Holiday Gift Guide: 25 Under $25 for College Students and Young Adults

Mary Dell writes: Looking for inspiration for holiday gifts for a high schooler, soon to leave for college or a recent grad in her first apartment?  We browsed real and virtual aisles at The Container Store, Nike, Apple, J Crew, Microsoft, LL Bean, and Amazon and found these ideas so, look no further! Here is our Holiday Gift Guide: 25 Ideas Under $25.

1. Electric Kettle < Hamilton Beach Ensemble Cord Free Pouring Kettle

Kids in college and those right out of school have one thing in common: living space with tiny (or nonexistent) kitchens. Having an ability to boil water for tea or hot chocolate is a little bit of luxury achievable with this cute electric kettle.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.56.42 PM2. Card game Cards Against Humanity

Sometimes a grown up toy is just what our grown up kids will love the most.

Cards Against Humanity- gifts under $25

3. Scratch Map Luckies of London Scratch Map (USLUSCR)

How to rekindle memories of all those family vacations or inspire discussions about study abroad? This scratch map would be a perfect way to brighten up a drab dorm wall.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.58.45 PM

4. Battery charger  Jackery® Mini Premium iPhone Charger 3200mAh Power Pack – Ultra-Compact Aluminum Portable Battery Charger External Battery Pack for Apple iPhone 6 Plus, 6, 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, iPad, Air, Mini, Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Note, Nexus, LG, HTC, Moto. Power Bank, iPad Charger, Portable Charger, Backup Battery, External Charger, USB Battery Charger (Orange)

This little charger packs a big punch with a wide range of devices.


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5. Ironing mat As Seen on TV IRONEMO-MC24 Iron Express the Original Portable Ironing Pad

Wearing a wrinkled shirt to class may not trouble your college student but he should look crisp for an interview.  Space saving ironing mat to the rescue!

Ironing mat - gifts under $25

6. Sunbeam hot shot Sunbeam 6131 Hot Shot Hot Water Dispenser, Black

How cute is this cup-at-a-time hot water dispenser?  This is a great choice for a dorm room.

Sunbeam hot shot- gifts under $25


7. Lap top desk LapGear Classic Original Wood Lapdesk (45364)

Your college student will study in bed as much as at her desk so help make it easier and safer to do so with this handsome, and non flammable, laptop desk.


laptop desk - gifts under $25

8. Dorm safe SentrySafe P005CBL 0.05 Cubic Foot Combination Compact Safe, Blue

Wallet, passport, valuable jewelry all fit snugly in this dorm safe.

Dorm safe - gifts under $25

9. Brita water filter Brita Slim Water Filter Pitcher, 5 Cup

Buying cases of water in water bottles is costly, environmentally wrong and a space hog.  A Brita water system solves each of these problems.

Brita Pitcher - gifts under $25

10. Whirley Pop popcorn Wabash Valley Farms 25008 Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper

Better tasting than microwave-cooked popcorn, this Whirley Pop claims to cook without sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Whirley pop - gifts under $2511. Storage hanging bag 

Storage is at a premium in apartment living.  This is a stylish, lightweight, and inexpensive way to add extra shelf space in a closet that has none.  Plus, as young adults move frequently, this “built-in” is one they can take with them to their next abode.

Container Store hanging bag - gifts under $25

12. Serving tray 

This tray, in cheery lacquered red, will add a festive touch to any apartment.  Extremely versatile, it could find a home in the kitchen, living room or bedroom. Container Store red tray - gifts under $25


13. Ceiling bike lift 

Holding a bike up to 50 pounds, this unique bike life mounts on a ceiling, freeing up floor space.

Container Store bike lift - gifts under $25

14. Mixing bowls 

For those getting used to cooking for themselves for the first time, a set of mixing bowls is a must-have.  Here is a cute set we would love, too!

Container Store mixing bowls - gifts under $2515.  Nike kit bag

This cute Nike bag is the perfect size to go inside a gym bag for storing keys, ID, and other essentials.

