Christmas · JPG · minted · shutterfly

Our Holiday Photos

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! I meant to post this last week, but there were so many gift ideas and flash sales to write about, I ran out of space and time.

Have you seen those hilarious articles on family photo shoot fails? It made me laugh, because that’s one of my favorite things to see on Facebook at this time of year, and I can totally relate. Kids are ridiculously hard to photograph — even relatively calm ones, like Georgia — and we had no shortage of outtakes from our picture session for this year’s Christmas Card. Such as:

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But in the end, the vast majority came out amazing, and we had loads to choose from for our holiday card. We couldn’t be happier!

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CARD DESIGN minted // PHOTOS jpg photography

JPG is an award-winning studio based out of Philadelphia, founded by one of my best friends from college. They did our wedding, too, seven years ago. We re-created some of the falling leaves theme pictures from the day we got married, this time with the best product our marriage: Georgia!

sandy burr country club // 2007

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fellsmere pond // 2014

Who did you use for your holiday cards this year? We used minted and loved them because, as time-crunched parents, the option to have our envelopes addressed festively and for free sealed the deal. I also love supporting independent artists, which is who you’re buying from when you use minted. I even got a thank-you card from our card’s designer!

We also made photo gifts for the grandparents using Shutterfly & TinyPrints this year and last. We made these desktop plaques, which are great because they are shatter- and spill-proof and look really professional; we’ve also made countless photo books, magnets and ornaments, and the quality is always great. You can go to town custom designing (like I do), or use one of their out-of-the-box templates so all you do is drag and drop your photos. Easy as pie! (By the way, whoever made up that saying? Pie is a ton of work).

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Merry Christmas Eve everyone, and have a safe, blessed, and joyous holiday, from our family to yours!

Baby · Holidays

Holiday Stress? Watch this video

Daddy and Georgia are tap-dancing together, and you’re truly a grinch if this doesn’t put a smile on your face! The traffic is brutal, the gift list is long, and the wrapping takes forever. But dancing babies are always a joy 🙂

They became quasi-famous this week when the TV show Right This Minute picked up the video. The host commentary is priceless, it’s worth a listen!

I think we are going to have to get this girl some dance lessons 🙂

Baby

Alert! Huge Green Toys sale!

Heads up! Green Toys are 50% off today on Amazon!

Georgia just got a seaplane and a submarine for bath time, and for her upcoming trip to Nani’s house in Florida (where there’s a very fun pool). I almost bought her a dump truck and sand play set for the summer, too, but I tried to keep my holiday budget in mind. It’s really, really hard. I really love these toys because they are PVC-, Phthalate- and BPA-free, made in the USA, meet FDA food contact standards, and are composed 100% of recycled milk jugs, which saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions, both in their production and their shipping. Plus, their packaging is both recycled and recyl-able, free of plastic films and twist-ties, and printed with soy inks. Not to mention: they are just a huge hit with my kid, are sturdy, and beautiful to boot. (If you are so fortunate as to own a dishwasher, they can go in there, too).

Even better than reusing plastic, of course, is not buying it at all. when it comes to children’s toys, the next best option to recycled toys are wooden toys, in particular those made locally or at the very least not overseas. Steel and glass make the best substitutes when it comes to food storage, cooking and household solutions to avoiding plastic.

Did you know that a recent study showed that prenatal exposure to phthalates — found in soft plastics and scented products — led to measurably lower IQs in children by age 7? While legislation bans phthalates from toys for small children, nothing governs maternal exposure during pregnancy, which is the most critical time for brain development. And it’s easy to gain exposure through room sprays, personal care products, and microwaving food in plastic containers.

Read the full study and check out this interesting infographic for more information on avoiding plastic. I’ve never felt so fortunate that the smell of artificial fragrances and plastics made me barf throughout my entire pregnancy!

plastic infographic

What else do you do to reduce plastic dependency? Reusable shopping bags? Buying locally instead of ordering online? Glass food containers and baby bottles? Tell me in the comments!  

Books · Booze & Beverages · DIY · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Last-minute Foodie Gifts

Have you procrastinated and are just now desperately looking for something to gift that home cook or restaurant lover in your life? I’ve got you covered.

