Christmas Cards 2014

19 December 2014

Usually I like to make a fun little graphic showing how the voting on potential Christmas card designs panned out, since y’all are so generous to give us your opinions! This year, however, there was a landslide winner, and it was the favorite in our household, too…

minted-christmas-card

We chose the Snowy Love and Joy card by Tuleppe from Minted. We don’t get too many flakes down South, and I just couldn’t resist adding a few flurries to our card!

minted-holiday-card

Thanks again to our dear friend Meredith Perdue for this lovely photo of us! And thanks to Natalie and Joe for having a wedding in 2014 and making us look good :) (By the way – stay tuned for a peek at their celebration in January!)

christmas-card-newsletter

I love creating our newsletter because it gives us a chance to look back on our year and share our favorite parts. Unsurprisingly, our California trip took pride of place in 2014!

love-and-joy-christmas-card

Thanks to Minted, however, I feel like the scene stealer this year was the envelope! I LOVED their new designed options. Though I didn’t take advantage of their free (!) addressing service this year, I can guarantee you I will in the future!

minted-envelope-addressing

Though I enjoy hand-addressing our envelopes at the moment, it’s not a deal breaker for me. There are two things, however, that are. First, it’s important to us that our Christmas cards are not all about us. We send them out at Christmas to share our joy at the birth of our Savior with the people we love the most, and we want to remind people of that in a personal way. That’s why we include a few thoughts on what Christmas means to us, and a favorite piece of scripture.

Second, I refuse to send cards out without a handwritten note. I know a lot of folks do so, and I can understand why, but I view our Christmas cards as a touchpoint for friends and family that I don’t get to see or talk to as much as I would like, and I want it to be a truly personal one. And don’t worry, I didn’t forget y’all :)

christmas-card-with-note

Hope you love them!

P.S. Our 2013 and 2012 Christmas cards

Gifts for Em

15 December 2014

We finished up our Christmas shopping for one side of the family this weekend, and so far have been pretty good about not buying things for ourselves in the process. Still, there are a few things I’m wishing for this year, and I thought I’d share them, as it’s become a bit of a tradition!

gifts-for-em-2014

A. We bought a king size bed and new sheets a month or so ago, but are still using an old blanket. I’d love to upgrade to this quilt!
B. I’ve only ever asked someone what jeans she was wearing once, and these were the answer. These might be at the top of my list this year.
C. We cook at home six nights out of seven. These three cookbooks come highly recommended by friends and look like they’d keep us busy!
D. I bought these pumps for my sister as a birthday gift, then borrowed them, and now I want my own pair.
E. Still haven’t replaced my Toms – hoping someone else will do it for me! :)
F. Love the cognac color of these classic flats
G. Sigh – I know this scarf is sold out, but maybe they’ll restock it? It’s back in stock!! The J.Crew fairies read my blog! :)

What’s on the top of your wish list this year?

Our new red front door!

10 December 2014

While I really adore our home’s curb appeal, the one thing I knew I’d want to change down the line was the color of our front door. When we bought the house it was maroon – already not my favorite color, but on top of that, our door is set back under a big overhang, so it kind of looked like a dark hole.

maroon-front-door

I wanted something brighter and more fun, and considered poppy red and haint blue. Y’all gave such thoughtful comments back here, but I think the gold star goes to our friend Nancy: I think red would look beautiful and patriotic and New-Englandy, which represents your roots. Also, we share hearts of patriotism, and I think that a red door would be well suited in the Thomas household. (Not to mention it would tie in perfectly with that pretty American flag!)

Between her convincing arguments and John’s dislike for anything that even approaches Carolina blue, we decided a cheery red was the way to go. We pulled paint chips, and ended up liking California Poppy by Behr the best. That’s it over on the left:

red-paint-chips

We bought the top of the line Behr exterior paint, which is primer and paint in one. Prep was pretty easy – we taped the major parts, including the handle/lock; filled in one gouge from moving day with wood filler; and wiped down the door to get rid of any dust/pollen. Then we waited for a not-too-warm, not-too-cold, dry day, and brushed on the first coat!

painting-our-front-door-red

After which, it looked… pretty much the same, except dingier. All told, I ended up doing four coats with several days in between each, and in the end, I think it looks pretty good! A few tips I learned along the way:

1. I liked using an angled brush, no foam roller.
2. As Sherry recommended, I painted the inside of each panel first, then the flat planks around them and between them, always going in the direction of the planks. I worked upward to do the vertical and horizontal planks in the middle, then at the end dragged from top to bottom to do the vertical parts on each side.
3. I figured I could get away without priming since we used an all in one paint and the color we were painting over was fairly similar, but in hindsight, I might have been able to do fewer coats if I had started with a separate primer.
4. When I removed the tape around the hardware, a few chips of paint came off (very annoying). This probably could have been avoided if I had removed the hardware instead of taping around it, but since I painted over several days, I think it would have been more annoying to remove and replace the hardware four times.

before-and-after

This was a fairly easy project, and I’d definitely recommend it as a little front porch pick-me-up! I’m especially enjoying our new red front door dressed up for Christmas :)

christmas-bungalow

Marvelous Money: Charitable Giving Accounts

8 December 2014

I came across a book review over the weekend that reinforced a lot of things I (and you) probably already know, but that bear repeating. An excerpt:

A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study… revealed that people with incomes below twenty-five grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent. ‘As you move up the class ladder,’ says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others.’ There is an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability… The problem is caused by the inequality itself: it triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.

