card players
Recent graduates will enjoy playing cards as a healthy, inexpensive activity in their new life. A set of Aaron Trotter's Portland Illustrated Playing Cards will serve them well.

You probably know some people (maybe you’re even related to them) who will soon be graduating from high school to college, or college to the-rest-of-their life. What’s a gift that says congratulations and also kicks them off into their new venture with just the right touch of spirit, encouragement, humor and practicality?

We’ve got some ideas that will set your grad on the road to personal bliss (and we don't mean a life spent on your sofa). The two main gift categories are two primary elements of life: eating and entertainment. You need both to succeed. While your recent grad might be pounding the pavement looking for work, he or she will need both proper nourishment and ample distraction from said pounding of pavement.  So let's just jump right on into it, putting fun before food.

Entertainment:
Healthy, inexpensive ways to forget one's worries and enjoy what one has will be welcome to your new grad in his or her new life. Suggested activities include reading books (remind them about print media and the excellent, free Multnomah County Public Library system). Also, playing board and card games that won't leave them bored or using their credit card, and will give them a reason to gather round with their friends. Give your grad: 

  • A full deck of playing cards from Portland illustrator Aaron Trotter ($20). He's expanded beyond his original Portland to include Portland II, Las Vegas, Paris, and Bend, OR (among others international jet set hotspots). Las Vegas is even in full living color!
  • David Parlett’s The Oxford Guide to Card Gamesnot so much a how-to as a history-of, this book informs us that card games were "imported from the Mamluks of Egypt...first hit Europe around 1371 and within ten years had spread like wildfire from Spain and Italy to France and Germany."  Lessons like this will be good for the grad, to put his or her own situation in historical perspective.
  • Their own personal copy of "The Game of Life" – to remind them that it's not so bad (and perhaps also remind them of childhood days playing board games and imagining being a grown-up). Invented in 1860 by Milton Bradley (yes, he was a real person – a draftsman and lithographer – before he was a corporation), the game was popular from the start, selling 45,000 copies in its first year of production. Original name: The Checkered Game of Life. Indeed.
  • Katherine Boo's book Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – a truly beautiful book to remind them whatever is happening in their life, it's truly not so bad.  
Eating:
Healthy, inexpensive food is also of paramount importance in the new grad's new stage of life. Henceforth, the means and the methods by which to produce one's own recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals and all that good stuff.
  • Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – an excellent (and recently updated) guide to all anyone needs to know when graduating from dorm food to home gourmet.
  • Super Spices Starter Set – try one from Savory Spice Shop in Sellwood (say that fast five times).
  • Cast-iron Cookware Five-piece Set – we're on a cast-iron kick, and great-grandma's go-to's will spiff up any young hipster's kitchen mighty quick with its oh-so-2013-1890s look. They might not even feel the need to move to Brooklyn (NY) to be cool. If you can't pry great-grandma's out of her hands, get a new one for your grad from Lodge Logic. Many stores, from Target to Williams-Sonoma, carry the set, starting at around $75. With a 5-quart Dutch oven (and lid), 10 1/2-inch griddle, 10-inch skillet, and 8-inch skillet, it's all they'll need for a lifetime of cooking.

For more home and garden ideas and inspiration, sign up for our weekly At Home newsletter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, and visit our Home & Design page.