2021 Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

13 December 2021

June recently told me that stockings are her favorite part of Christmas morning. I’m not sure if it’s because stockings are the only thing Santa brings in our house (and thus they’re automatically more magical) or because reaching in and pulling out dozens of little gifts is just a thrilling experience, but I’m here to live up to it. After all, stockings are one of my favorite things to shop for, and I enjoy collecting things throughout the year — for June, Shep, Annie, John, and… myself. Yep! John doesn’t really “get” how I like to do stockings – his family’s growing up were pretty minimal – and so it doesn’t bother me to keep this tradition going with most of my own effort.

If you’re looking for some final ideas for your loved ones, here are a few I’ve rounded up!

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids:

— My favorite bath bombs
— The sweetest hand-drawn stickers (love the castle and the snitch!)
— Hogwarts pencils
— A head lamp
— Glow-in-the-dark slap bracelets
— Any sort of shower gel
— Papermate Flair pens – my favorite for PowerSheets and writing notes – perfect tip and colors!
— These little flying copters with slingshots. We’ll play with these for over an hour with the kids at the big field near our house. Fun for everyone!
— Coziest booties that actually stay on
— Name crayons
— A mermaid wand
— Diamond painting bookmarks
— Lovely stacking cups
— Cutest sunbeam baby toy
— Brain Quest card decks
— Flower sunglasses
— Mini alligator puzzle
— Glow-in-the-dark tattoos
Foam soap for the bath
— Corduroy bow
— Floral stamp set
Color packs to toss into the fire pit and turn it blue, yellow, green, and purple
— A rainbow-making window decal
— Mini animal drawing sets
— A fun thermos
— Animal-shaped travel toiletry bottles

And my favorite… a custom book of “coupons” for things they’d love. We’ll be doing this for June and Shep! Lots of ideas in the comments here.

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Grown-Ups:

— The best conversation cards
— The best sunscreen
— Prettiest quilted floral mini makeup bags
— Citrus simmering kit
— Stasher reusable bags
— A classic chocolate orange
— A new card game for road trips
Magnets in every color of the rainbow
— A favorite card game
— Fancy gold scissors or fancy gold spoons
— Needlepoint zip code keychain
— Everything But the Bagel seasoning
Maldon Sea Salt flakes. People swear by these for finishing desserts and other dishes!
— A USB rechargeable lighter (in rose gold! and other colors)
— Citrus-infused salt rim kit
— Darling illustrated gift tags
— A colorful postcard book
— The prettiest pearl bow barrette
— Silk pillowcases
— A charcuterie board styling deck
— An odor-absorbing bar
— Papermate Flair pens – my favorite for PowerSheets and writing notes – perfect tip and colors!
— Bombas underwear or socks
— Reese’s Christmas trees, obviously

Many more stocking ideas from last year here! Wishing you luck and lots of joy as you round the bend on gifting prep! :)

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An extended family trip to WaterColor, Florida

10 December 2021

The third time was most definitely the charm for our extended family trip to WaterColor, Florida! Originally scheduled for spring break 2020 (whomp whomp), we tentatively rescheduled for spring break 2021. When not everyone was comfortable with traveling and gathering at that point, we made a final move to the week of Labor Day 2021 and were SO HAPPY to settle our feet into the sugary sand of the Gulf Coast at long last! Here’s a little bit about our trip, if you’d like to see!

To begin, let me just say that Florida’s 30A, and WaterColor and Seaside specifically, is a straight-up magical place. WaterColor is a master-planned community and resort with gorgeous pastel homes, live oaks, and shady streets dotted with cruiser bikes and golf carts, a stone’s throw from the beach and the Seaside Center Square.

And it’s not just a pretty face – our stay felt as good as it looked. The vibe is sweet and slow, and everything seems built for connective experiences.

Because we were traveling with John’s extended family, we split the rental of a large home through a rental agency (pictured below!). We chose the house to sleep 16, but in the end we traveled with 12 when one sister and family wasn’t able to come (so sad!). I would highly recommend the home we stayed in – everything was comfortable and in great condition, the rental included a six-seater golf cart and bikes, and it was a 5-minute walk from Camp Watercolor, the main pool for kids. This made it easy to take multiple pool trips a day, which we did several times!

