December 9, 2016

What We're Giving the Girls This Year

Last year, one of my most popular posts was about what we were giving the girls for Christmas.

I mean, a gift guide is all well and good. But what are normal people actually buying? (My mom would definitely make a joke here about how normal anyone in our family really is).

Last year, I said we'd do five gifts for each of them, with a mix of toys and activities, but then we forgot to ever actually buy the hula hoops, so it ended up being 4 gifts each, and that seemed just about right, so we're doing the same again this year.

Fun and affordable gifts for little girls!

For Ella (who is six and a half):

1. Camelot Jr. I've heard rave reviews about these games for YEARS and Ella loves any sort of puzzle or logic game, so I think this will be a big hit, and I'm hopeful that Ani will be able to do it too.
2. Hula Hoop. They beg to play with these every time we walk past the display at the store, and I think they'll get a lot of use over the next couple of years (I may be inclined to use them too, after this baby is born and I'm thinking about getting back in shape).
3. Color Changing Pen. This has been, hilariously, the one thing she's asked for over the last four months. $3.50 and everything you've ever wanted can be yours.
4. Reading light. She likes to read in the car, but it gets tricky as the days get shorter or when we're on road trips (and I live in fear of forgetting to turn off the lights in the car), so this is perfect.
5. Shopping CartMy sister has raved about these, and my girls love this kind of thing, so when it was on sale a few days ago, I jumped on it. This one is actually a group gift for all the girls (will there be tears over sharing? Probably).

For Ani (who just turned four):

1. Hoot Owl Hoot. I'm always on the lookout for things we can all play together that are non-competitive, plus the reviews were so stellar, that I didn't take a lot of convincing to add this to our collection.
2. Hula Hoop. Because one hula hoop isn't as good as two.
3. Purple Clock. Ella has had a clock since she was about 2.5 so she wouldn't come out of her room too early in the morning, but Ani usually sleeps in so much that we've never gotten her one. This year, though, her Christmas list included one.
4. Wet Brush. Ani has such gorgeous hair, but it gets tangled really easily and she's super sensitive to having it brushed, so this was an obvious choice. I've heard so many recommendations for this brush, plus it comes in purple, which is Ani's favorite color, so hopefully it'll be a double win.

For Star (who will be 2 in February):

1. Hula Hoop. I'm sure she won't be able to use it, but if the other girls get one and she doesn't, she'll be very sad. She's convinced she's one of the big kids.
2. Lambie Doll. Bart bought one of these for Ani for her birthday, and Star immediately grabbed it, snuggled it under her arm, and bounced around the living room with a huge grin, singing, "I so happy! I so happy!" There were tears when she discovered it didn't, actually, belong to her. So . . . she'll be getting one for Christmas.
3. Baby Stroller. We have two of these and they are some of the MOST popular toys in our house, and she would be thrilled to have one of her own to push around in (or to make her sisters push her around in, which is adorable and probably against all the manufacturer instructions).

As far as stockings go, we're doing:

1. Harmonicas. I may live to regret this choice, but they love Bart's harmonica so much that I can't help but want to give them each their own. (My parents, who we're spending Christmas with, may be very happy to see us leave. . . ).
2. Jump Ropes. They've been asking about these ever since they learned how to jump rope this summer with their cousins, and I'm hopeful they'll be a good energy-burning activity in the basement this coming summer.
3. Candy. Because, what's a Christmas stocking without some candy?
4. Washi Tape. My girls are obsessed with this stuff. A couple of rolls each and they'll be in heaven (and my house will be covered with washi tape).
5. Magnetic Book Marks. These woodland creature bookmarks that don't damage your books are too cute. I also love the robot versions.

What are you getting your kids? I'd love to hear!

December 8, 2016

Shiny Gold Christmas Cards

One big plus of moving as much as we have is that we now get a LOT of Christmas cards.

Last year, we filled up both of the arches in our entry way, and it made me happy all month long to see the faces of friends and family spread all over the country, from Boston to North Carolina to Texas to Utah.

Last year, it was kind of a scramble to get family photos taken, but this year we had family photos taken at our home in October and then a few weeks later in California, we had photos taken with my family that included shots of our individual family.

So this year, when it came time to order our Christmas cards, we had plenty of options to choose from.

We ended up using a shot from our California shoot because, as Bart said, "How often do you have photos where you're wearing a tux?"

I've always loved Minted's holiday cards, and every year, when I collect cards at the mailbox, I can tell without even opening the card which ones are from them.

They have so many beautiful details, like the beautiful printing on the envelopes and the metallic foils, and nobody makes nicer paper than they do.

This year, I knew months ago that I wanted to do our Christmas cards through Minted, so I was delighted when they offered to partner with me for our family Christmas cards this year.

Right after Thanksgiving, Bart and I sat down to pick out a design for our card, and we knew immediately we wanted one of the gold foil ones. It just was such a nice match with our dressy photo, plus there's something about Christmas that makes me want gold everything.

I also love that you can choose your photo and they'll show it in every card preview so you know right off the bat if the card design works for your photo or if the printing will go right over your darling child's face. It makes scrolling through all the options much less overwhelming.

When possible, I always like our cards to have a little letter/update on them (even though I find it very stressful to actually figure out what to include in that update), plus Bart and I were both dying to use this photo of Star driving that car, so we added a backside with the photo and a little blurb about each of us.

