Archive for the ‘Spending Money’ Category

Well. Two months just sped by bloglessly, didn’t they? I suppose that is a good indication of my current writing habits, which have been fruitful. Just not… blog-fruitful.

Anyway, let me ease back into blogging by posting about a few things that I am LOVING lately. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that most of them are food-related. What can I say? I love to eat.

Silicone Clip Strainer

Fave Things Clip Strainer Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

You know how I love my kitchen gadgets! Well, one of my deep dark secrets is that I hate colanders. They are big and bulky. And, worse, I think they are kind of gross. I don’t like the idea of putting my just-cooked food into a sink that may have not been scrubbed since the previous evening. My colander – one of those big silver jobbers – even has a foot, so the food can’t touch the sink. But the drained water can rise up to above-foot level, or, even if it doesn’t, there’s always the risk that some sink-y water will drip into the pot when you pour your strained food back in. YES I KNOW I HAVE ISSUES. Anyway. My husband got this little guy for me for Christmas and I adore it. It clips on to any pot and allows you to pour out all the water without dumping your pasta/potatoes/broccoli/whatever in the sink. It’s very easy to use and I just throw it right in the dishwasher after I’m done with it. The one caveat I have is that the strainer is markedly smaller – covers less of the pot opening – than some of the Amazon photo options imply. It still works, though. Totally worth $7.99.


El Yucateco Chile Habanero Hot Sauce

Fave Things El Yucateco Walmart

Photo from Walmart.com

This is my (current) favorite hot sauce. I love hot sauce. It is my condiment of choice and when I use it, I use a LOT of it. My pantry has Sriracha, Cholula, La Victoria, and usually some fancy-dancy specialty hot sauces that my super romantic husband bought me as a surprise. (If you don’t consider getting surprise hot sauce super romantic, well, then, it’s good you didn’t marry me.) I fell in love with El Yucateco at our local Mexican restaurant – which is much too delicious, inexpensive, and close for my desired pants size. “Fell in love” is probably too mild a term. I became obsessed. In some ways, it feels like I am addicted to it: I think about it when I’m not eating it. I crave it. When I use it, I use wayyyyy more than is necessary. It makes my stomach hurt the next day, I consume so much. But it is wonderful. It’s got plenty of heat but it also has a nice, semi-fruity flavor. It goes really well with cheese enchiladas and burritos. I get it at my local grocery store for $4.99 an 8-ounce bottle, so it’s not an inexpensive habit. Apparently, you can get it at Wal-Not-Target for $1.84, but that’s for 4 ounces. Otherwise known as one meal. Or you can buy it by the case on the El Yucateco website. Which I am seriously considering.


Recipe Tin Eats

My husband and I eat a lot of chicken and pork, and it is exhausting trying to find new, delicious ways to mask the blandness that is a boneless skinless chicken breast, I tell you. Enter Recipe Tin Eats. Cue angels singing, champagne popping, balloons everywhere. I have tried maybe ten recipes that Nagi has posted, and man alive they are GOOD. She has such a great way with flavors! And the recipes are all very simple. And she includes very careful notes with each recipe, letting you know about substitutions and cooking variations and how to make it in advance.

Two that have become regulars in our rotation are her Oven Baked Pork Chops (I have been replacing the potatoes with green beans or broccoli lately), which has a marinade that I love so much I actively prevent myself from making it more than once a month so we won’t get sick of it, and her Asian Marinated Chicken, which has another super-easy, super-delicious marinade that I love. Other favorites that I see us making again and again include her One Pot Greek Chicken and Lemon Rice, her Chicken with Mushroom Gravy, her Lemon Garlic Marinated Pork Chops, and her Chicken Fajitas (the fajitas are on my meal plan for this week, in fact).


Trader Joe’s Green Goddess Dressing

This is a brand-new discovery (for me), and I am really excited about it. I enjoy a salad now and again, but I tend to avoid them because I really like dressing. A lot of dressing. And dressing isn’t usually worth it for me, in terms of calorie intake. But I spotted this Green Goddess dressing near the lettuce at our Trader Joe’s and snapped it up on a whim. Turns out it is delicious. Light and summery, not terribly avocado-y, and thicker than I expected it to be (almost the same texture/thickness of a restaurant-made salsa). I can’t remember how much it cost, but I think it was something like $4.99. Which is NOT inexpensive. But at 20 calories for a 2-tablespoon serving, it is totally worth it. Trader Joe’s makes a couple of other flavors, too – a carrot ginger miso dressing and an almond butter turmeric dressing – but I haven’t tried either of those.


