‘Twas the night before move-in day…

‘Tis the season! You know…the one where parents of first time college students are both excited and terrified at the same time. Where we are thrilled they have the opportunity to grow their minds and attend institutions of higher learning, yet worry that they won’t know how to do their own laundry. Where we fuss about coordinating comforters and twin extra-long sheets so we don’t have to think about how much we’ll miss them when they’re off to school.dorm pile.jpg

Well, we are facing that reality here at the Radi house as our youngest child prepares to launch. I recently wrote a poem for parents (like me) who are experiencing anxiety on the night before move-in day. It was published last week on Grown & Flown, a website and blog about parenting older kids, and has received tremendous feedback.

If you’re interested, you can find the poem by clicking on the link below.

’Twas the night before Move-In Day

In addition, please follow me @outtoseaparents on Facebook where I share information on how to prepare for and survive the high school-to-college transition.

Lastly, please spread the word that Out to Sea is a great resource for parents as they face the Freshman Voyage! Thanks so much for your support.


Cozy Quarters: Comfortable, Inspired Dorm Living

College life means living in spaces that can be a bit of a tight squeeze. But with a little creativity, a dorm room can become your student’s home sweet home in no time!dorm life pillow

Here are a seven ways to personalize the space and help make cozy quarters that are inspiring and inviting:

Be organized
pencil cupOrganization doesn’t have to be boring. Think outside the box and repurpose old crates, pails and stackable baskets or hang over-the-door caddies to maximize every square foot. Don’t forget to take advantage of under bed storage. Use a favorite mug to wrangle stray pens or make a vintage-looking tiered jewelry tray out of thrift store items.

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A handy storage ottoman from Bed Bath & Beyond.

Furnish smart
Multifunctional furniture is the key to a versatile space. Shop for affordable dual-purpose futons and clever storage ottomans. Use crates for a coffee table and have instant book storage underneath. A sturdy book shelf holds more than books—it also serves as a creative, functional kitchenette. Just add coffee maker, microwave and an eclectic set of coordinating dishes.

Create art
follow your own path wall artPersonalize the space with handmade wall art. Use inexpensive canvas to design custom pieces that reflect his or her personality! Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things from abstract art to pet paintings. Creating is therapeutic and these one-of-a-kind pieces make great conversation starters.

Add warmth

Rugs, pillows and textured blankets provide warmth to an otherwise institutional space. Use an array of pillows to add color and comfort on the bed and seating areas. A large area rug anchors the room, giving feet a soft place to land, while layering smaller rugs brings texture to the space. Throw blankets keep a drafty room feeling cozy and provide a cuddly “hug” when homesickness strikes.

Turn on the lightsScreen Shot 2017-07-19 at 2.04.51 PM
Add decorative ambiance to the room with battery-powered candles, holiday lights (if they’re allowed) and lamps. Just a couple of lamps bring a stylish, homey touch to a dorm room at a minimal expense. Try a fun salt crystal lamp or vintage-looking lava lamp for an extra dose of fun!

Leave a message
A mirror can serve more than one purpose. It makes a great message center when you add a colorful selection of whiteboard makers. Use it to jot down the weekly grocery list or a day-brightening message to a roommate.

Surround yourself with those you love  

washi tape wall art

Print off favorite photos for a personalized display wall. Use twine and clothespins to artfully display pictures of family and friends, or add some pizzaz with wall-friendly washi tape frames.



Kelly Radi is an author, speaker and mom of two college students. She shares secrets to a successful college launch in her book Out To Sea: A Parents’ Guide to the Freshman Voyage, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Cost Plus World Market and several independent retailers.

Parenting in a Material World

Anyone with a child heading to college knows the drill.
Shower shoes…check.
Twin extra-large sheets…check.
Laundry detergent…check.
Refrigerator, big screen TV…wait, what?!?

How did this begin? What happened to the toddler whose favorite toy was a cardboard box? How did she go from hand-me-downs to coordinated throw pillows and matching desk sets for her dorm room?

Then it dawned on me. American Girl must be to blame. Our girl was nine when we bought her a hundred dollar doll for Christmas. The culprit’s name was Kit. She came with a book, wearing clothes from the ‘40s. But her wardrobe didn’t stop there. We, of Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 8.57.23 AMcourse, ordered pajamas, a personal care set and three “starter” outfits. We didn’t buy a doll. We bought a habit! By the time our daughter’s springtime birthday rolled around, she was asking for a bedroom set and a bathtub…for Kit.

