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Christmas Task Elf For Hire

13 Nov
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image // Pexels.com

I read a book a long time ago called The Five Love Languages, and wasn’t at all surprised to learn that one of my “love languages” is essentially giving gifts. What that means specifically is that the way I prefer to show my love for friends and family is through gifting. Considering how much I spend at T.J Maxx, Marshal’s and Homegoods on a regular basis, picking up “just a little something” for my godsons, or “something silly for my sister, because she’s having a tough week,” plus the fact that I had a gift wrapping station IN my office once upon a time should tell you everything.

I just love everything that goes into gifting — start to finish, from thinking up and shopping for the gift itself to beautifully wrapping it, to seeing it opened. Here are a few “Gift Guides” I’ve put together over the years: Gift Ideas for CommutersGift Guide for Female Co-workers, and my very popular Gift Guide for Minimalists. I usually start by think about the person and what they love. I’ll consider what they’re interested in and then think through things they need, but don’t have. It’s like a puzzle and when it involves roving around the aisles of some of my favorite shopping haunts, to me, it’s basically heaven. My brain is in overdrive thinking of who I know who could most use the goodies I discover. Often I’ll think of my own new purchases and consider if it, or something in a similar vein, might be suitable for them as well.


For example, I love to be outside in our garden, so as the temperatures have dropped and we prepare for winter, I’ve been trying to eek out as much time on our patio as I can, taking in the last of the fall foliage dotting out tree-lined yard. I want to sip my coffee without bundling up in a huge coat, so I had the thought: what if we had some dedicated blankets specifically intended for outdoor use. My mom is also a garden-fiend and often takes her morning coffee outdoors as well — I bet she’d love a heavy duty “garden” blanket. Maybe something by Pendleton, or a fleece-lined camping quilt from L.L Bean.

Usually the next place my mind goes is how to round out the gift, thematically. If I was gifting a cozy blanket for my mom to enjoy outside each morning, maybe I’d supplement the blanket gift with a bag of coffee beans from a coffee shop she’s never tried, a new insulated thermos (I LOVE and own this Aladdin Heritage one that looks kind of vintage) and an insulated coffee mug to keep her morning brew nice and hot.

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image // Pexels.com

For wrapping, I love wrapping paper almost as much as I love a good book. I absolutely abhor gift bags, because what is the fun in pulling tissue paper out of a gift bag?! I think everyone loves to excitedly tear into a beautifully wrapped gift, right? Plus, the patterns of my gift wrap selections are so stunning, sometimes I just walk into my office and gaze longingly at them, sad that they’re not being put to use. I could probably spend $1000, easy in the Paper Source Store, on gift wrap and adorable boxes alone. But I’ve also made gift tags and wrapping papers myself in the past. One year, I even cut up Crate and Barrel Christmas shopping bags to make gift tags because the designs were just too pretty. I remember sharing them on social media and Crate and Barrel AND the artist who created the design motifs actually tweeted me back! 

I’ve been wracking my brain to think how I could help busy people around the holidays with their “Christmas tasks” and here is what I’ve come up with:

– Christmas card organization
Digitize and update address lists, design and print addressee labels, order return address labels, pick up the stamps and, if desired, assemble and mail

– Christmas gift list
Organize and create gift list based on likes/interests/wants/needs.

Wrapping
This could be fun to do with the client, more like a tutorial session where we work together to creatively wrap all packages. If desired, I could deliver or post whatever needs to be sent off.

If you, or someone you know would like some assistance managing your Christmas task list, please leave a comment or reach out to me on Facebook. Referrals who mention this post will receive $15 off their first 2-hour help session. 

 

 

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My Favorite Christmas Gifts, or Gift Ideas for the Casual Minimalist

7 Jan

For a few years now — and not just since having children — I’ve found myself moving more and more toward a modest sort of minimalism. All the STUFF cluttering my life, from the zillions of phone pics to my packed closet tipped me to a point of constant aggravation, frustration and lack of appreciation for my belongings, so I’ve been slowly cleaning out and lightening up and it has made such a difference.