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salt cellar // anthropologie

Make something edible

Find some pretty containers, make your own gifts tags, tie them on with festive ribbon, and you’re done! If you aren’t artsy, Etsy has loads of designers whose gift tags can be personalized, purchased and downloaded for immediate printing, no waiting by mail.

Send a magazine subscription

I love Food Network Magazine, Vegetarian Times, and EveryDay with Rachael Ray. Great recipes can also be found in Real Simple and (duh) Martha Stewart. Subscribe online, print out an e-card, and package in a fun little card or bag. Better yet, include the current issue with a bow around it and a note saying a subscription is on the way.

Join a wine club

A distinguished investment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Anthropologie

This place is a hidden treasure trove of cute food gifts. Mugs aren’t the most creative thing you can give someone, but if you go that route, the ones at anthro are as unique as you could hope for. They have lots of edible things to package with their pretty serve ware and accessories. Lots of preppy, boho, and hipster finds here. I also love their decorations! They can still ship by Dec. 24, too.

marshmallows, canape plates, wine openers, cocktail mix, mugs // anthropologie

Make personalized stationery for their food gifts

Check out Minted for personalized wrapping paper, gift tags and labels for goodies from the home cook. I would love to receive something like this!

$19 for 25, minted.com
$15 for 5 sheets, minted.com

Cookbooks

On Amazon, you’ve got until Monday for free two-day shipping with Prime and still make it by Christmas.

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Use code BOOKDEAL25 to get an extra 25% off any book on Amazon through today (December 16).

Basket of goodies from Trader Joe’s

Someone did this for me one year, and I loved it. Inside were things I’d never tried from TJs, even though I go all the time. It totally inspired me to craft some new recipes! Throw in some wine or seasonal beer, snacks, a pretty dish towel or kitchen tool, and nestle in a nice basket for anyone who loves to cook. Round it out with one of the many popular Trader Joe’s cookbooks available for two-day shipping on Amazon, like this one or this one.

THEMES TO TRY

Winter Favorites: Cranberry apple butter, gingerbread cake mix, pumpkin waffle mix, winter blend coffee or peppermint tea, some holiday sweets (such as peanut brittle, salted caramels or candy-cane joe-joes), and dish towels in holiday colors.

Taste of Italy: Nice olive oil, flavored pasta (they have lemon, spinach & chive, and more), marinara or vodka sauce, Parmesan cheese, arborio rice, red pepper flakes, olives, capers, oregano. Package with a new colander, large serving bowl, pasta scoop, or cutting board.

Taste of Asia: Toasted sesame oil, rice sticks, Thai lime & chili cashews, coconut milk, red curry sauce, jasmine rice, soyaki sauce, and green tea. Include a unique tea cup and saucer, a sushi plate, pretty chopsticks, or noodle bowl.

Coffee Lover: Chocolate covered espresso beans, an assortment of coffees, dunk-able chocolate biscotti, after-dinner mints, chai or yerba mate mix. Do the same thing for a tea lover and package with a mug or a tea strainer.

reusable produce bags // facebook.com/victorybags

Finally, for new parents, it’s fast and easy to have weeks worth of meals delivered to them by organizing a mealtrain with your friends and family. This is also a great idea for anyone who is sick, new to your neighborhood, deployed, or recovering from an accident or surgery during the holidays.

And if you’re still looking for somewhere to donate toys, Boston’s Christmas in the City is taking orders to its Amazon wish list, which will distribute gifts to thousands — yes, thousands — of homeless children this weekend. Read more about last year’s event in today’s Globe and click here to donate. They continue to hand out toys after Christmas to kids of all ages who are living in shelters, motels or other unstable situations in Boston, so it’s never too late to give, and donations purchased from their Amazon wish list get delivered directly to their headquarters.

Have a wonderful week everyone and good luck finishing your shopping. 

Baby · Books · Holidays · kid-friendly · Pregnancy · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: The Guys

I won’t spoil the surprise even though he doesn’t read the blog, but Mark is definitely getting at least one of the things below for Christmas. And the rest are things he (or my awesome brother) already own and love. Read on and get inspired for the guys in your life!