In fact, that’s how most of our days were spent – bopping between the pool (complete with lazy river, two waterslides, and a zero-entry pool), the beach (more about that in a sec), and the house, where we could spread out for meals and quiet hour across multiple porches and balconies. In between, we biked, golf-carted, and strolled around the idyllic streets, coastal paths, and town centers of Seaside and Watercolor. No detailed itinerary to share for this vacation :)

We stayed for five nights and barely scratched the surface of what Watercolor has to offer – we only visited one pool (of the six available with your rental!), we never did any water sports, and we didn’t visit any of the other beach communities along 30A. All the more reason to return :)

The main infinity pool at the Watercolor resort. We didn’t swim here but walked by on our way to the beach!

We did go out to eat dinner once, at the famous Bud & Alley’s, but I can’t say I recommend it… the food felt average and overpriced to me, and unless you’re on the roof deck, the atmosphere felt like a low-budget tent, ha. We did have lunch at Scratch Biscuit Kitchen, takeout pizza from Pizza Bar (also owned by Bud & Alley’s), and multiple fancy frozen chocolate bananas from Nigel’s, and all were delicious. Other than that, we mostly cooked at home – there’s a Publix right outside of the neighborhood, and the couples each took turns making dinner.

A major draw for this area, of course, is the beach, and the Gulf did not disappoint! The water was SO beautiful – clear and aqua, with truly sugary sand. For better or worse, however, it can be tricky to access for a beach day. If you’re a guest of the resort (including a rental home), you can be on the stretch in front of the Inn, but you cannot bring in your own chairs or umbrellas (they want you to rent from them, of course!). We thought the rental prices were a bit absurd, but we really needed to have shade with an infant, so we opted to set up in the tiny sliver of public beach sandwiched between private stretches.

And when I say tiny, I mean TINY – it was maybe 100 feet wide. Because of when we were visiting, this was totally fine – though the public sliver was more populated than the almost-empty resort stretches on either side, it didn’t feel crowded. And once you’re in the water, you can move about freely :) The kids loved splashing in the gentle waves and making sand castles, and we loved playing alongside them – aside from loving their company, it was SO nice to have grandparents around to hold Annie while we swam with the big kids. (The access we used was the Van Ness Butler Jr. Regional Beach Access!)

Speaking of our visit timing – we arrived on Labor Day Monday and immediately strolled through the Seaside Center Square to the beach, and it was QUITE busy. After that, however, it was not busy at all, and our weather was beautiful! Early September seemed like a great time to visit. This shot was from that first night – John with all the cousins :)

For someone like me, who counts among her main hobbies strolling through scenic neighborhoods, WaterColor is heaven – the cuteness factor is off the charts, with each house more charming than the last. We went on multiple scoots, walks, bike rides, and golf cart rides to admire the details up close (sometimes with scavenger hunts for extra fun!).

I visited WaterColor more than a decade before this trip, for my very first photo shoot for Southern Weddings, and it was as magical as I remembered. I’m so grateful I got to return with family! Because of course, though the scenery was sublime, the very best part was being together.

There are so many amazing places in the world, aren’t there? Thanks for letting me share a little bit about this one!

P.S. My friend Rhi has a much more comprehensive guide to Seaside on her blog, if you’re planning a trip!

Annie’s Newborn Photos by Anagram Photo

3 December 2021

Now that her birth story is recorded, I feel like I can share Annie’s newborn photos! To be honest, this day lives as a stressful one in my memory. (I’m sure many mamas can say that about newborn sessions, especially when siblings are in the mix!) After being perfect angels for our maternity family shoot with Ally, the big kids were a bit of a disaster for this one – totally rambunctious, not listening well, not taking direction, very minimal interest in smiling at the camera, you know the drill. In case it helps a future mama, I think there were a few reasons for the difference:

1. Our spring shoot was outdoors, so they could run around in between shots and it didn’t feel disruptive.
2. Our spring shoot was in a novel location, so they were more attuned to us and both more interested in and less at ease in their surroundings than at home.
3. There was a tiny baby at this shoot, so we were planning fewer active photos and more “cuddle together” photos – not as interesting to big sibs.
4. John and I were a bit hobbled in this shoot compared to our spring one – I was post-partum and holding a tiny baby, and his ankle was still recovering – which made corralling them more difficult (and they knew it, ha).
5. We definitely could have done a better job of prepping them with our expectations in advance. Had a few other things on our mind, though :)

I also felt like I pulled our outfits together at the last minute, I could have prepared our house a bit better… BUT ENOUGH COMPLAINING! As always, Graham worked his magic out of our chaos and returned some absolutely beautiful (and spunky) images that we’ll treasure forever. We feel so grateful to have them. I hope you enjoy this peek!