Nike kit bag - gifts under $25

16.  Nike Elite socks

Socks may seem like a mundane purchase, but how about a new pair as a stocking stuffer?

Nike socks - gifts under $25


17. Apple organizing bag

Who doesn’t need help rounding up their collection of gadgets, cords, and chargers?

Apple store organizing bag - gifts under $25

18. Apple laptop lock

Losing a laptop is a traumatic experience.  Consider packing off your college student with a combination laptop lock like this one. Apple store laptop lock - gifts under $25


19. Noika headphones

Brightly colored and an upgrade from the basic ear buds that come with many devices, check out these headphones.

Microsoft store Nokia headphones - gifts under $25


20. Nokia Coloud Bang speaker

Lightweight and capable of eight hours of playing time, this Nokia speaker can enhance the quality of listening with any device. Microsoft store Nokia speaker - gifts under $25

21. J Crew headband

A festive touch for your college daughter, this J Crew headband is adorable with just the right amount of glitz for the holidays.

J Crew headband - gifts under $2522. J Crew boxers

And, a festive gift for your college son!

J Crew boxers - gifts under $25

23. LL Bean tote bag

A classic, this small-size tote comes from one of our all-time favorite store, LL Bean.

LL Bean tote bag - gifts under $25


24.LL Bean ragg wool hat

We can only hope that our kids wears a hat when it is freezing cold outside. With this ragg wool hat, lined with micro fleece inside, they just might do it!

LL Bean ragg wool hat - gifts under $25

25. LL Bean Nantucket bike basket

We fell in love with this Nantucket bike basket.  Maybe your young adult daughter will, too.

LL Bean Nantucket bike basket - gifts under $25

Bonus idea! 

Millennials love a gift of experience even more than a “thing” so consider a gift certificate for your young adult: car rentals, Zipcar, Getaround, Uber, Lyft, airlines, sporting event, classes, college book store, philanthropy, museum membership.

Clean is Sexy and Other Advice for Sons: Home for the Holidays Edition

Lisa writes: Earlier this year we shared Clean is Sexy and other bits of motherly wisdom for teen and young adult sons.* As our kids come home for the holidays the impulse to shower them with even more parental guidance seemed irresistible. So along with the gifts and good cheer here is our two-cents worth of advice for sons during the holidays, or anytime.

Home for the holidays - Clean is sexy and other motherly advice for sons home for the holidays.

1. For years, your parents showered you with holiday gifts, even beating back other overzealous parents in Toys “R” Us to get you the last Talking Elmo. Now you are thinking of showing up at home for the holidays empty-handed? Who raised you? Buy something small but thoughtful that lets them know how much you appreciated your Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards and their love.

2. And while you are at it, siblings do not grow on trees. These are the only brothers and sisters you will ever have and, God willing, you will have them forever. They are the only people who will accompany you on almost your entire life’s journey. Show them some appreciation at the holidays, too.

3. If it is going to be a long night, make beer, drunk slowly, a big part of it.

4. When you were a child, holiday meals seemed to appear by magic. Now that you know the truth get off your behind and help your parents in the kitchen.

5. When you come home for the holidays you may realize how much you have missed your friends, want to spend every minute of your short stay with them and come away hoping that you will be close forever. Do not forget your parents feel the same way about you.

6. Some women love men’s hands. I am not sure why, but you might want to remember this when biting your nails.

7. Your dorm room or apartment floor may be covered in dirty clothing, indistinguishable from your laundry basket. That is your business. When you are home for the holidays things are done differently.

8. When you are driving never think, “WHAT’S the worst that could happen?” rather “What is THE worst that could happen?” and then drive accordingly.

9. Office holiday parties have long been an excuse for bad behavior. It is almost a cliché. Don’t become a cliché. The party is short and your career will be as well if you cannot remember to behave yourself.

10. Popular press will tell you to follow your dreams, but just remember you will need to afford them.

11. Being smarter or richer than someone else doesn’t make you a better person. It just makes you fortunate.

12. People who do not share their good fortune and their good cheer, especially during the holidays, but, truly, all year, are not a credit to their parents, or themselves.