New Adventures of Old Christine

Fave Things Christine Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

My treadmill is somehow messing up the Internet in our house, which means that I can no longer watch Netflix or DVRed shows or even cable TV while I’m chipping away at my step goal for the day. So I have been making my way through old DVDs we bought in Ye Olden Times. I already churned through Arrested Development, which doesn’t stand up to the test of time in a lot of ways (some of the humor is centered around stuff that isn’t really funny these days). Okay, some of it is still REALLY funny. But it wasn’t as great as my memory of it. I also own the complete series of Ally McBeal, so I am forcing myself to watch that even though it’s driving me crazy. The music, the characters, the situations – I roll my eyes so hard I almost fall off the treadmill at least thirty times per episode. And I HATE BILLY. Well. That is a rant for another time.

But I have found a new, deep appreciation for the sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine. I had the first season already and have since ordered seasons two and three. Seasons three through five are much more expensive than I had hoped for years-old DVD sets, but I have some additional Amazon gift cards that make buying them more palatable. (I haven’t looked for this series at the library, but our library’s DVDs – especially ones that are a few years old – are notoriously scratched and beat up and I think I would cry if I had settled in for a long morning of treadmilling and my Christine DVD stopped working.) My realizations as I watch have been a) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hamish Linklater, and Wanda Sykes are national treasures; and b) damn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has incredible hair.

If you haven’t seen it, the show is a comedy about Christine Campbell and her life as a recently-divorced working mother. It centers around her relationships – with her ex-husband, his new girlfriend (also named Christine), her brother, her best friend slash business partner, the other parents at school, and a variety of men she dates. Her son is in there somewhere too, but he’s more of a plot device than a real character. I fear I am not describing this in an appealing way, but it’s really appealing! It’s funny and absurd and heartfelt at times but not in an over way. And it puts a hilarious twist on Mom-Type-Things (taking your kid to school, dealing with other moms, volunteering for school projects, balancing work and home life, etc.) and there’s also all the stuff about handling a divorce and dating and dealing with your ex’s new young girlfriend. It’s much more relatable to me, now that I’m a mom with a kid in school. I laugh – truly, heartily, out loud – a lot while I’m walking nowhere. And even though it’s a comedy – and much of it is really ridiculous – I find myself feeling deep empathy for Christine. It’s not perfect; again, humor has evolved over the past decade. But it’s making my treadmill time much more enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it.


Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray



Fave Things Fairy Tales

Photo from Amazon.com

Kidwise, this spray is making life MUCH easier lately. For both me and Carla, I would say. Carla has long curly hair which means that every morning our neighbors pick up their phones and prepare to call the police and report a murder in progress. We’d been using the Johnson & Johnson conditioning spray, and it worked okay. But then a friend recommended the Fairy Tales spray and OUR LIVES HAVE FOREVER CHANGED. I can’t speak to the fact that this conditioning spray repels lice or not (we haven’t had any, but I’m not falling for confirmation bias) (if confirmation bias is the term I am looking for; I am not convinced that it is). But I can tell you that it makes combing Carla’s hair SO EASY. And if I comb it with the spray at night, her hair is much easier to brush in the morning, too. (The link above goes to a two-pack, because the single bottle of spray isn’t available. But I have, in the past, bought the single bottle of spray, so I hope it comes back.)


(By the way, no one paid me to say any of those things above. These are just some things I really enjoy lately.)

What’s making your life brighter/better/more fun these days?


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Well, the world seems about ready to spin off its axis entirely and every time I even so much as glance at the news I start hyperventilating, so let’s talk about MORE FRIVOLOUS STUFF.

At some point last spring, I decided I wanted to Mix It Up a little bit with my hair. For me, a person who avoids change at all costs, this meant asking my hair stylist to add a little red to my normal brown hair dye.

I think I was picturing something like Anna Kendrick’s hair… Dark, but with a reddish tinge…

(Photos, clockwise from Anna, from myhaircolors.net, pinterest.com, and ouchpress.com)

I liked the result okay. But it wasn’t anything like ANY of the above photos. It felt so BROWN. More like… Young Rory Gilmore. Or… Jennifer Garner without highlights. But… Less shiny.