So, with Christmas behind us and a successful trial of a NEW approach to Christmas gifting in the bag that I’ll post about soon, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my OWN favorite Christmas gifts. And in the spirit of not contributing to landfills, many of these are consumable goods – or recycled.

  1. Christmas ornaments
    I constantly find adorable, sentimental or hysterical ornaments that remind me of friends or family as I shop for Christmas each year. This year my sister was the recipient of a hysterical, leggy, bespectacled Hedwig-like owl and a garland of llamas that I just couldn’t stop tittering over in the aisles of T.J Maxx. These were the gifts I was MOST excited to see her open on Christmas day. The thing is, unless there is a birth, wedding, or anniversary, I don’t think many people think to gift ornaments or decor. But as a sentimental Christmas lover, I can’t think of anything better. And it’s far more fun to decorate a tree covered in ornaments gifted by family and friends over the years than tearing through Target and filling a cart with themed ornaments just for the sake of having a fully decorated tree.I’m hoping to begin an ornament exchange with friends NEXT year, but I wanted to also mention a brilliant idea I saw at a bridal shower recently. The “wishing well” suggested guests bring a Christmas ornament for the newlyweds tree — aww! Finally, (and this is definitely NOT in the spirit of minimalism), I’d love to do a Secret Santa with my siblings but with a twist and that is to seek out the most ridiculous Christmas decor they can find. We’d all end up building our decor collections, have a laugh, and end up with decor we can cherish (and laugh over) for years to come.
  2. A playlist
    I’m the laziest music lover ever so a thoughtful selection of songs for my Spotify playlist makes me happier than you could imagine. Bonus points if it’s a gym mix or for easy listening.
  3. Citrus Fruit from Florida
    When I was growing up, my paternal grandparents retired to Florida but would send an absolutely enormous box of oranges and grapefruits up to us shortly after Thanksgiving every year. The cardboard package usually arrived dinged and worse for the wear, but the contents within might as well have been glowing jewels. To this day, I find myself stockpiling citrus around the holidays. After mentioning this memory to my husband last Christmas, he surprised me with an early January shipment of my Florida favorites and it was one of the gifts I’ve most wished for a repeat of.
  4. Lenox Holiday “Holly” china
    We were ecstatic to celebrate our first Christmas in our new house last year and I love family traditions, (particularly if they’re related to food), so when I found a beautifully patterned Lenox Holiday china set, there wasn’t too much persuading that needed to happen to convince Brian that we should begin a collection to break out for use starting on November 1st.We added just 4 place settings that first Christmas and plan to add to it over time, but shortly after I started to search secondhand for a few more pieces, we were actually gifted a 2-tier server by a college friend’s mom who heard we were collecting. Talk about a wonderful memory to carry with us through the years of holiday gatherings.
  5. Any meaningful family treasure
    There is a photo of me as a toddler sitting on a wrought iron couch in my grandparent’s yard. Today, that same couch sits in my backyard, newly sandblasted and repainted and absolutely treasured because it belonged to my grandmother. My grandparents are both gone so it’s all the more meaningful to have something of theirs that is a part of my everyday life. As much as my grandma talked about the jewelry she’d leave for me one day, it’s her patio set that my family can enjoy today that keeps my grandparents alive for me today.