13. If you want to be a better person give generously of your of your time, your wisdom and your wealth.  

14. Your dorm room looks a little bleak? Apartment just doesn’t look like home? Take the time, and it really is only a little time, to put up a few decorations for the season. It will make you feel better for weeks.

15. Eggnog only seems like a good idea at the time.

16. There is a certain level of untidiness and disorder that your parents may have learned to tolerate from you at one time. They love you so much and are so happy to have you home for the holidays that they may tolerate it from you again. Don’t make them.

17. Travel will only open your world, if you open your eyes. Just being in a new place does not mean you have experienced it.

18. WiFi is not on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, but love is. Put down the laptop and look at the world around you, and into the eyes of those whose love matters most.

19. Never lose more at a casino than you are willing to pay for an evening’s entertainment.

20. Always keep a decent untouched bottle of wine at the ready. You never know when you will receive a last-minute invitation to dinner.

21. If you get picked for secret Santa, go with food and you will never go wrong.

22. You will overeat when you are home for the holidays, do not try to fool yourself into believing otherwise or feel guilty for a moment. Plan for it. Just add a bit more exercise and some days of sensible eating to your pre-holiday routine.

23. When you are home for the holidays and your parents have not fully acknowledged your adulthood, don’t push them. If they are not happy with sleepover guests, or hangovers or having you walking around the house, in front of guests, dressed only in boxers, try to remember it is only for a couple of days.

24. In the end it will matter less how good an athlete you were and more how good a teammate you were. Talent fades, camaraderie and memories endure.

25. Never buy the large size of popcorn. It is overpriced, oversized and only seemed like a good idea.

26. If you have a girlfriend, boyfriend or partner and you wait until the day before and cannot find the right gift, the right size, or the right color or you can, but it cannot be delivered in time, it is not the store’s fault, it is yours. Blame no one but yourself.

27. A working knowledge of 1970s and 80s rock will make you happy and a stand-out in trivia contests.

28. Eating too much turkey once a year is not overindulgence, it is your birthright as an American. Go ahead, enjoy.

29. The first days of any experience are recorded in our minds in bright living color with routine dulling the memories of later days. Take it all in during those early days.

30. Manners are more important in the digital age when we are lacking the subtleties of facial expressions. Forget yours at your peril.

31. You are not a little kid anymore. If you are going to do something that might not thrill your parents, don’t just try to get away with it, talk to them first. They are proud that you are grown up and make your own decisions. They have no interest in seeing your inner 14-year-old.

32. Learn to cook at least one truly great meal. Underwhelming people with your cooking will never lead to good things.

33. Who you are working for can be every bit as important as what you are doing. Interview prospective bosses as they interview you, politely.

34. Holding doors open, paying for a check or swinging by and picking someone up may be old-fashioned, but that does not mean that those kindnesses will not engender gratitude.

35. Read great books, even if you read them slowly and infrequently. They will keep you in touch with human history.

36. Keep your mind open to other people’s life choices, and be happy for them.

37. Envy serves no useful purpose and is often misplaced. All too often we are mistaken about others’ lives so mind your own knitting.

38. Benjamin Franklin only had it two-thirds right. To the list of death and taxes, add your parent’s love.

39. Your parents cheered you on when you took your first step, rode your first bike and started your first summer job. Listen for that cheering sound when you most need it, I promise it will always be there for you.

* In the earlier post we remind our kids that, “Clean is sexy. Thoughtful is sexy. Being blindingly drunk is pathetic.”

Photo credit: SalzerE

The Eldest Son Has Returned

Sue Robins, a guest blogger, writes: My eldest son has returned home from a five-week band tour of 26 cities and 30 shows. He zigged across America to New York City in his black van crammed with band members, zagged back to LA, and then zoomed up the west coast to Canada. In the pictures I saw on Facebook, he grew a fuzzy beard and appeared to wear the same slowly deteriorating sleeveless t-shirt for several weeks at a time.

eldest son

He is now 21 years old, and is supposed to be in his third year of college. He is supposed to be living in a decent walk-up apartment near campus, climbing on a bus every day and dutifully attending his classes. Then he is supposed to graduate with a general degree that leads him to practical, but soulless jobs through his 20’s, before settling into a career. He is supposed to do that because that’s exactly what I did. He has decent high school grades, a scholarship, and parents who diligently saved for his tuition. Instead, he has chosen the life of a drummer, complete with grit, adventure and bonus life experience. This boy has ventured very far from his mother’s comfort zone.