For makers and DIY enthusiasts

Make Magazine, the home of 3-D printing, robotics, woodworking, programmable LEDs, fiber crafts and canning. It’s all in there! If your guy likes to tinker, build, and code, as my little bro does, you have just finished shopping.

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A book for a new dad or papa-to-be

The Faith of a Child, by Stefan Lanfer. The author, a colleague of mine in Boston, says “if you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you’ve got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.” It’s artistic and lovely to read and appealing for men who are about to become first-time fathers as well as those with a bit more practice who might enjoy a book to relate to on that level.

For tall dudes who work out

We have spent years trying to find workout pants for Mark that have a long enough inseam. When you are 6’4″ tall, this can seem an impossible task. Enter LuLu Lemon, that haven of ‘athleisure’ wear for stay-at-home moms! Miraculously, their pants come extra-long as a matter of course, and they offer complimentary hemming for customers of more average heights. The only other brand we’ve found that does this is Under Armour. I guess that’s why famously tall QB Tom Brady is their pitch man! Places like Old Navy actually make tall athletic gear for men too, but only by special order and only online…and they sell out of desirable styles very quickly. Mark’s favorite for running, dance class, rehearsal and lounging is hands-down the LuLu Kung Fu pant.

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Man-pampering

This organic, all natural shave oil by Honest is sure to leave his face calm, smooth, and razor-burn-free. It smells divine and is good for ladies too (bonus!)

Mark is also a fan of this hand cream for chapped knuckles after working in the yard or doing a tour in the wind. Which reminds me: if you are looking for work gloves for your handyman, these are tops.

Wishful thinking: for men who cook

“Men” and “cooking” are not two words that typically run into one another much at my house, but if yours is different then I envy you. Mark makes one thing: this Spaghetti Carbonara, which I taught him. Somebody help!

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But these two books are supposed to be pretty awesome and I think they’d appeal to men (OR women) who are looking to bring some badassery to their kitchen repertoire.

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The crowd-pleaser

Bose wireless headphones. There’s no way you’ll find someone who wouldn’t like that. I have them, I’ve given them as gifts, and they are about a bazillion times better than beats if you ask me. Especially great, according to Mark, if you have a ginormous head! 🙂

For entertaining

For cookouts, dinner parties, holidays, you name it: a portable speaker is handy, and in the case of this new one from Bose, adorable and available in many colors. The other thing I got Mark about five years ago, which he loves? A retro-looking record player that also has a radio, CD and tape deck hidden in it. Now we actually can listen to the vinyl collection we’ve been growing for so many years, and the sound fills the house.

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And speaking of retro, vintage cocktails remain popular. If the man in your life fancies himself an at-home bartender, whet his appetite with these Moscow Mule mugs from Pottery Barn. Enclose the following recipe on a simple note card, and you’re set.

Moscow Mule Recipe

  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 4 – 6 oz ginger beer

Squeeze lime juice into a Moscow Mule mug and drop in the spent shell. Add a few ice cubes, add in the vodka, and finish with the ginger beer. Voila!

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For the health freak

They may be getting a tad ubiquitous at this point, but the FitBit is a truly remarkable and effective fitness and weight loss tool. It tracks not only your activity but your food intake, calories burned, and length and quality of sleep, syncing wirelessly with your smartphone and waking you up (silently) every morning. Mark has found his to be the last bit of motivation he needed to drop about 15 pounds of weight that snuck on while I was pregnant, and he wears the thing 24/7. It’s an ever-present reminder to eat better, take the stairs, and forgo the second helping of cookies….so much so that I ended up losing a few pounds too, just by being around it!

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For the coffee lover/me

I am hoping someone gets this for myself. Once a year, Dunkin’ Donuts unveils the large coffee deal card — 10 of ’em for $14.99! Seriously, I get very little sleep and need this.

Another coffee related idea, or I should say a more serious one, would be a pour-over set. Both Hario and Chemex make popular versions. Custom-brew your cup and enjoy!

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Got any great ideas that I missed? Do tell!