And I love how there are so many simple ways to customize your cards, from personalized stamps to the skinny wrap return address labels.

Also, I very much doubt I will ever order cards again in my life that don't include envelope addressing. I don't love my handwriting, plus addressing by hand takes forever. We created a spreadsheet of all our Christmas card addresses back in 2009 and each year, we just cruise through it, update as needed, and then we're good to go.

With Minted, you can upload that spreadsheet straight into their system and your envelopes will come all pre-addressed and ready to send (and if you have names that you're waiting on addresses for, you can just have the name printed for those ones and add the addresses when they arrive).

And then once mine are in the mail, I can just sit back and watch all the other Christmas cards arrive. (If you haven't ordered Christmas cards yet, it's not too late! You have until the 13th to order them and still have time to get them out to your recipients by Christmas!).

Also, Minted is giving away three sets of $100 of Minted credit to use on anything you want, whether it's art for your wall, the coolest double-sided Christmas tree skirts you've ever seen, or holiday wrapping, cards, or cake stands - just hop over here to enter!

The giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. and will run until midnight on 12/11 so you'll have time to order holiday cards. 

December 7, 2016

A Birthday for a Four-Year-Old

A fun personalized gift for birthdays and holidays!

This post is sponsored by Lost My Name

Today, Ani turned four.

Her favorite game for the last many months has been when I say, "You can't turn four! You have to stay a little girl. How about you turn two instead?" She'll laugh her head off and request this line of discussion over and over again.

She's the little night owl in our family, and routinely stays up in her room playing or singing songs for an hour or two after we put the girls to bed. She'll usually come out a time or two for no reason and I'll have to make up a reason for her ("Did you need one last hug?"), or she'll just stand there forever.

While Ella wakes up if you breathe too loudly in her direction, Ani sleeps like a rock. I can vacuum in her room, sort through books, or tidy up her room after she's fallen asleep, and she won't twitch an eyelid.

This fall, we joined a preschool co-op and she LIVES for those days. It's been great for her to have a couple of hours away from Ella with her own friends, and I love hearing her reports about what they've done or showing off the crafts they made. I was deeply hesitant about the time commitment, but teaching every 6 weeks has been completely worth how much she loves it, and she's really connected with one of the little girls in the group and watching them play together is the most darling thing I've ever seen.

She's super good-natured 95% of the time, but when something makes her mad, she's MAD and it's basically impossible to talk her out of a tantrum. She and Ella definitely know how to push each other's buttons, but when they get along, it's just so sweet. The other night, they wanted to sleep together in Bart's office/guest room and we could hear them giggling down there for nearly an hour (after which they both decided they liked their own beds better and went off to their individual rooms for the night).

We've tried to focus more this year on having some one-on-one time with the girls, and Bart and I have both commented on how different Ani is when she's by herself with one of us. She's super chatty, extra affectionate, and just such a little delight to take along, plus she's always so happy to be having a date with one of us.

My mom asked recently what Ani might like for her birthday, and I told her, "Honestly, she'll be happy with anything. She's so easy to make happy."

She also LOVES books, and nothing warms my heart like walking by her room and seeing her on her bed with a book propped up against her knees.

A fun personalized gift for birthdays and holidays!

She's not remotely close to reading (she doesn't even quite know all her letters yet), but she will carefully look at every page and is amazingly good at figuring out what the basic storyline is based on the illustrations.

Also, because her real name starts with S, this is by far her favorite letter, and she's always pointing it out when she sees it anywhere.

A fun personalized gift for birthdays and holidays!

One of the gifts we gave her for her birthday was this fun book, Lost My Name, from this nifty start-up that makes personalized books with your child's name woven throughout the storyline and illustrations (they also make books where you travel through space looking for your house and it uses a Google Maps photo of your neighborhood, which is pretty awesome).

A fun personalized gift for birthdays and holidays!

You can customize the book for your child in about five minutes, and it makes for a really fun, unique gift.  I think especially with so many sisters, my girls are particularly thrilled by anything that's personalized to them, so this was a major hit.

A fun personalized gift for birthdays and holidays!

We also got the alphabet poster to hang in her room (and maybe help her learn the last few letters that she hasn't picked up yet), and I love the pretty colors it comes in, as well as the cute illustrations.

I mentioned last year on her birthday that she was obsessed with her pacis and we'd probably let her keep them another six months or so, but just a few days after her third birthday, her beloved one broke and she tossed it in the garbage without a second glance. She'd never liked actually putting the other ones in her mouth, so after a couple of days, she threw those away too.

Now, her most beloved sleep item is a pink blanket with a dog print on it that a friend made for Ella when she was born. The "dog blanket" is constantly getting dragged around and she always asks for it when she's sad or tired (you can see it folded at the bottom of her bed in some of these photos).

She's a super helper and enjoys vacuuming, cleaning the mirrors, and watering the plants. But ask her to put away toys and you might as well ask her to climb Mount Everest.  

This afternoon, we'll have a little gingerbread house party with some of her friends, we bought a super sugary cereal for her breakfast this morning, and we had our traditional birthday week dinner at Grimaldi's earlier in the week. I love celebrating their birthdays and letting them know how much I love them, just for being them.

Happy birthday, little monkey.


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