Welcome to the last month of 2023, friends! I’m grateful to be here. Between Thanksgiving, the anniversary trip for my parents, the (very soft) launch of The Connected Family, a particularly sad+thrilling week with Articles Club that I hope to tell you a bit about in the future, and, last but not least, the everyday magic of writing by the light of our Christmas tree with a fun holiday weekend ahead – how could I feel anything but?
And thank you again, friends, for your warm and excited support of my new venture. I shared that my subscriber goal for this week was 50, and we’ve now topped 350 – plus several pledged subscriptions, which I truly did not expect at this point at all. I’m sure we will unpack all the feelings at some point, but suffice it to say I know that this community is a big chunk of my “new” one, and I couldn’t imagine better gals to have along for the ride. You’ll see several TCF-related goals on my list below – excited to keep you in the loop as things progress!
On my calendar: — Dinner out with John for our 2023 review and celebration. — Hosting my family for Christmas. Truly an honor (and big responsibility) to orchestrate magic for a group! — A trip to California for Christmas with John’s family. It’s been four years since we’ve been out to visit my sister- and brother-in-law and we’re excited!
What I’m loving right now: — Copyright issues notwithstanding (?), this audio track of The Grinch is fun to listen to around the Christmas tree or on a holiday road trip! H/T to my friend Bethany for unearthing it. — This little flocked Christmas tree has been sold out for years and they finally brought it back! It’s the one we have in June’s and Shep’s rooms, and this year I bought two more to flank our front door. It looks delightfully full once fluffed! — Late breaking to this year’s stocking stuffer post, but if you have Squishmallow fans in your house, this mini set is genius. I’m planning to put one in each kids’ stocking, share some with my sister, and save the rest for Easter baskets or friend birthdays throughout the year. Perfect to go in on with a friend!
As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!
What you’re loving right now:
This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!
What I read in November: — Welcome Home | This home decorating and hosting book – based on the four seasons – was on my 2023 reading list. Though I enjoy the Nester’s style and home/decorating philosophy (and enjoy her newsletter!), this one was a DNF for me. It wasn’t offering me much new info and when I continued to reach for other titles, I knew it was time to return it to the library! — A Light in the Window | Another book in the Mitford series, the coziest story set right here in the mountains of NC. — The Wishing Game | This was a debut novel that felt a bit like a debut novel. Good, not great! It’s a sweet story but was just missing a little spark in the plot and life in the lines for me. — China Rich Girlfriend | I read the first in the trio a few years ago and when a community group friend was offering this one up, I snagged it! Again – the writing is not necessarily going to win any awards, but it was a fun, quick read that kept me turning pages.
Revisiting my November goals: Submit all passport paperwork for the kids’ passports and my renewal (Nope, absolutely no progress on this, ha!) Tackle Shep’s closet Finish writing and design the Articles Club guide and list it for sale (Very close! Just need to finish the design!) Finish our 2015-2019 photo album (Determined to finish this in December!!) Design and order our Christmas card and newsletter Edit Sheptember, Volume 5 (Halfway done!)
December goals: — Finish our 2015-2019 photo album (gotta do it, it’s one of my 2023 goals! ;)) — Prepare well for my family’s visit. With such a large group, I’ve learned that advance (somewhat intense) planning is key to being able to fully enjoy our time together. Rereading my own post from last year to brush up! — See what I can do to continue to customize The Connected Family’s home on Substack – it is pretty bare bones currently! — Plan out content for Q1 of TCF, including brainstorming at least 100 newsletter ideas — Tackle our laundry room… — …and our downstairs linen closet, the very last space to complete my 2023 goal! — Savor the Christmas season by focusing on loving the ones I love most, and loving those who need it the most. Even to me this sounds somewhat trite, but also the best way I know to celebrate the arrival of a tiny baby king who did the same.
Wishing you the merriest December, friends! Please feel free to comment on anything I’ve mentioned here, or anything else on your mind.