  6. Your favorite X, Y or Z
    My husbands’s aunt and uncle visited us just before Thanksgiving and thoughtfully brought along Uncle Greg’s favorite bottle of wine. Love it. Love wine. And love that I now have a tried and true bottle to add to my “Wines I love” list without having to do any legwork to hunt down an excellent bottle. Similarly, I’m an in-denial coffee drinker. I don’t seek out the best beans because, in my mind, I don’t actually drink coffee. My coffee pot would sing a different tune since I shouldn’t even be conversed with until I’m at least two huge cups in. Thankfully, one of my best friends is a well traveled coffee aficionado who regularly sends me the best beans from wherever she had been. (Thanks, Lauren!)
  7. A box of books
    My college friend Stef deserves credit for this one. One of her favorite gifts she once told me is simply “a box of box” from her parents each Christmas. Mostly found used, it’s just a curated collection of books the giver thinks the recipient would enjoy. An EMPHATIC YES. Is there anything better than a good book recommendation? A box of books takes it a step further so it’s perfect for a busy student or mom. I don’t read as much as I did before I had kids, but that’s often because I don’t have a book at the ready. This would go a ways in solving that problem and doubly, eliminates a lot of waste since I’d probably pass the books along once I’d read them.
  8. Absolutely ANYTHING from Patagonia
    OK, maybe not a hiking pack. I was thinking more in the realm of a half-zip sweater or a sweatshirt. I own just two Patagonia items and they are probably worn more than anything else in my wardrobe. Plus, I love everything the brand stands for. This could extend to anything you know your gift recipient doesn’t have or could use a “Best” version of. I finally broke down and invested in Bean boots a few years ago and they’re one of the most-used items in my wardrobe. I’ve got them in my gift arsenal for anyone who says they could use a pair of boots because they’re amazing.
  9. Spotify subscription
    I work in digital marketing and design but have managed to keep my personal life reasonably “unplugged.” I’m not what you’d call an early adopter — ever. I owe my early adoption of Spotify to my co-worker Dan, the developer at my old digital agency for introducing the magic of Spotify into my life. I recently learned that Spotify will now work with Amazon’s Alexa, so you can command the device to play whatever you want to hear on command. For me, this magic because my iTunes collection is a disaster and I rarely have the songs I want to hear at the moment in my library. For any music lover, I think Spotify is a must.
  10. Holiday-specific treats
    After discovering TapasAddict on Instagram just after Thanksgiving, all I wanted to snack on while we decorated, wrapped presents and watched Christmas movies, was antipasto and charcuterie boards. Around this time, a Harry & David catalog made it’s way into my holiday mail pile and it set in motion, what turned out to be one of the easiest and most well-received holiday gift-giving experiences ever. In case you’re not familiar, Harry & David are famous for their absolutely perfect pears but also, their gourmet treats — Moose Munch and Chocolate Covered cherries are just a few of my personal favorites. I ordered everyone some iteration of their tower of treats and called it a day. Everyone who got one LOVED it and I had nearly all my shopping done (online) well before the first of December.

I’ve always prided myself on my thoughtful selection of gifts for friends and family, but as life gets more chaotic with a growing family, what brings me the most peace is to make space in my life which has largely meant minimizing all the stuff. I’m not depriving myself or my family, but… I’m choosier and more mindful of what I bring into my home. Christmas can often be a time of mindless spending and needless consumption, so I hope you find this Minimalist gift list useful. I’m not joking when I say these are among my favorite gifts I’ve ever received. And since starting to give them back to friends and family, I’m finding they are loving them too.

 

Our Sentimental Ornament Tradition

20 Dec

IMG_4331Longtime readers of this blog already know that Brian and I absolutely adore Christmas. It was a love we shared early in our relationship which is largely why our tree today is covered in sentimental ornaments we’ve collected or made together over the years. It all started when we visited the Newport Mansions all decked out in holiday grandeur on a date the first winter we were together. As we were leaving one of the mansion’s gift shops, I spotted a little roly-poly penguin (I LOVE penguins) with little shoes attached with springs that I just had to have. He’s one of the more random ornaments, and special for just that reason. He’s been gracing our Christmas tree ever since and our ornament tradition was born.

We don’t grab an ornament on every outing, but anytime we travel or do something special, we keep an eye out for something unique. It doesn’t necessary even have to be an ornament. On a trip to DC with Brian’s parents and grandparents, I couldn’t find anything I liked so I just grabbed some postcards. A few ornament hooks later and ta-dah: the perfect memento from our trip. Likewise, on our “Babymoon” back in 2015, we selected a beautiful, very delicate ornament made entirely of seashells. It doesn’t have “Sanibel Island” or “babymoon” emblazoned anywhere on it, but that makes it that much more precious and important to talk about with our daughter so she learns its significance and can share in our memory of what that trip meant to us as we excitedly awaited her arrival.IMG_4344To commemorate our first trip to Martha’s Vineyard together the summer after we got engaged, we picked up this lighthouse ornament. And to remember a trip in to NYC to see the tree at Rockefeller, we chose — what else — a glittery Rockefeller Christmas tree ornament. I think we found this one at one of the Christmas market stalls in Bryant Park actually.
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I like to write on the backs of the ornaments too, so it’s like a walk down memory lane each Christmas as we unpack our decorations and dress up our tree.IMG_4338