(Photos, left to right, from worldhairextensions.com and allwomenstalk.com)

So I went back to her a few months later and told her that I wanted to change things up AGAIN.

“What was wrong with the last color?” she wanted to know. She was non-accusatory, not hurt in the least; she just wanted to know what the issue was so she could help avoid similar issues.

“It was just too… brown,” was all I could come up with. But she nodded like I’d been extremely explicit and detailed with my criticism and presented me a few alternatives.

She did so by putting together a little board of hair samples. A literal curl of hair in four different colors that I could choose from. The far left was my hair color of last fall. The far right was Really Red. The two center options were somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the kicker. She recommended one of the options. I can’t remember which, all I can remember is that she compared it to Hair of Last Fall and said something like, “This will go much better with your skin tone than what we used to do.”

I trust her and so we went with the option she’d recommended.

You see where this is going, no?

I do not like my current hair color. It’s fine. It’s not bad or anything. It’s closer, I guess, to Anna Kendrick Brownish Red. But it’s lighter than I like my hair to be, and it’s still too brown, and it’s different enough from my natural hair color (mouse brown interlaced with grey) that you can REALLY see the difference now that it’s growing out.

When my husband – who, bless his heart, doesn’t notice these things – not only agreed with my assessment that it was very clear my hair was in need of a color-update, but also said he’d noticed without my pointing it out, I made a hair appointment immediately.

But now I am fretting. I mean, it’s MILD fretting. Nothing on the level of School Stress or What If Writing a Book Is a Huge Waste of Everyone’s Time Worry. But I like to wring every last bit of anxiety out of every possible situation so here we go.

What I really want is to go back to my hair stylist and say, “Let’s go back to how it was last fall.”

Simple enough… Except that she has already expressed a preference for NOW vs. THEN.

It’s like when your friend breaks up with that kind of boring dude she’s been with for five years, and when she finally does it, you can’t help but say, “Oh, I’m so glad you aren’t with him anymore! He really wasn’t bringing out your inner sparkle!” And then a few months later she decides to get back together with him.

Only I’M the one who is getting back together with the dull boyfriend, you know? And my hair stylist is the one who has to reunite us.

I would almost rather find a NEW hair stylist. But it’s so hard to find a good one, and I really do like her, and she does do a good job, and I really like the way she cuts my hair. Plus, my husband goes to her, too. So if I quit, it seems like he would have to quit, too, just for the sake of awkwardness and I’m too tired to worry about any of this.

My husband helpfully discussed this with me (although I doubt he will engage in deeper or additional conversations on the topic) and agreed that a) my former darker hair color worked just fine with my skin tone and b) it was totally reasonable for me to have a different opinion from my hair stylist and c) I could very reasonably ask her to change the color back and all would be well.

But YOU understand my fretting, don’t you?

What if she does it, but clenches her teeth the whole time, so certain is she in the life-altering mistake I am making?

What if she does it, and then it turns out she is RIGHT and my skin tone is Totally Wrong for dark brown and I HATE IT?

What if I can’t think of any other disastrous outcomes?

In any event, I want to go from Reddish Brown to Dark, Glossy, Gorgeous Brown and completely avoid Just Plain Brown at all costs.

Maybe what I do is pretend that I am NOT going back to my old hair color… and ask for a NEW hair color?

Something like one of these?

(Photos, left to right, from pinterest.com, hairboutique.com, hairstyles123.com, and pinterest.com)


I could totally go in and say, “I want my hair to be a bit darker for fall. Let’s change it to Katie Holmes brown please.” And then see what happens.

Perhaps I will even bring her this photo as an example!

Hair dark brown 1

What do you think?

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It’s been a long, long while since I’ve done a randomosity post. But random topics still burble to the surface, so let’s get them all out in the open.

Fifty-one weeks of the year, I really enjoy living on this particular street, in this particular house. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac that is close but not too close to a main intersection in an urban-leaning suburb of a mid-size city. I feel like we get the neighborhoody aspects of living in the suburbs, but have plenty of businesses and restaurants and ice cream shops nearby. And it’s quiet. I realize I said that one sentence back, but it’s important. There’s not a huge amount of action, beyond the teenagers playing basketball across the street. The traffic is minimal.