If you’re still shopping for others in the family, don’t miss my guide to eco-friendly baby gifts, my list of must haves for little ones from birth through toddlerhood, and my own Christmas wish list from last year, a guide to gifts for new moms.

**Psst! If you’ve been waiting to buy any VTech toys, today is your day. They are on sale for up to 50% off on Amazon, right now!**

And if YOU are newly pregnant right now, like I was this time two years ago (SOB!), check out my maternity shopping guide and my tips for beating morning sickness (I am a straight-up expert). Later on, when it no longer feels like you need 20 hours of sleep a day, my prenatal fitness post may come in handy.

 Good luck finishing your shopping, everyone!

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Baby · Holidays · kid-friendly · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Babies & Toddlers

I’m proud to say that I’m almost done Christmas shopping! We took care of Georgia early so we could get the monogrammed Anywhere Chair design we really wanted from Pottery Barn Kids, and she’s also getting this tunnel and tent play set from Ikea as well as this Little People Play Nativity. Because what my house needs more of is tiny toy parts that don’t have a bin to call home!

fisher price little people nativitypottery barn kids anywhere chairbusa-childrens tent and tunnel Ikea

Last year, she was so small that I’m not sure she could appreciate what Christmas was all about; that didn’t stop everyone from buying her gifts, of course. So, between these last two years and tons of friends and relatives, I’ve learned a thing or two about buying presents for littles. Here’s my holiday guide for babies and toddlers:

Birth to 6 months

Sophie the Giraffe

Why is this so fascinating? I don’t know. But it smells and tastes good to even the tiniest babies, and it was Georgia’s best buddy for months. It’s a great teether when that time comes, and it basically came on every car ride with us for the better part of 9 months. Plus, it’s adorable and it squeaks. Great gift for a brand-new baby. (Georgia also loved reading the Sophie & Friends touch n’ feel book between 6 and 9 months).

Dangling car seat/stroller toys

We had many options, but our favorites were these owls & birds by Skip Hop. They clip to anything and also make chirping and rattling sounds when shaken. We love all of Skip Hop’s stuff — Mark uses their messenger-style diaper bag and is a huge fan. Coincidentally, we also had the matching crib mobile, too!

crib mobile skip hop

Stacking Toys

These were Georgia’s jam when she got big enough to sit up on her own. Mostly she banged them together or flailed them in the air, but who cares! Stacking itself is overrated. Great options exist by Green Toys and Fisher Price.

stacking Green Toys

Clutching Toys

My mom got Georgia this last Christmas. It doesn’t look like much, but it was love at first sight for our gal! Fits well into a diaper bag for travel, too. This was handy as entertainment in restaurants and on planes.

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Fun food accessories

Can’t go wrong with colorful soft-tip spoons, suction-bottom cups, wipe-able bibs, travel containers with lids and these great spoons that let you take purees on the go, squeezing straight into to baby’s mouth. We also like these spoon tops that attach directly to puree bags, and these fresh food feeders that let baby practice holding a utensil while gnawing on frozen bananas, squash, you name it. My mother-in-law got all of this for Georgia since she was 4 months last Christmas and just getting ready to start solid food.

Mom’s car keys & Dad’s iPhone

Just being funny.

6 months to 1 year

Shape Sorters

We have two (one for upstairs, one for down): this Green Toys version and this beautiful wooden version. She also has this larger style at school. Georgia loves them all! She went from rattling the entire thing, to dumping out the shapes, then  finally putting them through the holes herself around 14 months. Now, she carries around the shapes and puts them in her tea set for lunch.

Baby Einstein Take-Along Tunes

Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes

Georgia got this for her first birthday, and has loved it every minute since. I think she would have enjoyed it a few months earlier, too, and at 15 months she now knows how to pick the song she likes best (there are 7 to choose from) and will turn it on and start dancing. Similar options to this include the Leap Frog play phone, which also speaks in Spanish, and the Fisher Price click n’ learn TV remote. I should point out that, while popular, these toys did not make Georgia any less interested in our phones or the actual clicker.