He’s an alien to my friends, whose adult children are doing what they are supposed to do. I’ve lost count of the blank looks and the abrupt changes in conversation that I’ve endured when they discover he’s not in college. I’m wondering, though: aren’t I a member of an underground group of parents, whose children are taking a different, non-college path in life? Aren’t there kids out there who don’t have the grades, financial support, or will to go to post-secondary? And isn’t that ok too?

My son has never done what he’s supposed to do. He was a willful child, right from birth, and always had a very clear sense of who he is. He is a punk rock musician, not a college student, and these two things are mutually exclusive.

He’s currently in between tours, so he’s living in the back of his van, sleeping on a futon mattress shoved between the seats. He’s parked in a friend’s alley, and uses their kitchen and bathroom for a weekly fee. I’ve have pleaded with him to move back home. But he firmly shakes his head, steadfast and resolute.

When he was 14 and had a dyed red faux-hawk, he used to tease me and say that when he grew up he wanted to live in a van by the side of the river.

I realize now that he wasn’t kidding.

I pick him up for our lunch date at a prescribed street corner. I’m happy to see you, I say, as he folds himself into the car. He turns to me and a wide grin spreads across his face, I’m happy to see you too, Mom, he says. He’s relaxed, tanned, and in wiry shape. His little brother Aaron is with us, and he’s greeted with a rousing ‘Hey Goose’ and a high-five. There’s some friendly razzing, arm punching and an impromptu burping contest.

“Let’s do Indian food,”  my eldest suggests and we are off to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we happily tuck in plates of garlic naan, vegetable pakora, dal and chickpea curry. He and Aaron slurp mango juice and wrestle in the restaurant booth.

“How was your tour?” I ask, not able to fathom a road trip of such epic proportions. He’s 25 years my junior and has travelled to more American cities that I can ever hope to see in my lifetime. His eyes are brightly shining – “It was pretty consistently exciting,” he says.

Most of us live our lives small, and in fear – all in the name of being comfortable and stable. My son has not taken that route. He lives life large and out loud. He’s worked steadily at a job since he was 15, saving money to buy drum sticks, a dilapidated van and gas money to go on tour. He works to tour. He’s the most ambitious and resourceful person I know. He is unapologetic about doing what he loves, and he lives free from fear of judgment. I’m beginning to realize that fear of judgment is what keeps the rest of us small.

After our lunch, I drop the two brothers at a movie. My eldest, 6’2″, ambles beside tiny Aaron. They have a pocketful of change to play video games. My musician son has his arm draped casually across his youngest brother’s shoulder. My tears well up seeing this tender gesture, and afterwards, I sit in the car for a long time. I have one adult son – wild, unencumbered and resistant to authority. My youngest son, born with an extra chromosome, is persistent and full of life.

Here I am, a suburban mom, closing in on fifty, and I’m learning life lessons from my young, diverse sons. Here’s what they’ve taught me – they nudge me subtly and gently towards this question, as they ask: Mom, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Sue Robins is a writer, speaker and mother of three. She’s passionate about motherhood, kids with differences, storytelling and nurturing kindness & compassion in the health care & education systems. She blogs at:

Sue Robins

Photo credits: Sue Robins

11 Reasons Why College Admissions is HARDER Than You Expected

Lisa writes: You thought college admissions would be challenging, you knew it would be difficult, you had no idea.

College Admissions

1. Prepare for heartbreak

You are filled with confusion as you watch your kid prepare to leave. The frustration and sadness you feel is not about college admissions but about the inevitable change that is coming to your relationship and your family. You worry that this next stage in life may not be good, for you.