But one week of the year, a business that resides (lives? exists?) on an adjoining street holds an event that draws people from near and far. So for the duration of the event – not quite a week, but close enough that I will count it as a full week, for complaining’s sake – our street is busy. Lots of cars driving down it, to check out the event. Or to try to leave the event, without realizing that our street has no outlet. Or to park on the side of the street before hiking back to the event venue. The event lasts late into the evening, so there are cars driving and people talking excitedly and people beeping their horns as they engage their remote locks well past ten. Is event starting to look a little wacko, as words go, or is it just me? By day two, I begin to go crazy. Carla is a fairly deep sleeper, but I get that crazed newborn-parent feel of, SHHHH, you are being TOO LOUD, there is a BABY SLEEPING, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I don’t like it, is what I’m saying. It makes me cranky. It makes me feel wary of talking to anyone while we’re outside, which we are a lot at this time of year. It makes me double and triple check the locks on the doors (because people heading to the event are super likely to be burglars/murderers) (no). It makes me feel like whispering and ducking past windows and uncomfortably aware of the proximity of my bedroom to the street.

I will be glad when this year’s event ends.


We have a new addition to our household. A new baby deer. Its mother leaves it in a snug little bundle of white spots between our deck and the azalea bushes.

Fawn 1

Baby deer!

This year, Carla spotted the fawn first. And, being a child who loves animals with a passion that makes her literally vibrate with the desire to pet and hug and adopt, she cannot stop thinking about the fawn. This has made it rather difficult to enjoy our backyard; she is constantly hopping out of her seat at lunch or dinner to go peek at the fawn. Or, instead of playing in the yard, she is peeking at the fawn. Or, instead of doing anything at all other than peeking at the fawn, she is peeking at the fawn.

She wants to show it a pinecone. (It won’t care.) She wants to share her ham with it. (No.) She wants to bring it up on the deck to show it an ant that is crawling as quickly away from Carla as its legs can carry it. (No.)

We have had lots of conversations about deer being wild animals, and being especially careful around baby animals, because their mothers will be protective. And how even though deer are so pretty and docile looking, they can bite and kick.

This has sunk in a bit further in some areas than others; Carla still wants to pet the fawn (no; wild animal). But she refuses to go into the backyard by herself just in case the mommy deer is there and wants to bite her or kick her or lick her (okay, good point; also it probably won’t lick you).

I don’t know why I continue to be disgruntled by the presence of baby deer in our yard. This has happened… every year since we’ve lived here? Our yard is a deer daycare. But each year, I feel annoyed at the mother deer for just abandoning her baby in my yard, where I then feel obligated to care for it. (I mean, insofar as “care for it” means peeking at it occasionally, keeping Carla away from it, and fretting about its safety.)

And I DO fret about it! We were moving some deck furniture around the other day, on the very deck against which the fawn was snuggled, and it was making a tremendous racket, and I commented to my husband that I hoped it wasn’t terrifying the poor creature. When the lawn service people arrived, I ran around in a panic, trying to replace my pajamas with clothes so that I could go out and warn them to stay away from the fawn’s azalea hidey-hole. We are having our deck refinished in a few weeks, and I am really hopeful that the fawn’s mother decides to take her on a field trip somewhere else so that the sanders and scrapers don’t scare the poor thing out of its spots.

Part of me feels so annoyed at the mother deer, for not picking a safer location to stow her offspring. But I suppose it is an urban deer, and this probably feels a whole lot safer than the corner of a busy intersection or the back of a schoolyard playground. And I suppose the fawn could always complain to its mother about the creature with the curly blond fur who keeps poking its face over the side of deck and waving pinecones at it, and suggest that they find a new daycare center.

Fawn 2

“Please stop peeking at me. You are making me very nervous/annoyed/camera shy.” – Fawn

As long as we’re talking about the backyard, we did get a playset. I loved all the comments and ideas, especially the suggestion to turn our weed patch into a beautiful garden (believe me! I would LOVE that!). Of course, being me, I continued to obsessively research and read reviews and bother people with questions. In the end, we concluded that a playset is the right decision for us. Time will tell, I suppose. To tell you the truth, I think the playset is really for ME. It will be so much more convenient to throw Carla in the backyard than to schlep her to a playground when she is overcome by the need to swing. And we can host playdates MUCH more comfortably if there is something for the kids to do outside. So I’M excited about it.