In hindsight, maybe it was a joint effort between us—her parents—and the wallet-sucking power of American Girl that planted the ever-so-tiny mustard seed of materialism in our household. I quickly realized we had work to do to prevent it from taking root. While I want kids who appreciate nice things, I want kids who understand that nice things are just things and that they are earned, not served up on a silver platter.

So how does a middle-aged, middle-class mom of two nearly-adult children dump some weed killer on the mustard seed of materialism? How do we parent older kids effectively in a material world?

5 life lessons to teach nearly-adult kids about money:

1. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
There are more things for kids to spend money on than ever before: expensive clothes, video games, cars, and more. If you aren’t made of money, it’s hard to give your kids everything they want. And if you are made of money, is giving them everything they want such a great idea?

My own mother had a clever solution to my teenaged begging in the ‘80s. While my folks had the means to finance my wardrobe, they felt I had to have some skin in the game. So when we were shopping and I’d find a pair of Guess jeans I just had to have, Mom would offer to meet me half way, a 50-50 split of the cost of the garment. If it was worth a few extra shifts babysitting the neighborhood terrors to pay for my half, I’d say yes. If not, the item stayed on the rack. I quickly learned to select my wardrobe pieces carefully, and my mom taught me that just because they could afford something, didn’t mean they’d automatically buy it.

2. It’s okay to talk about money
“Dad, I really neeeeeed the new iPhone,” pleaded a freckle-faced boy of about fourteen. I listened (okay, eavesdropped may be a more accurate word) to this father-son conversation at the phone store in our local mall. Expecting the father to cave, my ears perked up when I heard his response.

“Why? There’s nothing wrong with your current phone,” replied Dad.

“It’s cheap…only $99. Plus, my old phone is all scratched up.”

This opened up a conversation that included Dad explaining the difference between price and value, and how responsible people care for items of value. For example, he said, they don’t toss hundred dollar phones on top of sports duffels in the hot sun. (zing!)

As you can imagine, the conversation got a little more intense from there. But what I took away from it was that discussions about money (and value and responsibility) between parents and kids need to happen early and often, both around the dinner table and at the phone store.

Appropriate family financial discussions teach kids about the kinds of choices adults face. Topics can be simple, like discussing want versus need over an American Girl bathtub. Or they can be more complex, like how the cost of a college education can vary and how excessive student loans can be the difference between financial independence or living in our basements forever.

3. Budget wisely
If you haven’t already done so, introduce your child to the concept of budgeting. Don’t assume he or she knows how to create one. Instead, walk through a sample budget together. This isn’t sexy stuff, but it’s necessary. Consider it another teachable moment, just a little further up the line from how to ride a bike and to not eat glue.

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If you have younger kids, this can start much earlier, like when they start eyeing up the glue bottle. In our younger parenting years, we used a clear plastic piggy bank withcompartments labeled: SAVE, INVEST, DONATE, and SPEND. While it wasn’t foolproof (our kids found a way to open it up and secretly “transfer” funds), it provided a visual example of basic budgeting and money management.

Budgeting actually passes ownership of finances on to the child, teaching lessons along the way. Kids soon learn that if they want expensive things, they’ll have to sacrifice elsewhere. Plus, developing the habit of following a budget in high school or college can make it easier to successfully manage more complex finances after graduation.

4. J-O-B is not a four-letter word
The antidote to entitlement is hard work. And a job can be just the ticket to teaching our offspring that money does not grow on trees. A job can reiterate the importance of value and work ethic, often eliminating the “gimme” mindset.

Some parents are concerned about a job negatively affecting academic success. However, experts say there are many benefits—aside from money—of holding down a job. Working students broaden connections on campus and in the community, learn time management, make friends, and build character.

Let them learn from mistakes
Teaching children to manage money will not happen overnight. It takes many small steps. And yes, they will probably mess up along the way and make some poor purchasing decisions. But mistakes are how they learn. Wouldn’t you rather give your child the opportunity to make a mistake with a $45 item now, instead of a $45,000 salary later? While they may have outgrown American Girls and moved on to cars and tuition, they still need guidance and support. A gentle reminder of value versus price or an occasional budgeting tip might be what it takes to keep them functioning well in a material world.



