Sunday, November 12, 2017

Creative Holiday Gift Ideas for Tweens & Teens

I can vividly remember handing my oldest daughter a Christmas toy catalog when she was about four or five - the first time she could really grasp the concept of "Christmas is coming and I'm going to get presents!" - and asking her to show me some things she wanted Santa to bring her. She sat down at our coffee table and began pointing to at least two or three items per page saying, "I want this! What is it?" Indeed, the greed monster had taken hold and she wanted lots of stuff even though she didn't even know what most of that stuff was or what it did. 

Now, that little girl is 15 and has two younger sisters, 10 and almost 13. As they have gotten older, holiday shopping has gotten increasingly difficult. My kids, in particular, are extremely non-materialistic, which is a fantastic thing 364 days of the year. However, it makes Christmas morning a bit challenging. I begin asking them in November, "What do you want for Christmas?" and their answer if almost always "I don't know," coupled with a heavy shoulder shrug. I can no longer push my cart down the toy aisle at Target and do 75% of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop! 

(In fact, I used to do an annual "Hottest Toys of {Insert Year}" post, but haven't done that since 2014 because I'm no longer in tune with the kids' toy scene!)

So, I've been doing a little internet cruising to find some creative gift ideas for this year and, of course, decided to put them into a blog post to share with anyone else who is struggling for gift ideas, too! 

1. PuraVida Bracelets - These bracelets are all the latest rage and, even better, a part of their proceeds go to various charities. You can pick something out based on your favorite color or based on your favorite cause! There are lots to choose from including animal preservation charities (like Save the Dolphins), awareness charities (like Autism Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness), and health causes (like JDRF for diabetes and many different cancers). 

2.  Himalayan Salt Lamp - Aside from being a cool addition to your teen's bedroom decor, these lamps are said to have positive effects on your health as well, including reduced allergy symptoms, increased energy, and improved sleep. Why not let them do homework by a light that gives off positive vibes?!

3. Sock Subscription Box - Does it seem like your dryer eats socks every time you do laundry? Is your tween or teen constantly asking to borrow socks from you because she's always running out of clean ones? Does he/she love a pair of funky, fun socks? Get them a sock box subscription! Yes, for real! With a subscription to one of these, your teen will receive one or two new paris of socks every month for three, six, or twelve months depending on your choices. Some of them even make donations to charity, too. Interested? Check out Say it With a Sock, Sock Panda, Foot Cardigan, or Society Socks.