I’ve been on the hunt for a few very specific items of clothing lately. One is The Perfect Skirt, for which I continue searching. Let us take a gauzy look through time at one I had in college: white, a lineny blend, cut just above the knee, a-line. THAT is the skirt I am looking for. It was the ideal cut/shape for my shape/cut. It was a nice summery, neutral color. It was a casual material, which I am REALLY interested in; I have plenty of This Would Be Fine at the Office kinds of dresses/skirts; I really want some This Is Cute But Totally Casual Enough for the Playground or Library Story Time options. But I have yet to find it. I bought this skirt from Nordstrom, and despite being adorable in the online pictures, it was NOT The Perfect Skirt and I have since returned it.

Nordstrom skirt

Photo from Nordstrom.com

Another item I am seeking, in bulk, perhaps, is Rear-End-Covering Shirts. I already have a few that are dressier, so right now I am looking for casual options. I have found some good ones, I think: this one from Athleta,

Rear end shirt Athleta

Photo from Athleta.com

…and this one from Loft. (I got the Loft version for, I think, $12. But now they are on sale for two for $18!)

Rear end shirt loft

Photo from Loft.com

But I find myself wanting moremoremore because a) I enjoy wearing leggings and b) my rear end is self-conscious. My trouble though is that shirts that seem to fit the bill either don’t actually cover my rear end (I am more generous in the backyard than 99% of the models modeling the “rear-end-covering” shirts), or they make me feel shlubby. I want casual-but-put-together, not rolled-out-of-bed-and-grabbed-my-husband’s-undergarment-off-the-floor. I guess a more accurate way to describe it is that I like my tops to have some shape to them. Yet, like The Perfect Skirt and The Perfect Jeans, it seems really hard to find something matching my specifications. So I’m snapping them up when I come across them.


The room mother for Carla’s preschool class collected money for a year-end gift for her teachers. The gifts were lovely and generous, and I was delighted to not have to come up with ideas for something her teachers would like and not throw away. But when Carla and I were leaving her classroom on the last day, one of the other parents brought in two large bags from a fancy store and handed one to each of Carla’s teachers.

Listen, Carla and I wrote personal messages in cards for each of her teachers. They went above and beyond for us this year, in many ways, and I wanted to express my gratitude in words in addition to submitting some cash to the group gift. So I acknowledge that maybe these other parents felt similarly, and wanted to really show the teachers how grateful they were.

Or, of course, maybe they didn’t participate in the group gift. Or maybe their love language is Gift Giving. Or maybe other justifying thoughts I can’t come up with.

My worry, of course, is that this is What You Do; you give money to the room mother for the group gift, and then you ALSO buy a personal gift for each teacher. Which seems ridiculous, but what do I know? So many tiny, unimportant-in-the-greater-scheme-of-things stresses related to Having a Child in School! I had no idea!

My desktop anthurium – which you may recall was purchased purely because I was looking for a red lamp – for accent moreso than for light – and couldn’t find one – has lost its… well, I suppose they are flowers? The red pretty rooster-face looking portions of the plant. There were two to begin with, and one darkened and crumpled a few months ago, and now the second is going the same way. I don’t know anything about anthuria, outside of the fact that I fed them with ice cubes. Well, I guess I did a rather poor job of even doing that, considering that they have chosen death over waiting to see if I will remember to ice them each week. So I have no idea if they will flower again, in time… or if I need to find another one. One of the things that made it so clear I needed to buy THIS anthurium was that it came in such a lovely bright red vase. I neither want to buy a new red-vased anthurium nor replant an anthurium in this vase. So I suppose I will stare hopefully at my remaining anthurium leaves and try to remember the weekly icing.

1 Anthurium

Photo from gardenknowhow.com

That’s it for now, Internet. What’s up with you?


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When I left for the grocery store yesterday, I was feeling pretty smug. My freezer is FULL of meat, which is generally the most expensive item on my shopping list, and I’d come up with a meal plan that required only a small package of beef for stir frying. So I was feeling confident that my grocery bill would be nice and low.