I am a big fan of the themed party – this much should be clear by now, with a book swap, a backyard baby shower, and a pumpkins and soup party (and more!) already in the record. I think a theme gives guests (and me!) something to rally around, something to look forward to, and somewhere to focus our attention. Perfect for introverts, who might find it easier to party with a purpose! :)
A chocolate chip cookie party was one theme my friend Katie and I have tossed around for a few years, and I’m so glad we made it happen. You may remember Katie from the original book swap party or from her incredible Etsy shop; it is always a delight to throw a shindig with someone with so much talent and such delightful friends! Admittedly, we didn’t get too many photos from this night, but I’d love to share a few details…
To start, here’s a screenshot of the Paperless Post invite we sent (the back is below). I know it can be helpful to see how the details are communicated! We linked a little Signup Genius where guests could let us know if they were bringing traditional or specialty cookies, or something for the charcuterie board.
As a word of warning: we chose the date and time knowing we might have a lower RSVP rate, and we most certainly did – one of the lowest for any party I’ve hosted! I totally get it: 5-7pm on a weeknight can be tough, whether because of a commute, kids’ activities, or family dinner. In the end, I think we invited about 33 friends and ended up with 12 attendees, plus Katie and me.
Of course, our small and mighty group had a great time! And it was challenging enough to sample 12 cookies, so I’m not sure what we would have done had 20 friends showed up :)
As guests arrived, we directed them to deposit their cookies on either the traditional table or the specialty table (which included versions with nuts, oats, fruit or sans gluten). We mixed and mingled and scooped up plates of savory treats, including the charcuterie board, mini pulled pork sandwiches, and pigs in a blanket. (It’s not an Emily Thomas party without pigs in a blanket.)
Around 5:45 we gathered everyone up, issued voting instructions, and handed out ballots. They had til 6:30 to sample and judge, then we tallied the votes and declared the winners. The voting was HILARIOUSLY impassioned and not very conclusive: on a scale of 1 to 10, some people issued 1s and 2s (!) while other cookies earned straight 10s across the voting categories: flavor, texture, and appearance.
In the end, though, we did declare winners: a tie for first, then a runner up. The winners all went home with an adorable chocolate chip cookie ornament and a cutie rosette for their efforts.
A few other favorite details:
The ballot box
Scattered foam cookie cut-outs
Milk in a champagne bucket (you can’t have a cookie party without milk!)
The apple cider bourbon candles Katie hand-poured as favors (because, naturally)
Just two gals who love a theme party.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments! Already wondering what theme will be up next… :)
I also wanted to invite you over to something brand-new: The Connected Family on Substack! (Note: If you previously subscribed to Em for Marvelous on Substack – thank you so much!! – this is completely different.)
The Connected Family is a project more than a year in the making, and if you love Em for Marvelous, I think you’ll love TCF, too. To be completely honest, I have never been more excited or more terrified of a project than this one. (Imposter syndrome is eating my lunch right now, yes indeed.)
There’s much, much more to say, and so we’ll consider this a soft launch, not a proper introduction – but as my most beloved readers, there’s no one I’d rather share something new with than you! And of course, I don’t want you to miss the giveaway :)
I plan to partially paywall The Connected Family in the new year, but I’d be honored if you’d choose to sign up for a free subscription (or even pledge support for the future!), if you’d like. And don’t worry – Em for Marvelous isn’t going anywhere! Some blog posts on certain topics that might have appeared on EFM will now post on TCF, but the people, places, and things I love will stay right where they’ve been for the last 15 years.
Everyone’s favorite gift guide – what we’re actually giving our kids this Christmas! It’s been enjoyed since 2019, when we had a four-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. Below, I’ve shared what each of our kiddos will be finding under the tree this year, along with a few suggestions I gave to relatives. I’ve also listed a few of the very favorite kid items we already own at the bottom if you’re looking for a few more suggestions!
First up, we’re giving a few family gifts this year. The kids will be receiving: — A Nugget play couch. A dear friend was gifted a gift card for a Nugget earlier this year, but since they already have several, she generously offered it to me (!!). I’d eyed them for years but hadn’t pulled the trigger. Instead of presenting such a momentous item to the kids on a random Tuesday, I’ve squirreled it away in a friend’s attic for the last few months and will go pick it up on Christmas Eve! :) — A copy of Little Pilgrim’s Progress. I have heard nothing but good things about this “lavishly illustrated” version and would love to kick off a family read-aloud by gifting a copy.