4. A Snuggie - No, I'm not joking! Surely you remember these from a few years back. They were often given as gag gifts, but my kids walk around wrapped up in blanket all the time, so why not a blanket with sleeves?!?! Then, they can stay wrapped up while they do homework, eat, and text. 
5. Game of Phones - Kids are always on their phones, right? So, give them something constructive to do! Well, kind of. The website describes this game as: 
"a unique card game that brings smartphones to the party. Everyone grabs their smartphones.One player picks a card and gets to judge that round.The rest of the players have 60 seconds to respond with the funniest, most on point or downright weird thing they can find on their phones."
Game of Phones
6. Chocolate! - Everyone likes chocolate, right? But, what about chocolate with potato chip pieces, bacon, cinnamon cereal, or popping pop rocks? It's amazing and teens (or anyone) will love sampling these fun, high quality creations. Buy single bars or gift box collections! 
Chuao Chocolate
7.  A Personalized Monogrammed Item- I happen to have two very talented sisters in-law who run their own Easy shop. One of their latest products are these fantastic monogrammed t-shirts. They also have caps, bags, and keychains just to name a few. If none of their items appeal to you, do some internet shopping for something your tween/teen would like! 
Lola Darling Designs
8.  Bluetooth Shower Speaker - One of my girls likes to take her device into the bathroom, crank up the volume, and belt out some tunes while she showers. Do you have a teen who does that, too? Then, you need to add this to your shopping list! It can also be used outside, in their bedroom, anywhere they can carry it! This one (and other similar versions) are available through Amazon.
Bluetooth Speaker
 9. Fujifilm Instax mini - Most of today's tween and teens have never had the pleasure of shaking that instant Polaroid photo waiting for it to develop, but now they can! This little camera would be a fun, creative way for them to take pictures (without their phones) and actually have photographs to add to a book or their wall. Available directly from the manufacturer or multiple retailers and comes in a variety of colors.
Fujifilm Instax
10. Love with Food Subscription Box - People always joke about how much teen boys eat, but I've got all girls and I still can't keep the pantry stocked! These girls go through some food, so what better to give them as gift! Each month, they will get a box full of healthy snacks. Gluten free and organic options are available, too, and the company donates meals to hungry children with every box they send! 
Love With Food
11. Zoku Slush and Shake Maker -According to the manufacturer, you freeze the core for 8 hours, then, add the liquid of your choice (juice, coffee, flavored) and stir. Voila! You have a slushie in minutes! This one is definitely a novelty, but it might be a fun way to encourage your teens to try something new!
Zoku Sluch and Shake Maker
12. Selfie Mic - This one actually can be found in the toy sale at Target! The manufacturer recommends it for ages 8+, but I can definitely see all my girls (teens included) having some fun with this one. With a selfie stick attached to a microphone and a free app with millions of karaoke tunes available, it has to be fun! (I even know a few adults who might like this one!)
Selfie Mic
A few slightly less creative, but equally useful and joy-giving ideas: 
  • Clothes - sweaters, jeans, workout gear - whatever floats your teen's boat! 
  • Other subscription boxes - I've listed couple here (PuraVida & Chuao also offer a subscription service), but a quick Google search will turn up tons of others. There's Birchbox & Ipsy for makeup, Enjoy Leggings for leggings (shocker!), Doodle Crate for art supplies, Scentbird for perfume/cologne, Lola for feminine supplies, Harry's for guy's shaving gear, and Book of the Month for the avid teen reader just to name a few. Seriously - that's really just a few of the options.
  • Gift cards - These sometimes seem impersonal, but, really, kids like these as much as anything and you can still get creative. How about gift cards to their favorite restaurant, movie theaters, or their favorite store so they can pick out their own stuff! Got a teen driver? Gift cards to the car wash will help them keep their vehicle in tip top shape!
  • Personal care kits - Around the holidays, you can readily find boxed sets of body wash, hair products, or makeup. If your kids are anything like mine, they go through a lot of this stuff, so why not wrap some up and put it under the tree?!
  • Winter gear - Does he/she need a new coat? Gloves? A fun toboggan? Snow boots? That would make a great Christmas gift!
  • Jewelry - Earrings, necklaces, watches, bracelets - oh my! How about a new monogram necklace or some pretty new earrings? Maybe a new watch or belt for the guys.
  • Experiences - Most of us already have more stuff than we need, so, when you're completely out of ideas for things to give them, step outside of the gift box a little bit and think about something they might like to DO instead. Tickets to a sporting event or concert would be appreciated, I'm sure. Even gifting them a mani/pedi, a yoga class, or a guitar lesson might be something they would enjoy immensely without adding more clutter to their already messy spaces. How about letting them take group of friends to one of the newest "breakout room" challenges or spending a day on the ski slopes? 
Now, I can also assure you that my girls will not be getting everything on this list (but, they're probably reading this so I won't give any hints about what exactly they will be getting!) I am also very aware that this list has a decidedly female slant, but I have three daughters, so that's just how my brain works! Hopefully, even if you have guys in the house, you have found something here that you might not have thought of before.

Either way, just remember that, it's not really about the stuff we give -not the amount we spend or the number of boxes under the tree. It's about the love we put into choosing items or experiences in hopes that the gifts we give will bring joy to the ones we love. (Cheesy, but true!)

Got any creative ideas to add to the list? I'd love to hear them, so type them in a comment! 

**Disclaimer - I have not purchased and/or used all of the items on this list. Therefore, inclusion in this list should not be considered a personal endorsement of any of these products. Please take time to do your own research including analyzing actual customer reviews before choosing to purchase any items listed here. 