2. Rejection is coming

Your kid is going to be rejected by some universities and, if history is any guide, as a parent, that is going to sting. You know you have raised a great kid, but not every university in America knows it. When the inevitable thin envelopes appear, it is going to hurt her, and perhaps you, even more. We take our kids disappointments to heart, that is what makes us parents.

3. 18 is not adulthood

Eighteenth birthday looming or not, despite what the calendar might say, you are looking at a half-baked adult. The law says that on that one day he will be an adult, that his decisions and responsibilities are his own. But what the law doesn’t know is that your kid is still a kid, and that he still asks you what you think of his clothes or what to eat for a snack, that he may look like a grown up but he is not ready for the big time yet.

4. Give her space?

Your kid is about to make the single biggest decision of her young life and you are supposed to back off. Step away, give her space. You are supposed to keep your mouth shut at college admissions information sessions, read her essays noting only typos and grammar mistakes and let her take control of the “process.” Well, the people doling out this advice do not know how naive your kid can be, or that she could compete, nationally, in any procrastination competition. They do not know that she is confused, overwhelmed, overtired and, despite standing at the crossroads of her life, just wants to crawl in bed and take a nap. You are scared to enter into the process and equally scared to back away.

5. College admissions is costly

Every single step of the college admissions process is more expensive than you could have imagined and you have not yet written your first tuition check. It adds up quickly: Road trips, application fees ($41 on average), SAT sittings ($52.20), SAT sittings (again), Subject SATs ($26.00 each), and APs ($89.00) and sending out all those scores comes at a steep price. Oh, and by the way, why don’t we try the ACT ($54.50) too? Hell, why not?

6. And the costs keep going up

And the corollary…you can throw any amount, almost any amount at the college admissions process. SAT tutoring can cost upwards of $500 an hour. Visits to five, ten, twenty schools can eat up thousands more. The litany of decisions on how to rein in these costs, even before your kid begins to write her first application, is not something you expected.

college admissions

7. College is worth it, right?

You keep reading research that says college may not be worth the expense. Though you know the research is largely aimed at for-profit universities and kids who start, but do not complete a degree, while going heavily in debt, the questions remains. Is there any chance you are shelling out over $100,000 for your teen to party for four years? It is a scary thought and not true.

8. Try hard not to be That Parent

You are pretty sure that your wonderful kid is not getting the attention that he needs from the guidance office at school. They seem to be overwhelmed with the number of kids they need to help and the typical, well-adjusted, middle of the pack kids don’t seem to be getting the attention. You want them to sit up and take note of your kid, but you don’t want to be That Parent.

9. This is not familiar, at all

You feel completely out of your depth, this is not college admissions as you knew it. You applied to one state school and got in. Or you applied to three private schools and went to the one that accepted you. You didn’t even study for the SAT. Schools that were not on your radar are now impossible to get into. Schools you thought might be great for your kid, elicited a chuckle from his guidance counselor. You had never heard of “a hook,” “a safety,” or “EA vs. ED”. You have entered a parallel universe and you cannot wait to get out.

10. Too much information

There is too much information. Life was easy just a few short years ago when a handful of viewbooks came through the mailbox and leafing through the pages of leafy college quads was a relaxing and largely uninformative process. Now there are websites with thousands of pages, emails and texts sent to your high school senior, rankings, blogs …. You know that it is important to make an informed decisions, life has taught you that. But you suspect that the torrent of college admissions information may be beyond the capacity of the human mind.

11. Were you a good parent?

You had no idea that the college admissions process could make you, not your kid, feel so insecure. You are not a pushy parent, but should you have pushed more? The SAT prep class seemed great, but should you have hired a tutor? His main essay topic seems a bit weak, but it’s his, should you leave it? Should you have urged more AP classes or made her try out for varsity basketball? Those overseas trips seemed like a scam, but what if they weren’t? Did you actually spend all the hours you meant to with your child? Were you even a good parent?  College admissions does not seem like a healthy process for a parent’s ego.