Once Emilia arrived, there wasn’t a question that she’d grace our tree in some fashion, so I started turning each year’s Christmas card into an ornament through Shutterfly. It was probably one of my more brilliant ideas for a number of reasons, but mainly: doing Christmas cards is a LOT OF WORK. In addition to figuring out the photo to use which more often than note requires booking a professional, there is coordinating everyone’s hair and outfits, finding tights and shoes, then finding the perfect card design, and finally, getting the address list prepped for a marathon envelope addressing session. Finally, there’s the postage.

Suffice it to say, if I’m going to all the trouble to craft this magical piece of post for our family, I am going to splurge and commemorate each year’s card with an ornament. I also love to see how our collection (and our family) has changed through the years.
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Some of the secrets to our success with a toddler and a tree: start them young. We’ve never had to gate ours off or move to all plastic ornaments because we just taught our daughter from a young age that she can only touch the ornaments “with one finger” and that she can hold absolutely anything she wants, but she just needs to ask Mama or Daddy to get it for her and to not pull it off the tree herself. We also wire the tree to the wall and I secure anything delicate or precious using a little loop of floral wire so it’s really stuck on there. And I hang the more fragile breakables just out of her reach.

For her second Christmas, when the tree was endlessly fascinating for her, I actually kept a selection of her favorite ornaments in a basket just underneath the tree or her to look at, play with and place on the tree if she liked. It worked out well — she got to play with the ornaments she loved, like a little puppy figurine that belonged to Brian as a kid — and I didn’t have to hover around her anytime she approached the tree.

IMG_4324I must really love this one design because I’ve just realized in putting together this post that I’ve used the same design for three consecutive years without realizing it. Oops!
We also make a point to gift at least one special ornament to Emilia each Christmas, too. This year, Caroline, will join in on the fun. Here is the sweet glass snowman I chose for Emilia last year. I usually try to stay away from glass ornaments because why risk the heart ache of a broken treasure, but I couldn’t resist this one. As a Christmas color traditionalist, the colors are giving me major Tiffany’s Christmas catalog vibes and I love the slightly wistful, nostalgic nod with the retro-looking snowflakes. I feel like this ornament is the embodiment of Christmas spirit actually? Look at that little snowman face. Adorable. IMG_4330

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One of my favorites is this ornament from our first family trip to San Diego. Emilia was just about to turn 7 months old and officially crawled for the first time at our hotel there. She was such a champ on the flights and was the BEST companion to explore with. IMG_4333And finally, here is one of my favorite ornaments of all that my parents gave me when I was growing up. I was in the music program all through school and performed at both Symphony Hall and Tanglewood with my high school orchestra. It was incredible to have that experience as a kid! When I graduated, one of the most bittersweet moments was my final performance of Hallelujah Chorus in the Christmas concert with the full orchestra. Unwrapping and placing this particular ornament always reminds me how luck I was to have been involved in that program.

I made a LOT of ornaments when I was growing up too, so some of those also grace our tree in addition to ornaments that Brian was gifted as he grew. A few years ago, Brian and I filled some clear glass ornaments with paint for a fun, swirled effect, and last year, I did salt down cut outs and hand prints with Emilia.

I’m still looking for this year’s ornament project inspiration, but so far, I’ve already thought to scan a piece of her artwork and have it printed to an ornament and will likely turn some of her “school” projects into ornaments as well. She did the cutest little reindeer handprint complete with a red pom-pom nose that is just begging to go on the tree.

I think as the girls grow older, I’ll let each select an ornament for the other each year to fill out the tree that is in Emilia’s room now. Right now, it’s just decked out with a felt ball garland.

Merry-almost-Christmas, everyone!