Monday, October 30, 2017

This Stage of Parenting

Every stage of parenting has its own special kind of chaos and craziness from sleepless nights with a newborn, to toddler tantrums, to elementary school mania. I truly believe that no stage of parenting is easier than another - they are all just different. I'm currently in the tween and teen stage of parenting with a 10 year old, a 12 (almost 13) year old, and a 15 year old. There are parts of this phase that seem so much easier. Everyone dresses themselves and they can fix a snack on their own. They don't wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays and our schedules don't revolve around nap times. They don't need to be carried and dinner at a restaurant does't feel like herding cats. However, there are pieces of this chapter that also seem harder. Mood swings are as unpredictable as preschool meltdowns and schedules are so packed I'm left wishing for a nap. Homework looms constantly and fashion choices can be points of contention. They clean out the pantry faster than I can refill it - again. There is a lot of letting go and a lot of testing independence right now. 

Like every other leg of this parenting journey, there are ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes, the road is a little rocky and, sometimes, it feels like smooth sailing. 


This stage of parenting is . . .

Mood swings (theirs and mine) followed by hugs and high fives.

Being so grateful they don't wake up at 6:00am on Saturdays anymore, but also wondering if I should wake them up when the clock hits noon and they are still snoozing away.

Going shopping for homecoming dresses, new high heels, and a strapless bra (for her; not me).

Wondering if any fashion designers actually have daughters of their own and wanting to give them all a piece of my mind. 

Watching them raid each other’s closets and give each other fashion advice. 

And social advice. And advice about boys.

It’s discussions - actual adult-like discussions - about politics, and religion, and tragedies, and making a difference.

It's inside jokes that only we understand. (Hey, R! It's raining!! 😜)

It’s late night homework and early morning carpool lines.

It's coffee dates with my daughter and frozen yogurt after school (sometimes).

It’s listening to them sing along becasue they know all the words to a song I’ve never heard.

It's them hanging out in their rooms alone while I wonder if I should orchestrate some quality family time or just enjoy the peace.

It's texting them from downstairs to say that dinner's ready.

It’s “What’s for dinner, Mom?”  and “Why do I have to go to bed so early?” (Even though, it’s not early at all and I’m about to fall asleep standing up.)

It's sharing clothes and sharing shoes, except with the one whose feet are already bigger than mine.

It's making a Target run for shampoo, lotion, feminine supplies, makeup, and razors - because we ALL need them.

It's offering guidance, but also knowing they have to figure it out for themselves; find their own path.

It's disagreeing, but biting my tongue.

It's hours and hours, miles and miles spent sitting behind the wheel of my minivan shuttling them to and from school, sports, clubs, and social events. 

It’s talking about the rules of the road and driving advice - from the passenger side because she has now taken the wheel.

It's date night with my hubby because we can leave the kids home alone for a while. 

It's figuring out Christmas gifts together, because we don't do Santa anymore and feeling relieved, but also a little sad about that. 

It’s wanting them to be healthy, growing young ladies, but crumbling a little invisibly when I stand back to back and she rejoices becasue she is FINALLY just a smidge taller than me.

It's Facebook memories from six or eight years ago that throw me a sucker punch and leve me temporarily breathless as I gaze upon the babies they used to be. 

It's hearing her say, "I'm fat!" and quickly replying, "No you are not! You are beautiful and perfect just the way you are!" but also knowing I need to set a better example of self-acceptance.

It’s me asking them for assistance with technology and them NOT asking for assistance with homework - because they know it is too advanced for me! 

It’s discussing college and potential careers. 

It's trying to keep up on Instagram and hearing myself say, "Please put down your phone!" 

It’s being a more relaxed mom becasue I’ve been doing this for so long now -until something new arises and throws me off a balance again. 

It's still a lot of firsts, but also quite a few "lasts."

It’s cherishing hugs that are few and far between; wishing I could hold on just a little bit longer but being careful not to hold on too long or too tight - realizing these hugs are a metaphor for life. 