Well, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, higher than normal. As I was doing Lamaze-style breathing while the checker scanned and scanned and scanned, my GAWD haven’t you reached the divider between my groceries and the next person’s yet?, I kept soothing myself with this thought: But they’re STAPLES.

I’d hit the trifecta of 1) Lots of fresh fruit at decent prices, and 2) Lots of good sales on Things We Always Need, and 3) Needing to buy more of things we’d either just run out of, or were close to running out of.

The woman behind me had a full cart, too. And it was kind of interesting to see the things that she was buying, in comparison to the things that I was buying. For instance, she had two gallons of milk (I buy a quart every… whatever the lifespan of a quart of milk is), a bunch of boxes of bran cereal, Thousand Island dressing, a big bag of pre-washed spinach, and a watermelon (among other things; I tend not to take thorough notes while poking through someone else’s grocery cart). I would never buy watermelon! I have only purchased spinach a few times! It’s so fun to see how different our lives are from other people’s!

It’s fun to think about what other people consider “staples.” Outside of flour and salt and olive oil, or whatever. Recently, I mentioned that half-and-half is a staple in our house, and Swistle, in the comments, noted that half-and-half is a staple in her home as well. And so I’ve been kind of wondering, what are the staples at YOUR house?

Here’s what they are in mine…

Produce: My husband eats a banana every morning, so I buy those every week. My daughter LOVES fruit, so I buy whatever is in season and least expensive. (Although yesterday I kind of went crazy, buying strawberries AND blueberries AND cherries, and I PLEDGE TO THE INTERNET GODS THAT I WILL WASH AND FORCE MY FAMILY TO EAT EVERY LAST MORSEL.) We eat a lot of broccoli and green beans as sides, so they’re usually on the list. Same goes for iceberg lettuce, which is (probably, I haven’t done any tests) nutritionally meaningless, and yet I can’t quit it. And onions, potatoes, and lemons are super versatile, so I buy them most trips to the grocery store, unless we’re flush with them for some reason.

Dairy: Shredded cheese is totally a staple around here. We eat tacos maybe once a week, and I like to make pizzas for lunch. My husband eats yogurt every day for lunch, so I’m always loading up on yogurt when there’s a good sale. Carla eats yogurt fairly regularly, but then sometimes she’ll boycott yogurt completely, and it’s impossible to tell what the next day will hold, so I buy a lot of the yogurt pouches you can freeze. They are super expensive, so when they are on sale I grab a ton. Half-and-half and sour cream are also staples.

Frozen: Carla, for some reason, loves frozen vegetables. So we usually have a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen broccoli florets in the freezer at all times, and often a backup. She also enjoys the Mrs. T’s pierogis, so when they are on sale, I toss a box into my cart. Same goes for pancakes, French toast sticks, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets. You can almost guarantee you’ll find those things in our house on a given day, so if they are on sale I have trouble NOT buying them. (Which sometimes results in two unopened boxes of fish sticks in the freezer at the same time, so I really need to figure out how to curb that particular Must! Buy! Now! impulse. I think I am what advertisers call “a dream consumer.”)

Meat: We eat a lot of chicken and pork. I get my chicken at the grocery store when it’s on sale and freeze it in two-to-a-bag Ziplocs. I get the pork tenderloin at Costco (unless there’s a good sale). I also get beef at Costco and then grind my own meat for spaghetti, tacos, and chili. Carla LOVES fish. She started out strongly preferring salmon, but she’s branched out into things like opah and swordfish and tuna. So when it’s a good price, I buy some, cut it into small Carla-size chunks, and freeze it. Yesterday the wild salmon was $34.99 a pound and I wish I could all-caps a number because WHAT. So I am glad I still have a piece of more reasonably priced salmon lounging in my freezer for the next time Carla has a salmon craving.

Pantry: Our grocery store is always having sales on canned beans, which means that sometimes my pantry is overflowing with black beans, chickpeas, and dark red kidney beans. We always have a lot of tomato sauce on hand, as well as coconut milk, chicken stock, rice, and taco shells. Carla loves Cheez-Its and Goldfish, so we usually have one or both of those in our pantry. My husband drinks coffee and I drink tea, so we always have those on hand. My husband eats a specific brand of pretzels every day for lunch, and it is now impossible to find them at Target, so I buy two bags at a time just to make sure we don’t run out. Rice Krispies and applesauce are two other must-haves, although I HATE buying Rice Krispies when it’s not on sale, so sometimes we go without.