June (who is almost eight) will be receiving: — A ticket to The Lion King when it comes to the DPAC in the spring. She loves dressing up and going to shows and I know this will be thrilling! — A purple bed rest pillow and super-soft minky blanket. June is all about making cozy corners in her room where she can read for hours, so I know these will be well-loved. — A learn-to-knit kit. No yarn is safe in this house! She doesn’t know how to knit, but inspired (I think) by Hyacinth Vanderbeeker, she’s constantly pillaging my yarn and ribbon supply and coming up with braided creations.
Shep (who is 5 1/2) will be receiving: — A ticket to The Lion King when it comes to the DPAC in June. This will be his first big show and I know he will be so excited! — A copy of The Wind in the Willows. He’s very into Frog and Toad, and I couldn’t resist when I saw this beautiful hardcover version at our local bookstore. — A fort builder set. Between this and the Nugget, we should have some epic structures at our house in 2024. — A drum set. I didn’t really want to do it, but it’s stayed at the top of his list consistently and so we’re going to go for it. I like that this model has built-in speakers and a headphone jack.
Annie (who is 2 1/2) will be receiving: — A balance bike. We’ll pass down Shep’s, which has been waiting in the wings/attic for this moment. We’ve been really happy with this brand! — A jelly purse. I picked this up at my friend Maghon’s shop but it doesn’t look like she offers them online! Annie will love toting things around in this. — A wooden horse trailer. I snagged this at a consignment sale for $3 this fall and tucked it away – score. She’s into June’s horses, so I think she’ll enjoy loading them in and pushing them around. — The Brambly Hedge Complete Collection. She’s a tiny bit young for this gorgeously-illustrated classic, but I know we’ll love having it in the family collection!
As the third child and second girl, this gal needs almost nothing and is still young enough not to have much of an opinion! I have only a few suggestions for relatives, including Abbey Wedgeworth’s new board books,bongo drums (actually really proud of that one, ha! Will be perfect for family singalongs!), and a US map puzzle.
A FEW OF OUR TIME-TESTED, VERY FAVORITE TOYS AND GIFTS:
— A set of MagnaTiles, because yes, they’re as good as everyone says they are. Played with multiple times a week by all three kids. Definitely add the cars, and remember MagnaTiles and PicassoTiles are interchangeable! — A big box of colorful Duplos (also played with almost daily). — A wooden train track. We have a combo of the Hape and Ikea sets, which are interchangeable. — This ice cream play set, which has provided hours and hours of entertainment. FIVE STARS. — A Micro Kickboard scooter. These are hands-down the best scooters – we’ve gifted them to all of our kids around age 2, and 3-5 is the sweet spot. — An art case coloring set. One of Shep’s most beloved items, used daily! — A game you can play together: try Cover Your Assets, Ticket to Ride, or Sushi Go Party, all family favorites. (More ideas here!) — A Yoto, for a tech-free audio book player. The radio station is quite good, too! I’d recommend adding the Yoto Club subscription for a year to build up your card collection, and we also have the card binder. We’re all in, ha! — The cutest personalized notepads. BIG favorite with June. — A super hero cape and mask set. Honestly, relatively low-quality items but high-quality fun, ha! Our kids have gotten LOTS of enjoyment out of these for a few years now. — A Priority Start bike. June started with the 16″ at age 4 3/4, and graduated to the 20″ at age 6 (and passed the 16″ to Shep for his 4th birthday!). She’ll get the 24″ for her birthday in January so Shep can get the 20″ on his 6th birthday. These bikes are SO well-made and look good, too! :) — A photo memory game with all of the grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles. — Alice & Ames dresses, because they are the twirliest with the best patterns. — A Kiwi Co subscription or Highlights magazine subscription.
Whew! I hope that’s helpful! I’ve rounded up a bunch of ideas, but remember, kids don’t need much to be happy – in our family, we’ve actually found that too many gifts can be overwhelming and dull the whole experience. So choose wisely, and with joy – giving our kids good gifts is a really fun part of being a parent! :)
Below, tell me what you’re getting your kiddos this year — I love hearing your shopping lists!
Previously: — 2022: A 6-year-old girl, a 4.5-year-old boy, and a 1.5-year-old girl — 2021: A 5-year-old girl, a 3.5-year-old boy, and a six-months girl — 2020: A 4-year-old girl and a 2.5-year-old boy — 2019: A 3-year-old girl and a 1.5-year-old boy