Finally, back to number one. The pain, frustration and even anger that the college admissions process engenders may have little to do with the process. One of the people you love most in your life, have loved beyond what you ever could have ever imagined, is getting ready to walk out your door. And if that isn’t’ hard, I don’t know what is.

Dear Mom of High School Junior

Dear Mom of High School Junior,

Okay, no more putting it off, it is time to talk about college. If you have kept the subject under wraps until now during Freshman and Sophomore years, you and your kid are about to go on a voyage of discovery during his junior year.  He or she will discover what interest them, excites them, and motivates them. You will discover an adult emerging, and the emphasis here is on emerging, on what will soon be the memories of childhood.

junior year

Let’s dispense with the practical for your high school Junior:

Map out the tests

Make a detailed plan of where and when your child will take all of the standardized tests that occur this year. They could potentially face any combination of PSAT, SAT, Subject SATs (SAT IIs), APs, ACT, PLAN. Be careful with this planning. Use the results of the PSAT or PLAN to recalibrate their studying. Make sure the Subject SATs are planned late enough in the year (and this is probably June for a regular course or May for an AP) that all of the relevant coursework has been completed. There are a myriad of options to study for this standardized exams, plan ahead for what fits into your schedule and budget. Careful study of the exam prep books will go a long way towards getting your student ready.

Time for introspection

Once the planning is over, the scheduling of tests and activities is complete, it is time to look within. While you junior will learn much about college from counselors, other students and visits at the outset, it can be helpful to gain some self-knowledge. Some of the questions a junior can ask themselves: How do I like to learn? Do I like/need interaction with faculty and teachers? Do I thrive socially in a large environment or am I happier when I know a sizable proportion of the people around me? Do I like the rambunctious atmosphere of a big sports school or is that social scene uninviting? How much can my family afford to pay and what other means might I have for gaining scholarships and loans? How far from home do I want to go? Do I want to be able to easily drive to my college from home or would it be okay to take a plane or train each time? Do I like big city life, suburban Idyll or a rural setting? What interests do I have now, or might have over the next four years and which schools will best suit these?

A student who can answer some of these questions (recognizing that both the answers and the student may change over time) will find that time spent with counselors is far more productive.

Clear the spring-time decks

There is a crunch that comes at the end of junior year and, unless you child is very forward thinking, they may not realize it until they are there. You know it now, so if there are things that can be moved out of spring of junior year – perhaps a spring sport or play that they don’t care that much about or driving lessons – move those things or dispense with them altogether. I promise you,  when the pileup of year-end exams and standardized tests descends, your student will be glad these things are gone.

Road trip

Once your junior has met with a counselor, it is time for the road show.  This can be a wonderful or utterly dreadful time in your life but it is certainly the only time you will travel this path together. I have heard stories of kids and parents who barely spoke a word on the entire journey, such is the way of a sullen teen. Yet other parents speak fondly using this time as a way to grow closer to a teen who might be drifting away and to talk about some of the very important things that they are finally grown up enough to discuss.


Summer between junior and senior year is the time to start college essays and there is no better person to help than a high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.


Before the school year ends for summer, your junior should ask two teachers to write college recommendations These need to be written by teachers who students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely, and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

Dating, driving, drinking

Much of what we think of as high school, staying out late, dating, prom, driving and, unfortunately drinking and drug use, begins in junior year. For many kids there is a fairly sharp demarcation between the first two and the last two years in high school with the new-found freedom that the car brings. It is tempting to see how hard they are working and feel that they deserve some fun. And they do. But new drivers are dangerous drivers with car crashes the leading cause of death of teens in the US. The CDC reports that the adoption of graduated drivers licensing has been successful in lowering these sad statistics:

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

A final thought:

Savor every day

One day in junior year it just might become clear how close they are to leaving. It could be on a college tour or when they get behind the wheel of a car. It might be when they get dressed up or when they get a summer job all on their own with no nagging. But one day the stark reality of their departure seems utterly too real. This is a warning signal from the parenting gods reminding us to savor every day, to get to know, even better, our changing child, and to prepare ourselves to send them on their way.