Spices: The spices I cannot live without are cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, garam masala, cardamom, and coriander. I am constantly buying those things on sale, to the point that one day I discovered I had more cumin than any person could ever use in a lifetime. (I have now gone for several months without buying cumin, which makes me feel a little panicky.)

Condiments: Ketchup is one of Carla’s I-Cannot-Live-Without-You condiment. She also likes maple syrup to an absurd degree; this morning she asked if I could pour some maple syrup into a little bowl for her so she could dip her strawberries in it. Um, no. Then there’s hot sauce, which I count up there with oxygen. Which is how my husband feels about peanut butter, so there’s always plenty of that to be found.

Alcohol: I am the only person in our household who drinks alcohol really at all, so I usually pick up a bottle of Riesling. We typically have gin on hand, for in-law visits and occasional gimlet cravings, but we are OUT of gin right now and I am not interested in replenishing it at this time. If we’re anywhere near having guests, I keep an eye out for wines with high Wine Spectator rankings that are under $10. Come to my house for cumin, stay for the cheap wine.

One of the magical things my mom could always do was whip up a meal out of items just lying around our house. (She didn’t, like, store pasta on the couch or anything. The items she cooked with were in normal food-storage locations.) I suppose, now that I think about it, she probably did meal planning just like I do. But it appeared that she could come home, open the freezer and take a peek in the pantry, and then just throw something together. After many years of buying my own groceries and making my own meals, I feel like I’ve finally reached that point. I prefer to plan out meals in advance (hahahaha – just kidding; I HATE meal planning) (but I do it anyway) (shakes fist at adulthood), but when I haven’t been able to get to the store, or we are just back from a vacation or whatever, I feel pretty confident that I can pull something meal-adjacent out of the items we have on hand. I mean, as long as I have some chicken breasts, a lemon, a potato, and some white wine, I can feed you something pretty delicious, if lacking in greenery.

(Re-reading this, I’m realizing that I am super lucky to be able to buy and stock so many fresh [and otherwise] foods, and I feel a Food Pantry Stock Up trip to the store with Carla coming on, so we can help other people fill their cupboards and bellies, too.)

Okay, now, your turn. Let me peek inside your grocery cart and pantry and fridge. What are the Must Haves and Can’t Live Withouts in YOUR house?



Don’t be fooled; we had six total grocery bags, packed FULL of groceries. This is just a representative sampling because I didn’t have any other photos to add to the post. For example, I came home with four times the pictured amount of yogurt ALONE. 


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Sometimes when I most regret posting something, I am most grateful to have done so later. I felt super whiny and lame and, not to mention, you know, like a crap parent, the other day. And yet you were so kind and empathetic and I appreciate it SO MUCH. Thank you.


Moving on, and also trying to avoid panicking thinking too hard about the state of the world, my husband and I are contemplating what to do with the backyard. And one of the options is to add a playset. About which we are dithering wildly.

So I am here to ask your advice.

We have a smallish-backyard. The back edge is occupied by what we call The Weed Patch. It’s sectioned off from the lawn by long strips of wood. I’m sure they have some sort of technical name, like 4 x 4s or something. But to me they are just wood. The wood strips make a long rectangle of approximately 25 x 50 feet. Inside the rectangle is… dirt and weeds.

The prior owners had a playset and a trampoline in the rectangle, which, at that point, was filled in nicely with dirt. They had a weed barrier between the dirt and the actual ground, so it was a nice uniform brown. But they took their playset and trampoline with them (when we bought the house we made SURE they would take both monstrosities; surely WE would never need them, seeing as we planned to remain Forever Childless), and over time the weed barrier has been breached by weather and weeds. Today, it is a wasteland of pinecones and acorn shells and dirt clods and deer excrement.

I got a quote from a landscaping company. To add a new weed barrier and fill it in with playground mulch would cost $X. To eliminate The Weed Patch and make it a seamless part of our lawn would cost $X times 3.5. After I scraped myself off the floor from shock, it was obvious, right there, that the first option is better from a purely cost perspective.

But if we were to go to the trouble (and still considerable expense) of filling it in with playground mulch, it seems like it would be worthwhile to actually add a playset.



