mentioned how this was the second to last week our group will be meeting – all the more reason to break out the bubbly. But it was also a bittersweet bit of news. It’s been so short since we started hanging out together, learning more about our faith, as well as who we are as human beings. However, this group seems to have melded together really well, celebrating in each other’s milestones and happenings. At one point, we all sat in the living room, admitting our most awkward times in our youth, realizing how unoriginal each of our childhoods really were. And I looked around the room and saw good friends, people I knew would drop everything for any of us.

All in two months.

My friend Gina (left) and me.

My friend Gina (left) and me.

I owe this, first, that we’re just awesome people.😉 But I think there’s a little more to it. Any time you pair good people with excellent food and something delicious in your glass, you’ve got the first few ingredients of a promising friendship. Week after week, this has proven true. Tonight’s burritos and Prosecco just happened to be another one of these magic combinations.

*Barefoot Wines sent me a bottle of Prosecco to review. However, these views are completely my own.

A mom recently made a list of 44 things she wanted her kids to learn before they hit adulthood, which is something we should all think about as we’re raising our own future adults. I know for me, there are certainly some major values and skills I want for their lives. So without further ado, here are 15 things I hope to instill in my kids before they hit their adult years.

P.S. Have any you want to share from your own list? Leave it in the comments!

1. Honesty is always the best policy. Best way to not be caught up in a lie is to not do anything worth lying about. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to fib your way out, DON’T. It might make things uncomfortable in the moment, but trust me, you’ll be better for it in the long run.

2. The first step to something great will likely feel insignificant. This goes for anything – learning a new skill, saving money, beginning a new project… But it especially goes for getting a new job. You cannot expect to enter the workforce and be given an impressive job title and high salary right off the bat. The reality is you will probably be paid far less than you want to be paid for a job that only hints at your interests – if you’re lucky to get that close to your dream job. Do it anyway. Even the most successful chefs started out washing dishes in the back. With experience comes knowledge, and that will help you not only learn more about where you want to be in life, but will help others easily recognize your potential. Which brings me to #3….

3. Take pride in your work. I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floor, working a minimum wage job, or climbing the corporate ladder – always put your best effort into what you are doing. After all, if you can’t handle the smallest of tasks with finesse, what makes you think you can handle the bigger ones?

4. Handle your money like an adult, not a kid. Keep your checkbook balanced. Do not rely on credit to get the things you want. Save for expected expenses, and unexpected ones, too. Never pay a bill past its due date. Avoid borrowing money like the plague (but if you must borrow, always pay it back). Live only as large as a portion of your paycheck – not the whole thing, and definitely not more than you make. And regularly give to charity.

5. Learn to cook one meal really, really well. By all means, learn to cook in general. But find that one dish that will impress. There will come a day when you will need to pull that ace out of your sleeve (cooking for your significant other’s parents, inviting the boss over for dinner, contributing to a dinner party…). Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared beforehand?

6. Do your best to only speak about your spouse in kindness. Not only will badmouthing your spouse kill your marriage, it will also kill your friendships. Trust me, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a room with someone who can only say snarky things about their husband or wife, even in jest. It’s just uncomfortable and terrible, and no way to treat a person you love.

7. Never stop learning. Read lots of books, take a class, learn a new language, study a culture or religion, challenge yourself to a new word a day, pay attention to the news of your community/state/country/world…. Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is truth. Live by it.

8. Figure out your passion. And once you do, don’t let life get in your way of pursuing that passion. If you love singing, then join a choir or band. If you’re a writer, join a writing group. If you’re an artist, take classes. If you love to build things, go fishing, play golf, then do it!

9. Make time for fun. Once we get into adulthood, sometimes this part is forgotten. There’s a job to go to, a house to clean, bills to pay, errands to run, committees we signed up for, a family to care for, life to contend with… All of those things are important. But so are you. Schedule in a portion of your week when you can enjoy the things you like to do so you can be a better worker, friend, mom or dad, etc.

10. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated. We all want love, kindness, equality, generosity, honesty, dependability, and more wonderful traits from the people around us. Be this to the world, and the world will be this to you.

But on the same token…

11. Do not give anyone permission to walk all over you. You are your best advocate. Stand up for what you believe is right.

12. Abuse is never okay. Be it hitting, using derogatory names, or making dangerous threats, these are not the actions of someone in love. These are actions of someone who wishes to control their partner. If you are tempted to take these actions against someone else, get help immediately. If someone is mistreating you, get out of the relationship. Don’t walk, RUN. Because if you stay, you are giving that person permission to treat you in a way no one should be treated. You cannot change them. It is not your job to change them. But it is your job to look out for your own safety, because no one is going to do it for you.

13. Appearances DO matter. Sure, we say beauty lies on the inside. But can a potential employer really see the inner beauty of the person they are interviewing? First impressions can never be taken back, regardless of the situation. So always leave the house wearing clean clothes. Keep your hair and teeth brushed. Shower regularly. And seriously think about where you place artistic expressions on your body.

14. Don’t forget me when you leave the nest. I want you to be independent and make it on your own. That is my biggest goal for you when you leave this house to create a home of your own. But call me once in awhile, okay? Let me know how you’re doing. Keep me in the loop about what’s important to you, what you’re struggling with, who your friends are, what’s going on in your life. I’m your mom, and I always will be. And you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world. Keep in touch.

15. Love your sister/brother. He/she shares your history. He/she is your closest link to our family. Be there for each other, celebrate each other’s families, cheer each other on. Don’t ever take your sibling for granted. When I leave this world, nothing will make me happier than knowing you have each other to lean on.

Years ago, my kids and I were caught in a freak thunderstorm in Santa Rosa. It was just after school had ended, and we were on our way home after I had picked them up. But in between school and home, I needed to stop at Montgomery Village for some reason. I don’t remember what that reason was. All I know is that this was when the rains decided to drop buckets, and the thunder and lightning were going wild.

The kids and I all huddled under the eaves of one of the stores, laughing as the sky poured down all around us. It was too magnificent of a rain to just get back in the car and leave. Besides, driving in this kind of weather wasn’t fun. So the kids talked me into taking them to one of the bakeries in the shopping center. And I was more than happy to oblige.

I didn’t have a lot of money at this time. I was a single mom, living on one tiny paycheck that I made stretch by not allowing for many extras. But on this day, nothing sounded better than indulging in something sweet until the rains let up. I don’t remember details of my day-to-day life very often. But on this day, I remember that we all got white hot cocoas, and then split a very delicious almond croissant. I can still taste the sweet marzipan of the filling layered within the flaky bread, and how we were all careful to take small bits of it to make it last that much longer.

I mention this now because it’s one of the childhood memories that my kids still talk about to this day. It’s probably been about 5 years, maybe more, since that happened. And it all cost me the price of three cocoas and a pastry.

Vacation season has just begun, and many families are headed off to fun places like Disneyland, Hawaii, camping, or some other place miles away from home. But a lot of families are also staying home because their finances don’t have room for anything extravagant.

Thing is, kids don’t require traveling in their vacation. Sure, it’s nice when it’s possible. But they are not suffering when it’s not. What they do require from you, however, is TIME.

That day in Montgomery Village, it wasn’t the sweet treats that made the day special. It was our time together, sharing something to laugh and be cozy over. It was enjoying the fact that we three were our own group, with private jokes and shared history, a trio that were in each other’s corner while the rest of the world rained down around us.

That’s what being a part of a family is. It’s not what you’re doing, it’s who you’re doing things with. More than a trip to Disneyland or tropical island, your kids are going to remember the moments they spent with you – even if it’s as simple as waiting for the rain to stop over a cup of hot cocoa.