Or even a happy one… In a forthcoming paper, Norton and his colleagues track the effects of getting money on the happiness of people who already have a lot of it: a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness. That’s not all that surprising; it’s what Norton asked next that led to an interesting insight. He asked these rich people how happy they were at any given moment. Then he asked them how much money they would need to be even happier. ‘All of them said they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier,’ says Norton. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that money, above a certain modest sum, does not have the power to buy happiness, and yet even very rich people continue to believe that it does: the happiness will come from the money they don’t yet have. To the general rule that money, above a certain low level, cannot buy happiness there is one exception. ‘While spending money upon oneself does nothing for one’s happiness,’ says Norton, ‘spending it on others increases happiness.’

marvelous-money-donor-advised-fund

It’s become something of a tradition for me to post on the theme of generosity each December. Generosity is very close to my heart; it’s what I want my heart to be. I believe in acts of kindness and in giving away money at Christmas. But I hope I haven’t given the impression that generosity is something that’s reserved for one month of the year.

Even as we work hard at saving for retirement or getting out of debt or budgeting, I think we should be working equally as hard on giving away money. To me, a person with truly healthy finances would have her spending, her saving, AND her giving all on track. As we get better at spending and saving, the hope is that we will become wealthier. The hope is not, as the review describes above, that we would become empty, selfish, and small. And that’s where giving comes in – it makes us bigger, better, more caring, and less selfish people.

Even so, it’s not always easy. In 2015, we have budgeted to tithe, the first time we’ve done so fully. While this is exciting, to be honest, it has also been – ahem – refining. I find myself saying, God, you know we are responsible with money. You know we would use that money for good things – to save, to pay off our mortgage. We wouldn’t waste it! Can’t we just keep a little more? Frustrating though it may be, ultimately I know that the discipline is important. It reminds me that our money is not our own, that I must decrease, that the world does not revolve around me (all things I tend to forget). With all of the blessings in my life, it behooves me to feel a pinch somewhere – in this case, when I part with that offering every week.

So how do you give away money? It seems like it would be pretty simple (Here’s $100 for you! And $100 for you!), but just as with other aspects of your finances, there are things to learn and consider. This year, we decided to open a donor-advised fund to facilitate our giving. This graphic helps explain what one is, using Fidelity’s fund as an example:

donor-advised-fund

Basically, you make a tax-deductible donation to the organization of your choice. Your money is no longer your own (it’s been donated), but it is held for you with your name on it. You can then “direct” or “recommend” (organizations use different terminology, but they do as you request :) ) “grants” to charities, churches, and non-profits. For example, we donate the full amount we’ve pledged to our church to our donor-advised fund, then direct the fund to give monthly grants to our church.

There are several benefits to using a donor-advised fund:

1. It simplifies your giving for taxes and recordkeeping. As you can see above, instead of donating directly to the charities you support, you give all of your money to your donor-advised fund. At that point, in the eyes of the IRS, your tax-deductible donation has been made. So, when your tax return is due, you only have one form and one lump sum – say, $10,000 – to submit, even though you gave $1,000 to ten different charities over the course of the year.
2. It helps keep giving a priority. If you’re not very strict with your budgeting, it can be easy to spend money that you meant to give away. With your donor-advised fund, you can move the money out of your normal accounts and keep it in a safe place, even if you don’t know yet where you’d like to donate the money.
3. You can invest the money. In many funds, while your money is waiting, it can be invested (and professionally managed – usually in a mix of stocks and bonds), and potentially grow – meaning more money to give away to charity!

Think a donor-advised fund might be for you? I know of a few organizations to look into, including Fidelity Charitable, Vanguard Charitable, and the National Christian Foundation.

I’d love to hear: do any of you use a donor-advised fund? Is giving a part of your budget? Is it something you think about often, or just in months like December? I’m all ears for questions, too!

2014 Em for Marvelous Gift Guide: Littles

5 December 2014

John and I now have one niece and one nephew, so I’m always on the lookout for cute and useful goodies for the under-five set. Even though most of these picks will have to wait a few years for W + T, I’ll be ready once their manual dexterity catches up!

kid-gift-guide-2014

A. Fox sleeping bag ($99) | I mean, come on. I could have put almost anything from The Land of Nod in this guide, but this foxy bag is one of my favorites.
B. Cotton dress ($40) | I love these sweet little dresses with their Liberty print collars!
C. Wooden sailboat ($16) | Fun for bath or the park
D. Ropes & Anchors dress ($38) | Perfect for the petite sailor
E. Sherpa bear mittens ($13) | Mittens! With claws! Also, this is the cutest little jacket.
F. Lilly Pulitzer bedding ($50-$188) | These sheets would be a fun but grown-up option for a big girl room!
G. Watercolor crib bedding (varies) | Really pretty watercolor crib bedding in bright colors
H. Set of three plush unicorns ($29) | I was ob-sessed with playing ponies when I was younger, so these pastel equines are right up my alley.
I. Lulie Wallace lunchbox ($22) | Perfect for storing treasures. Or a lunch.
J. Neon slingshot ($34) | While the listing expressly says “for adults,” I think this would be fun for a responsible little, too :)
K. Puffin in Bloom series ($16 each) | Like I’ve said, I think these Rifle classics are a requirement for every little girl’s bookshelf. Every big girl’s, too :)
L. Baby deer print ($25) | It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite from Sharon’s Babies series, but the deer might win. I would smile every time I looked at her!

P.S. Last year’s gift guide for littles!