What to Expect: A Course Catalog for Parents

After the little plus sign appeared on the stick oh-so-many years ago, the first thing I did was to go out and buy a pregnancy book. The second was to sign up for childbirth classes. I wanted to know what to expect. As our family grew, so did our quest for parenting knowledge. We took Early Childhood classes when they were toddlers. We attended parent education nights when they hit junior high. But as our oldest daughter started pouring over her first college course catalog, we were left scratching our heads, wondering what to expect as parents of a college student. If I had it my way, we’d have a course catalog for parents sending their first child off to college. Our own university, PARENT U, would teach parents how to prepare for the freshman year. Our course catalog might look something like this…

Parent u

Is your student green around the gills? After-hours medical situations do happen. Learn where the nearest urgent care facilities and pharmacies are located BEFORE your student actually needs them. Have a plan for medial care in place so your child won’t rely on the first-year, pre-med kid down the hall for medical advice.
Course Requirements: Health History, Insurance Card, Prescription Card, Credit Card

This course addresses the natural phenomenon of missing home. We’ll discuss how outside stressors, sensory overload, rigorous academic expectations, and lack of sleep can trigger this condition. This course reminds parents that even the most well-adjusted, happy, confident students can be blind-sided by homesickness.

Participants will learn these best practices for combatting homesickness from afar:
1. Validate your student’s feelings. Be understanding and empathetic.
2. Don’t over-react. Empower them to share their feelings and simply listen.
3. Have an agreement in place that does not allow your child to come home for the first month of school. This allows time for the student to adapt to her new surroundings and to work through homesickness on her own.
4. Send comfort in the form of a care package or letter.

We will address the most prominent collegiate time suckers: the internet, social media, Netflix, and gaming. Guest speakers will teach effective strategies and communication techniques to encourage young adults to spend less time on the couch and more time in class. In the co-requisite lab, we will quantify the benefits of adequate, quality sleep in relation to both academic success and mental health.
Course Requirements: Robust communication skills, thick skin and patience.

Participants will learn how to teach offspring to distinguish between lights, darks, and DRY CLEAN ONLY. We will explore stain removal techniques, the benefits of bleach for removing “boy funk” and the less-is-more approach to high-efficiency detergent usage. This course is especially useful for parents of frugal kids who think throwing a brand new red sweatshirt, a wool sweater, a white button-down shirt, a pile of miscellaneous t-shirts, 4 pairs of jeans, and 3 weeks worth of underwear in a single load is a thrifty way to wash.
Course Supplies: Detergent, stain remover, fabric softener, and loads of patience.

Ramen…it’s what’s for dinner. Again. Learn to master creative microwave cuisine and the science of boiling water. A guest chef will share budget-saving tips for elevating ramen to a fine dining experience. Just add peas?!? Also covered in this course: the benefits of baking soda for kitchen fires and how to wash your own dishes.
Bring to first class: ramen (any flavor), bowl, spoon, and sense of adventure.

Frank discussion on the importance of encouraging proper nutrition and how ketchup sandwiches do not constitute a balanced diet (even if ketchup packets are free). We’ll discuss portion distortion (just because they sell a 104 oz. soda does not mean you should buy it!) and strategies to avoid both digestive distress and the Freshman 15. We’ll take a field trip to the cafeteria to see alternatives to pizza, fries and pasta alfredo. We’ll walk parents through the latest cafeteria technology, including the ability to scan a bar code with a cell phone to view the nutritional panel for menu items. Yes, there IS an app for that!

This course proves that money does not grow on trees. We will explore the difference between a debit and credit card and identify who actually pays the bills. A panel of experts will present the less-is-more theory regarding number of credit cards in one’s possession. We will print out amortization charts to illustrate the importance of minimizing debt for students who may someday actually want to be able to purchase a home or vehicle on their own. Small group discussions will focus on emergency fund usage and debate whether downloading the latest Ed Sheeran album constitutes a financial emergency.
Prior to class: review a university financial statement and discuss basic monetary expectations.

Information is power for parents and students alike! In this class, you’ll learn to take advantage of resources available to parents by becoming familiar with the parent portal on the university’s website. Click through programs and events, academic information, campus services, and connect with other first-year parents. Tutors available for the technologically-challenged.
Registration: You’ll need your login and password to access the portal.
Prerequisites: Basic technology skills and desire to be aware of what’s happening on campus.