Crinkly books & Peek-a-Boo books

There was a time right around G’s first birthday that a book with “surprise” flaps or which had features that you could touch, crinkle or move were ENDLESSLY FASCINATING. You can get these anywhere, but Lamaze makes some adorable ones that have crinkly covers and peek-a-boo flaps inside. Mom likes them because they are waterproof and soft, so rambunctious babies can’t ruin them in the bath or by throwing across the room (who would do that??)

Pop-up Toys

I’m talking about the ever-popular Playskool Busy Poppin’ Pals, or the Poppin “Giraffalaffe” which Georgia sure liked watching us play with at 6 months, but really grew to appreciate on her own around a year.

Push toys

My brother got Georgia the MOST adorable push toy at an independent toy store — it is in the shape of an elephant! — but you can’t go wrong with this classic version for just $10. She took to it right away at a year when she was just taking her first steps, and still enjoys it at 15 months. At school, Georgia also enjoyed this kind of walker when she was learning to get steadier on her own.

baby laptop

Pretend Laptop

This Fisher Price laptop is still going strong in our house! It does songs, counting and Spanish, and says “hello!” and “bye-bye!” when opened and closed.

A bouncer

Best. $70. Ever. Spent. Because we have a summer baby, these were in high demand when she aged into wanting one, because so did everyone else. So we paid full price on Amazon, but if your child is born at a less popular time of year than August (or you are buying for Christmas), you can definitely find one second hand. I see them on consignment all the time, or you can be strategic with Babies R’ Us coupons!

1 year to 18 months

Mega Bloks

My aunt got these on impulse for G’s first birthday and had no idea how attached she would get to it…especially the  hot pink ones. She builds! She takes down! She sucks on them! She puts them in her pocket! She carries them to the car! And to her crib! You see what I mean. Before you can do Legos, you can do these, and you should.

mega bloks

Lego Table

We saw this one at a friend’s house, and Georgia was obsessed with it…and then we found out it’s no longer made, but does a brisk exchange on Craigslist and Ebay! So we found one just a few towns away and bought it second-hand. They do make these updated styles, and of course you can also just get a regular bench or play table with chairs, too. What we should have bought at 9 months, but dropped the ball on? This sit-to-stand table for pre-walkers. Next time! If there is a next time. Clearly we’re inept.

lego preschool table

Rocking Toys

I would say kids aren’t ready for these until they are really steady walkers, and even then the sense of balance can take some time to develop. Once Georgia’s legs were long enough that she could put both feet on the floor while sitting in the seat, she started to enjoy rocking horses (or giraffes) like this one that sings a lot more.

Sand and Water table

Again, it’s weather dependent, but awesome for kids turning 1 and older. Hours of amusement! We like the one by Step2 and have it on reserve for her to play with when the weather gets warm again in the late spring.

DIY ball pit

I’ve seen lots of folks take a kiddie pool and fill it with plastic balls to make a fun indoor ball pit. I love this idea and am going to copy it ASAP! Look no further than Pinterest for inspiration and instructions.

Picnic Basket & Tea Set

tea set

Dang, this picnic set is one of her favorite things in the world these days, second only to this play tea set. She’s definitely in that phase of wanting to imitate us whenever she can, and it’s so cute to see her bopping around “pouring” from the kettle or “stirring” her food in a bowl. Even better is when she uses it to show us that she’s learning how to share with others.

picnic set

2 and older

Train sets

OK, how bonkers is this Pottery Barn Kids city train set? I can’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough, though…yet. She’s really not old enough for it this year, but she looks longingly at bigger toddlers enjoying the train table at the library when we go, so I’d say we are highly likely to get her one for Christmas next year. VTech and Melissa and Doug make cute sets for less than $40.

Play kitchen and food

Again, Pottery Barn rules the day with their aesthetic, but it comes at a price. In the mid range, options abound on Amazon, and even better is the $99 Ikea kitchen set which Georgia loved on our last visit (mostly because it’s shorter). A slight tangent here: for some reason, Ikea’s toys and baby products seem to be an unusually great value. We have been obsessed with their sippy cups, high chair and stuffed animals for a while (here’s her BFF), and on our last visit, Georgia gravitated right to the tunnel set, the play kitchen, and the play workbench. I think we are going to get her this easel in the future, which brings me to my next gift category:

Art Supplies

Finger paint. Doodle pads. Smocks, paper and crayons. There are even bath tub crayons. The possibilities are endless!

