Marvelous Money: 3 Ways We’re Living Generously This Christmas

7 December 2023

Writing about your own generosity is a tricky thing, isn’t it?

On the one hand, there’s the very real fear that you’ll come across as prideful, a show-off. Or that you’ll needlessly make others feel bad about their efforts – which might represent a real sacrifice – or feel shame about the gap between your generosity and theirs.

So why risk it?

Of course, there’s also this, just one chapter later – also from the mouth of Jesus:

Giving in public = bad? Giving in secret = good? If only it were so easy :) The Christian faith is not interested in being simple; it’s interested in being true. In the end, the motivation of the heart is what categorizes the same act as either a treasure or a disgrace in the eyes of God, which can make it confusing to know when to share. However – as long as I can feel reasonably confident that I’m sharing to reflect the light and love of God and not to be praised by men blog readers, I want to do so.

Also, we hear a lot about Christians behaving badly. But there are many, many, many more stories of light that go untold – stories of quiet, unsung acts of selflessness, compassion, and generosity. We need those stories, too, to remind us about the beauty, grace, and truth of a life spent imitating Jesus (imperfectly, always, but earnestly, too).

Finally, on a practical note, I like hearing about the positive things others are doing! It inspires me to be better, to do more, to stretch my conception of what I think I’m capable of and comfortable with – and it gives me ideas for how to do so! It reminds me that people everywhere are doing their best to make people feel loved and the world a better place. It buoys my hope and optimism about my fellow man and the world we inhabit together.

So — with that lengthy introduction, I submit to you three ways we’re trying to live generously this Christmas season – written with humility and love!

We’re giving generously to our kids’ teachers.

Currently, Annie and Shep each have two preschool teachers, while June has her second-grade teacher, her math teacher, and a student teacher. In past years, we have given physical gifts to preschool teachers, like fresh wreaths, snap totes, and Cultivate goodies. I love all of these ideas and may return to them!

This year and last, however, we’ve moved to giving gift cards (accompanied by handwritten notes). Last year we gave each preschool teacher a $15 gift card to a local ice cream shop. This year, we’re giving them $50 gift cards to a local gift shop I love, and the director (who is also a teacher in Shep’s classroom) a $100 gift card to our favorite local restaurant. It’s been a challenging year in their school, and we want her and her husband to enjoy a fun dinner out.

For June’s main teacher, we’ll do a $75* gift card to either a local garden store or the same local restaurant – I haven’t decided yet! (I always try to choose based on their hobbies – last year, we gave her first-grade teacher, an avid runner, a gift card to Fleet Feet.)

*I had planned to do $100, the same as our preschool director, but our district put a $75 cap on gifts this year.

For her math teacher, we chose a 3-month subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and her student teacher will get a Cultivate tumbler stuffed with crinkle paper and a $50 coffee shop gift card.

Again: I include the dollar amounts not to show off (blerg), but to gently encourage. Last year, $15 for five preschool teachers felt like a stretch. My understanding is that even the smallest gift card is appreciated, and if $5 per teacher is what’s possible, it will be gratefully received.

This year, we can do more, so we are. When I think about what it would cost to send our three children to private school (I did the math right here), $100 per teacher feels like a drop in the bucket. Excellent teachers are the lifeblood of our schools and I’ll do almost anything to help them feel appreciated.

We’re giving generously to our pastor.

Moving on to our next category of challenging jobs :) Full-time ministry – whew! It is not for the faint of heart, for the pastor or for his or her family. They (joyfully!) sacrifice so much for the people in their care, and last year, John and I felt compelled to share one of our very favorite traditions with our pastor and his wife.

We wrote them a note explaining our end-of-year celebration dinner – what it is and what it has meant to our relationship over the last many years – and included a $100 gift card to a local restaurant in the envelope. We wanted to make it easy for them to start their own tradition, if they wanted to. We’ll do the same thing this year. Sowing into their marriage feels like sowing directly into God’s Kingdom, and we’re grateful to do it.

We’re giving generously to our garbage and recycling guys.

This is one I come by honestly – it’s straight from the brain of my mom :) Growing up, she’d always leave a Subway gift card and bag of peanut butter balls on top of our trash and recycling cans in December, and honestly, I thought it was weird – ha!

But I also just thought it was normal, and sure enough, when we moved into our own home a decade ago, I taped a colorful (eye-catching!) thank you note, a Jersey Mike’s gift card (we usually do $20 – enough for two guys in each truck), and a bag of peanut butter balls to the top of each can one Wednesday in December. I can only hope my children will think this is weird and then grow up to do the same thing, too.

Of course, I’d love to hear: big or small, how are you being generous this season? This group always has the best ideas.

December 2023 goals

1 December 2023

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!

A quick snap of my favorite shoes at my dear friend Libby’s brand-new play cafe in Raleigh! Triangle friends with littles, you must go visit!

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!

— These Liberty-print toiletry bags from the grown-up stocking guide
— My (and June’s) favorite modern monogrammed notepads that I put on both the kid and grown-up gift guides
Vuori’s joggers – hoping I find some under my own tree :)
— One of our very favorite toys – this adorable ice cream set!
— The cutest animal sticky notes. Splitting them up for each kids’ stocking!

Plus lots and lots of orders for Christmas books – makes me so happy!

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.

My reading list for 2023! I’m 21.5 / 24 so far for the year!

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.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

A chocolate chip cookie party

29 November 2023

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… :)

Yoto giveaway on Substack!

24 November 2023

Hello, friends! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Just a quick note today to point you toward my 2023 gift posts, if they might be helpful with Black Friday shopping. They are:

Gifts for Em (gift ideas for yourself or the ladies in your life)
Gifts for Everyone You Love (gift ideas for parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters)
Stocking Stuffers for Kids and Grown-Ups (including what we’re giving this year)
What We’re Actually Giving Our Kids This Christmas (gift ideas for your favorite kids, inspired by mine)

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.

So thankful for you all! More to come!