Students aren’t the only ones adjusting to college life. Parents have a learning curve of their own. In this class, we’ll explore the positives and negatives of life after the launch. Are you a bad parent if your child comes home from school over winter break and finds a ROOM FOR RENT sign in her bedroom window? Instead of getting a renter or buying a puppy to fill the void, we’ll discuss strategies to help first-year parents to adjust to living minus-one in the home.
Bring to class: your partner, dancing shoes and a sense of adventure.


Parents, don’t skip (orientation) class!

on sale!

Last week I attended two college orientation experiences—the first one as a mom of a rising freshman and the second sitting on a panel of “seasoned” parents and college experts, offering advice to parents of incoming first year students.

Why both, you ask?

Well, the truth is I am a mom of an incoming freshman at one university and I am also a parent of a college senior at another. And in spite of my extensive research and experience in the topic of preparing to launch students, I learned useful information at both sessions.

Orientation is a valuable component of a successful high school-to-college transition. If you have the option to attend a parent orientation session, GO! While parent sessions are usually not mandatory, they are well worth your time.

You’ll learn more about the place your student will call home for the next four years. You’ll meet administrators, key staff members and other parents. You’ll learn about all aspects of student life, such as: financial aid, housing, safety, wellness, co-curricular activities and academics.

Not sure what to expect? 

Expect to preregister. Orientation sessions require a lot of organization on the part of the university. In order to prepare materials, meals, housing (if included), and staffing, they require you to register in advance. Don’t be surprised if you’re charged a fee to attend. Insider tip: Register early, as certain dates fill faster than others.

Expect to ask questions. Ahead of time, make a list of questions or concerns that are important to you. If they are not answered during your sessions (though they likely will be), you can ask them during a Q&A session or one-on-one meeting.

Expect to be overwhelmed. You may feel like you’re trying to drink from a fire hose! You will receive a lot of information in a short amount of time. Take in as much as you can, but know it may take some time to process it all. Insider tip: Bring a notebook and pen. Take notes for later.

Expect to connect. You will meet other parents and students embarking on the same journey you are. You will also meet the administrators and staff who will be your student’s support system throughout the upcoming years. Insider tip: Take advantage of meet and greets. Your paths may cross again.

For more information on a successful launch and for guidance throughout the freshman year, pick up your copy of  Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage

Life Skills for College Students: How to Organize Paperwork

As the days move closer to our daughter’s move-in day, I start to get a little worried that we haven’t taught her all the life skills she’ll need when she’s off to college. She can cook. She knows how to sort laundry. She seems to have a pulse on basic money management. So what are we missing?

One area that can be overlooked by parents preparing their students to launch is a basic understanding of organizational skills, specifically organizing and filing paperwork. In spite of our growing paperless options, paperwork does still exist. Credit card receipts, tax paperwork, insurance documents, and financial aid forms can still come in print. Your student will need a simple system to help house and manage these documents.

Paperwork, Receipts, and Organization…Oh, My!
Organizing paperwork may seem like a no-brainer to those of us who’ve been doing it for years, but it is one of those things that our children may not automatically think about. Consider it another teachable moment, just a little further up the line from how to ride a bike and to not eat glue—another step toward “adulting.”

Start by teaching your child how to keep basic records and set up a simple filing system. I’m not suggesting you stuff a four-drawer filing cabinet in the trunk of your car on move-in day. Instead I recommend purchasing a simple accordion file, available at any office supply store. This inexpensive file folder takes up very little space and can travel home with your student if she needs to share some paperwork with you.

file folder 1
Here’s one in basic black, but they come in a variety of colors, sizes and styles. 

This folder is where your student will file important paperwork such as credit card and ATM receipts, bank statements, card statements, university documents, tax information, and miscellaneous communication pieces.

First Things First
Once you purchase the accordion file, the very first thing your student should do is photocopy the front and back of each of her credit and debit cards and file them under “Credit Cards.” That way, if her wallet is ever stolen, she has the account and phone numbers needed to call and cancel the cards immediately. It is wise for you to keep a second copy in a safe place at home as well.

In addition, good bookkeeping also comes in handy at tax time. Unless you’re an accountant, tax paperwork can be confusing for any adult. Don’t assume your student understands the process or the paperwork. Yes, another teachable moment. Be sure to explain to your child which records are required for tax purposes.

