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!

What we’re actually giving our kids this Christmas

21 November 2023

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.

June made an extensive wish list this year, so there were no shortage of gift options from which to select! I know relatives have already claimed a rainbow loom kit, a Squishmallow, a belt bag, and her American Girl doll’s dog. Other ideas from her list: a gift card to our local paint-your-own pottery place, No Stress Chess, a crochet kit, a tie-dye set, and the Land of Stories book set.

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. Eep! I had two friends reach out and say this fort builder set was a bust at their houses – hard to put together for kids and hard to store. Bummer, because the reviews are great! We opted to return it and get a USA soccer jersey instead :)
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.

Other ideas I gave to relatives: the Magic Tree House boxed set for numbers 16-29, Racko, a Nerf gun, a sword and shield set, a USA Soccer or Charlotte FC jersey, and a gift card for our local trampoline park.

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 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 AssetsTicket 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!

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

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Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids and Grown-Ups

17 November 2023

Stocking stuffers! I love them! After all, what’s better than miniature-sized gifts designed simply to delight, and an excellent opportunity to shop small businesses, to boot?! I’ve done the legwork for us and rounded up some of my very favorite stocking stuffers for kids, women, and men. Of course, depending on how you distribute your budget, some of these would make excellent under-the-tree gifts, too. You get to choose!

Items marked with an * are ones we own.

Stocking Stuffers for Kids:

My philosophy for kids’ stockings (and, really, stockings in general): I’d rather spend a bit more money to stuff with things I know they’ll need, use, and keep over trinkets that don’t cost much but will be quickly tossed. Add something sweet and/or consumable and a little dash of silly fun, and you’ve got yourself a stocking!

Liberty-print headband* | I put one of these in June’s Easter basket and it is a favorite. The only hard part is picking a pattern!

— A resin flower keychain or a colorful tassel version

— The sweetest magic wands for imaginative play

— New socks. These* are my favorite, since the size is printed right on the sole, making them easier to pass down!

— Harry Potter magnetic bookmarks*

— Any felted ornament from this most delightful shop

Animal sticky notes*. These are going in June’s stocking this year and I predict she’ll go nuts.

— The perfect family game* for on-the-go. Or this one*!

Colorful streamers* for a bike or scooter

Mini Squishmallows! I’ll give one to each child in their stocking, share a few with my sister, and save the rest for Easter baskets and friend birthdays throughout the year.

— A new water bottle*, since they always seem to break or go missing. Our kids are very into putting stickers (like these*!) on theirs.

— Our favorite detangling spray*

— Bookmarks, tees, stickers, slim tumblers, and more for book lovers big and small – all with the cutest illustrations. The book trivia card set looks so fun!

— The sweetest starter earrings for girls! June has been curious about getting her ears pierced, and this shop is where I’ll turn when she’s ready. Or go for the stick-on variety.*

— Mini “passports” to record his or her drawings, trips, hikes, and more*

— A petite wallet* for toting her allowance

— Super sneaky spy glasses

— Darling floral and embroidered hair clips

— Our very favorite bath bombs*. I put one or two in each stocking and save the rest for other occasions!

— A colorful, personalized notepad* – a favorite of June’s!

— A small Jellycat Bashful stuffie* – the softest and cutest of them all

— New fleece gloves in a tie-dye pattern

— Yoto cards* (I cash in our Yoto Club credits a few times a year and save some for stockings!)

— A rolled-up paint-by-sticker book*

Road tape* for cars on the go

— Electric toothbrushes*, since both of the olders requested them. Wish granted.

— TicTacs* and Ice Breakers* – very exciting to our kids. Also truffles* – so fancy!

— The cutest bandaids*. Welly is always a win in our household and I know they’ll go nuts for the dog pack!

— Speaking of dogs… this card game*. Going in June’s stocking.

Scissors*! You can never have too many scissors.

— A Bentgo snack box*

Of course, I would be remiss to write a stocking post and not mention my best gals’ genius business, Persnickety Gifts! If you want this whole process to be done in a snap, and support small businesses along the way, simply choose one of their themed bundles and call it a day. The Add-On Shop is also the perfect spot to pick up a few curated items in one place if you don’t need a whole bundle!

Stocking Stuffers for Men:

After 11 years of marriage and almost 19 years together, John and I still do not see eye to eye on stockings. We grew up with very different traditions: in John’s family, there were maybe five items in the stockings, only kids had them, and they were opened before the grown-ups came downstairs. In my family, on the other hand, stockings were a major event: they were large and stuffed full and opened one by one with oohs and ahhs.

Because of this, I gladly take the lead on stuffing every stocking in my family, including my own (more on that below!). While stocking stuffers for men are tough, here are a few ideas that would work for my guy and perhaps for yours!

— Interesting salsa or hot sauce. There’s a local foods store near us where I always pick up a jar or two.

— Fun noodles* to perk up his weekday homemade ramen lunch (also these) and hot honey chili crunch*

Chomps meat sticks or beef jerky

Bombas for the men, as well, naturally

— Rechargeable hand warmers! Or just go for the classic version :)

— A digital meat thermometer. Our house needs one of these!

— The sunscreen* I wear 365 days a year. Glides on smoothly, feels like nothing at all, protects like nothing else. John uses it now, too!

Kitchen shears for cutting open meat packages, snipping herbs, and all sorts of things

— A tiny white noise machine* (perfect for travel – not just for kids!)

— Beloved couples’ conversation cards

— Tiny magnets* for a minimal look on the fridge

— All the goodies from Trader Joe’s! They always have sweet and savory items that feel fun.

Stocking Stuffers for Women:

Yes, I stuff 90% of my own stocking, too, and honestly? It’s a delight. I include little luxuries I might not normally buy but feel confident I’ll love… which is the benefit of buying for yourself :)

Liberty print toiletry bags | So cute and reasonably priced for Liberty! Again, the hardest part is choosing just one pattern.

Citrus rimming sugar or citrus and rose bath salts from my friend Katie’s shop

— The sunscreen* I wear 365 days a year. Glides on smoothly, feels like nothing at all, protects like nothing else.

— Bombas ankle socks*, the best socks that also give back

— Harry Potter magnetic bookmarks*

— The cutest (understated) bow hair ties

— My everyday night moisturizer* in a travel size

Block-print cotton napkins* that can be thrown in the wash

— A petite beauty item that feels like a luxury, like a Merit bronze balm* (I have it in Seine), the creamiest (and easiest to use) highlighter* (I have it in Cosmic Dancer), the Merit blending brush*, or the best tan drops (I mix one into my moisturizer every other night – a bottle lasts forever!).

Dry drops,* the polish remover pot,* and cuticle serum* from Olive & June. Truly excellent, all of them!

— A makeup eraser*, the easiest way to remove eye and face makeup

— A shower speaker for sudsy tunes

— Bookmarks, tees, stickers, slim tumblers, and more for book lovers big and small – all with the cutest illustrations

— A chocolate orange… always in the toe!

Of course, feel free to mix and match to your liking with any of these suggestions… you know your people best! Happy stuffing! :)

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