Ikea Easel

Musical instruments

This is a fun one. You can make all different shapes with it! Perfect for little ones eager to imitate an older sibling who’s just beginning to take “real” music lessons.

Doctor Kits

Ask my mom (please don’t) and she’ll tell you all about how I plagued my relatives with pretend medical exams for years as a small child. Maybe I missed my calling? All I know is I should probably get one of these for Georgia… STAT! (oh, I crack myself up)

DIY Sensory Toys

One thing I like about Georgia being in Montessori is that they are big on sensory play, and last week she came home with a cool toy that she had made at school by filling a plastic baggie with sparkle glue, plastic snowflakes, fleece crafting pom-poms and beads, then sealing it with extra-strong tape (with Frozen characters on it). A friend made her daughter a sensory bin with dried beans, leaves, acorns, etc. and just set her up with a scoop to play freely. Get creative!

Tutus and Ballerina books

Is anybody else left wondering whether their kid can actually dance, or has just fallen under the weird Taylor Swift spell all kids seem susceptible to since “Shake it Off” dropped last month? Hedge your bets by investing in a baby tutu, and just see where it leads. Attempt to make an educational tie by pairing with this book.

ballerina swan

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now ~ what did I miss? I’d love to hear your ideas, especially as I get ready for Georgia’s second birthday and Christmas 2015. I’ll expand on this each year and I hope you find it helpful!

We just finished up our holiday cards, too, so I can’t wait to post about our awesome photographer and to share our design from Minted. Have a blessed holiday season, everyone! XOXO

kindle kids

Holidays · Recipes

Do you STILL have leftovers to use up?

I know I do! I made a double-sized batch of my homemade cranberry sauce, and I still have some left over, even after two dinners with both sides of the family (with 12 people at each!) So this year, instead of my standby smoothie or salad dressing, I am instead going to make this awesome-looking cranberry upside-down cake from Simply Recipes:

Even though it calls for fresh cranberries, I am hoping that using leftover cooked sauce will turn out similar to this cherry upside down cake I made last year. I may even throw in a couple of fresh berries since I always have some hanging around for Miss G, who LOVES all fruit but especially cranberry sauce, even though it’s so tart!

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse than the exhaustion of having a newborn around a major holiday, along comes the non-stop action of a toddler to make me rethink my position. We had a whirlwind four days “off.” First, that storm hit during the commute home Wednesday, so I didn’t get cooking for Thanksgiving #1 until like 8:30 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day, we all got up to watch the parade and have muffins and coffee:

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Then we went to my dad’s for dinner, which was lovely. The next day, I got up and started cooking all over again, fielded some media calls for work, then went to the Christmas lights display at the zoo down the street from our house with Georgia and two of her cousins:

The next day, we drove an hour south to do Thanksgiving #2 with Mark’s family including all the cousins, the littlest of whom is just five months younger than Georgia. We had a nice time, though she got really upset on the way home because we just didn’t time it very well in relation to her bedtime, and got caught behind a huge accident on 93 coming through Boston.

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Georgia is still battling a really pesky, loud cough, so our sleep just hasn’t been great all weekend. Last night, she woke up at 2 a.m. all upset and covered in boogies, so I was up for at least an hour comforting her, cleaning her up, and generally dreading having to be functional at work today. Which I’m not.

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The good news is, my Christmas shopping is coming along nicely. I have all the kids done and I handed off their wrapped presents to my brother- and sister-in-law this weekend, I’ve got Mark all finished, and now I just need to design and order our Christmas Cards online (Shutterfly? Minted? TinyPrints? I’m paralyzed!) before finishing up everyone else.

If you are still looking for gift ideas, check out my list of Eco-Friendly Baby Gifts and my Gift Guide for New Moms. I’m working on another one for toddlers as we speak! As well as a post about coping with sick babies with as natural an approach as possible. Hopefully you are more well-rested than our family, and nobody has caught this nasty chest cold that our baby just can’t seem to kick. Happy Christmas Season, and have a great week everyone!