What to File
What kinds of paperwork should your student be saving? This list includes, but is certainly not limited to:file folder 3

  • Tax returns and W-2s
  • Credit card receipts and statements
  • Anything related to financial aid
  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs (if applicable)
  • Insurance policies
  • Warranties and receipts for purchases such as computers and books
  • Medical information (allergies, medications, conditions)
  • Copy of medical insurance card
  • Emergency contacts (parents, guardians)

Tuck it Away
Another reason this small filing folder comes in handy is that it can be tucked away in the back of a closet or drawer. With all of this personal information in one place, it is not the thing your student should leave laying around the dorm room floor. But its location is something that could be shared with a trusted roommate or friend, to be accessed only in case of an emergency.

Need More Support as You Prepare to Launch?
Don’t let the packing process overwhelm you or your student! Pick up a copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today for more practical ideas on preparing for the launch, including lists on what to pack and NOT to pack and best practices for move-in day.


The Best Laid Plans: Grad Party Advice

Anyone who knows me knows I love to throw a party! I get excited over details and food and games and decorations. Pass the crepe paper streamers, please. My theory is that a good party can turn into a great party if you start with a fun theme. Piñata, anyone? You can imagine how thrilled I was when our youngest daughter gave me the go-ahead to start planning her graduation party—one with a theme, of course.sandwich board sign

This girl has dreams of exploring and experiencing life outside of her Midwest upbringing. She wants to go places! The theme for her party was obvious to me, a Dr. Seuss fanatic.

Oh, the places you’ll go.guest book

Once I got her okay for my brilliant theme choice, the hunt for treasures began. I picked up the book of the same name, which would double as her guest book. For months, I’d scour clearance racks for cute cupcake liners, maps and serving pieces. I borrowed globes from family and friends.

Her wish was to host a Sunday brunch in our backyard. We’re lucky to have a yard that’s perfect for a party. It’s large and green (thanks to my dear husband and his affinity for lawn care) and flat enough for a big tent next to the patio. We rented a tent, tables and chairs well in advance. We booked a waffle caterer (yes, there are waffle specialists out there) and ordered invitations. We planned and made lists for a make-your-own-fancy-coffee bar, which apparently is all the rage these days. We bought sprinkles and whipped cream, because everybody knows coffee tastes better with whipped cream and sprinkles.

cereal treats
My friends came over to help make  Pinterest-worthy party favors.

We figured out logistics like how to hook up enough electric power for ten waffle irons in the weeks leading up to the party. I planted flowers and my husband groomed the yard. We hung a tree swing and gathered yard games such as Bocce ball, croquet, giant checkers and badminton.

This was going to be the backyard bash of all backyard bashes! We envisioned our older guests sipping coffee and relaxing under the shade of the tent while the younger set ate waffles and played yard Scrabble. The day would be perfect. We were ready.

You know the saying about the best laid plans…

tent on ground
On the morning of the party, a front moved through and flattened out the tent. It also left most of our city without power for several hours.

Fortunately, ours only flickered. We had to move the party inside. Our yard party became a garage party. The rain pelted us and the wind gusts grew stronger as we attempted to pitch a second tent on the driveway to extend our garage space. We almost had the side panels on when another gust sent it airborne, lifting the six anchor blocks off the ground. Tent #2 was a no go.

But as you know, the party must go on! We spread tablecloths and hung photos and turned our garage into grad party central.

beverage bar


Waffle irons

panoramic of waffle bar

In spite of the weather, we had non-stop guests for three-and-a-half hours straight.

garage visiting

It was heartwarming to greet the village of folks who have loved her, taught her and supported her throughout her life. Her second-grade teacher came to celebrate, as did her high school track coach. Her babysitters came and so did the children our daughter now babysits for. Family and friends old and new came to eat waffles and share stories. Some came for hot coffee as they didn’t have power at home!

garage talk 2

While it may not have been the sunny, backyard soiree we’d envisioned, it was a lovely party—because of the people who came…

…and those who helped make it possible.

What a remarkable day! Sending a great big thank you to everybody who came through the rain, hail and wind to celebrate (and eat waffles) with us.

family pic at grad party

P.S. For those of you with high school seniors, I’d highly recommend a theme AND a back-up plan for your child’s grad party. If you need any other guidance, you know where to find me!   #outtosea