There was only one photo I specifically asked Graham for – the newest version of a photo he’s taken for us with every newborn session.

There we are :) Thank you for letting me share, friends!

P.S. June’s newborn photos and Shep’s newborn photos.

What we’re actually giving our kids this Christmas

2 December 2021

I appreciate this post, because sharing it with you lights a fire under me to make decisions – instead of waffling for weeks! If you’re looking for real ideas for what to give your kids for Christmas this year, I hope this year’s post will be as helpful for you as it was for me :) As always, John and I tried hard to follow the fewer, better ethos when choosing gifts. None of us need more stuff, but we hope the things we’ve chosen will delight our kids, light up their imaginations, and help them feel seen and loved.

Here’s what each of our kiddos will be finding under the tree this year!

Photo from Annie’s newborn session by Graham – coming soon!

June (who is almost six) will be receiving:
— An American Girl doll and an overnight trip with mama to pick her out at the AG store in Charlotte. To be honest, I’ve had so much angst over this! As a child of the 90’s, my American Girl doll was extremely beloved. The brand has changed a lot since then, and so it’s hard to know what parameters, if any, to set up around which doll June can pick (i.e. should I have her choose a historical doll? But the worlds aren’t as built-out as they were in my day…) And what if in the end she doesn’t play with her? It’s an expensive gift, but more importantly, would that wreck me emotionally?! So many swirly thoughts. But we’re going for it, and if nothing else, I know we will have the best time on our little trip together.
— This diner set and a calculator machine, because she’s always writing orders on post-its and sticking them on the side of our counter like a short-order cook.
— A stuffie alicorn. This was a very specific request. For those of you not in the loop, alicorns are unicorns with wings – and that’s the stuffed animal she wanted. (I was able to snag this with a gift card, which was a double win!)
Gabby’s Dollhouse figurines. She really wanted the actual Gabby’s Dollhouse dollhouse (as prominently featured in the Amazon catalog), but I’m hoping these ones will be almost as good in the dollhouse she already has!
Personalized stationery and a custom notepad, because she loves to use mine. (I used a 20% off plus free ship code from a Minted postcard I received in the mail – maybe it will work for you, too? C2H3DEZYA!)

In case you’d like a few other ideas for a gal of this age, here are some of the suggestions I gave to family members who asked: fairy garden supplies, LEGO Friends sets, fun games (she loves playing Cover Your Assets, mancala, and Sushi Go Party!), Alice & Ames dresses, Boden leggings, chapter book sets, and a 2022 wall calendar!

Shep (who is about 3 1/2) will be receiving:
— Tickets to ride on the Amtrak train from Durham to Raleigh, and lunch at Brewery Bhavana. I think the $8 per ticket will be well spent :)
— This Picasso Tiles base plate set, because he loves to build castles and fire stations and parking garages.
— A flashlight for his room, so he can be like his big sister.
New sneakers, because his daddy thinks it’s time for some fly kicks.
— A shopping cart, because he is VERY into all things play food right now. Happy to have gotten this on sale for Cyber Monday!

Other ideas I gave to relatives: a Dustbuster (yes, really), a train set for around the Christmas tree, a toy leaf blower, and this castle tent that he picked out from perusing a catalog.

Annie (who is about 5 months) will be receiving:
…absolutely nothing from us, ha! As a third baby and a second girl, she needs nothing and would not appreciate anything we got her :) We will be getting her a few things for her stocking (a teether from a local shop, maybe some moccs), and grandparents will be getting her a Boat & Tote with her name embroidered like her siblings, but that’s it from our end!

Finally, June and Shep will be receiving a joint gift: a Yoto player from my parents. June has been asking to listen to audio books during quiet time, and I love that this is a simple, screen-free option. And so many of you have raved about it! My Mom snagged it during Target’s 25% off one toy promotion earlier this year – a lucky score.

Below, tell me what you’re getting your kiddos this year — I love hearing your shopping lists!

Shopping for other ages?
The gifts we gave to a 5-year-old girl and a 2.5-year-old boy.
The gifts we gave to a 4-year-old girl and a 1.5-year-old boy.

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