It’s still being needed - so very, very needed - for money, and transportation, support, and love, but not really being needed anymore to brush their hair or help them dress.

It's learning to let go, even though I want to hold on.

It's hoping and praying that the seeds we've planted have taken root and that they were the right seeds to start with. 

It’s watching them become young adults and being so incredibly proud of the people they are growing into, but also missing the sweet little baby faces and cuddles that now seem like so far ago and also just like yesterday. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Oh, Saturday!

Friday night, I waited up until midnight for my oldest daughter to get home from her high school homecoming dance. These days, I'm usually lucky to still be awake by 10pm, so midnight was tough. I was super glad I didn't have to set the alarm for any specific Saturday morning hour and, indeed, I rolled out of bed just after 9:00am that morning.

I sat down at the kitchen table and scrolled through Facebook while I ate a bowl of cereal and savored a cup of coffee. Scrolling across my computer screen were friends who were, at 9:30am, already out and about walking for breast cancer, anticipating a busy soccer tournament, had already slayed a workout, or  were photographing the colors of fall foliage.

As I sat there in my pajamas with a bowl of cold cereal and a cup of lukewarm coffee, I lamented the Saturday ahead of me. We had no plans for adventure or excitement. Instead, I knew that my Saturday would be spent with three kids who probably wouldn’t let their feet hit the floor until almost noon, a husband who would spend all morning in his office upstairs woking while I toiled away scrubbing tubs and toilets, doing load after load of laundry, vacuuming up dog hair, trying to plan our menu for the coming week, and attempting to order groceries without blowing the budget.

Sounds super glamorous, no?

I let myself wallow in that self-pity for a little while. Then, I remembered that I've really been trying hard to break up with "busy" and how nice it was that I didnt’ have to set the alarm when I went to bed the night before. It occurred to me that all those moms sitting out there on a cool drizzly soccer field might very well have preferred being curled up back in bed  or at least being at home sipping a cup of coffee in their pajamas. Maybe the people who were out walking for a cause or exercising bright and early were dreading the dirty house they were going to have to tackle later in the day.

Certainly, there are those who pray daily to know what their next meal might be and how they will pay to feed their children tomorrow -much less have a menu for an entire week and a “budget” to think about.

But, nobody posts those kind of things in a Facebook feed, do they?

No one would tell the world how mundane their life is or talk about all the things they are NOT for all their social media “friends” to see - becasue who would want to read that, right?

Better yet, who would want to admit that they are simply average??

Well, maybe I would. For the sake of myself and anyone else who is feeling the way I felt Saturday morning about my lackluster, boring, completely un-glamorous Saturday morning, this was how I spent my Saturday morning:

I share this because I think we all feel a lot of pressure to construct these perfect, interesting lives because that's what we think is expected of us based on what we see on social media. We forget that social media is not always reality - or at least not the WHOLE picture of reality - and, somehow, we've come to believe that a humdrum Saturday is something to be embarrassed about. I would argue, however, that the "humdrum" parts of our lives are where we find most of our commonalities and that, really, we could probably all use a little less busy and a lot more "humdrum."

So, I say . . . . 

Kudos to the parents who were on the soccer field or at the dance team competition at the crack of dawn.
Kudos to the women who had already run five miles before 8am.
Kudos to the family who packed up the minivan for a weekend in the mountains or at the beach.
Kudos to the dads who made chocolate chips pancakes with preschoolers before the sun came up.

And you know what?

Kudos to the mom who was still in her pajamas at 11am sipping her third cup of coffee.
Kudos to the teenagers who didn’t get out of bed before noon and to the parents who let them sleep.
Kudos to the dads who worked in the morning and give it their all to provide for a family.
Kudos to the kids who lazed on the couch watching Paw Patrol in Elsa pajamas.
Kudos to the mamas who, just like me, spent the morning scrubbing toilets and folding towels.

In the end, we’re all just trying to make this family life work - whetever that might look like for each one of us and we would probably all be better off if we paid a little a lot less attention to what we see on social media and just kept on keeping on with whatever works for us.

What does your typical Saturday look like? 

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