Photo from costco.com                                                                                                                                               This is the Gorilla PlayMaker playset, which is the one I like the most. But is the slide tall enough? What would I do with the sandbox part (NOT use sand, that’s for clam sure)? Would this really appeal to Carla for the next… five years? Flags, really? Why is the spacing of my caption so worked up?

BUT. Playsets are ridiculously expensive. And I would want one that is a) safe and b) durable and c) small enough to fit our yard.

Our concerns are two-fold:

  1. Would Carla actually use it, and for a significant number of years that would properly amortize the cost of the thing?
  2. Would the thing need regular, irritating, and/or expensive upkeep that would make us rue the day I ever got the Playset Wild Hare?

I am also a bit worried about the cost of installation, because there is no way my husband and I are going to put it together ourselves. A quick internet search sounds like it would be at least a third if not half again as much as the playset itself.

So we’re getting pretty close to the $X times 3.5 of getting rid of The Weed Patch altogether.

I have already bothered several people I know, to gather data and thoughts. (Some of them are super lucky to have spouses who can build their own playsets OMG I am so jealous.) But I need MORE DATA.

So I put it to you, Internet.

But do you have a playset? Did your kids use it? And, if so, how long and how much? My husband and I already said that if she’s out there swinging once a month, that’s not worth the price. But to me, I am envisioning throwing her out in the yard DAILY while I make dinner (where I can watch her from the window) or while my husband and I sip wine on the porch or while I lounge on the porch and read. Is this a playset pipe dream? The other benefit, of course, would be in inviting friends over. We don’t really have a good play area in the house, so it would be nice to have a usable space for the kiddos to go.

Also, what AGES were/are your kids when they enjoyed the playset the most? When did they outgrow it? Many of the reviews for various playsets imply that we should have gotten the damn thing two years ago, why have we waited so long? Yet the playset manufacturers throw out things like, “Great for ages 3 to 11!”

Did you install your playset yourself? If not, how much did it cost (if you don’t mind my asking)?

Which playset did you choose? Has it held up to the elements? What kind of upkeep does it require? We are in an area of the country that sees rain, snow, humidity, and wind, so the thing better be tough. I am more drawn to the wood playsets than to the metal/plastic ones; they just seem sturdier, and also seem more aesthetically pleasing (if you can call a playset of any sort “aesthetically pleasing”).  But I have no idea if wood is a better choice or not.

One of the friends I asked about the playset said she’d gotten hers from Craig’s List. It makes me nervous, for some reason, to do that. Not simply because of my inherent concerns about murderers. But I don’t know, I guess I am thinking that a playset is like a carseat, in that it really shouldn’t be re-used? That sounds ridiculous, now that I type it out. And I’m not actually certain of my facts, vis a vis the carseat re-usability. Yet my face still squinches up into a curl of suspicion and doubt when I contemplate the Craig’s List option. (I have never purchased anything from Craig’s List; see above re: murderers.) Do you have experience with that? Is there a better, less-murdery place to find playsets online?

It’s SO MUCH money — even if we were to say that THIS is Carla’s gift for her birthday AND Christmas — that I really really want to get our money’s worth, you know? Especially since we just have the one kid. But it almost seems like one of those decisions you just have to MAKE.  In which case, I might dither until the weeds overtake the house and pull me down into the damp crumbly wormy-scented depths of the soil.


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Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper


Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant



Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling


Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat


Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves


Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw


Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle



Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock



Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler


Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.



Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)


Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!


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Join me, won’t you, in aggressively discussing something frivolous and distractible and wholly unrelated to The End of Life As We Know It?

First, thank you for your comments and commiseration and suggestions on my post about What to Do About All the Toys. VERY helpful, and I feel more equipped to face it as a thing to be got through rather than something I can try to control in advance.

Today, we are going Full On Holiday! Carla and I are decorating, and then she and her father and I are all going to a kids’ Christmas concert, and then tomorrow we are going Christmas shopping for our Adopt-a-Family family. Woo!

I bought some peppermint body lotion at Bath & Body Works awhile back, just because I like to smell like vaguely Christmas scented candy during the holidays. A few days ago, I decided I needed a little olfactory boost of holiday spirit and – as is my custom – I slathered my entire self in the lotion. Only to discover that it had some sort of cooling element (the mint, I’m assuming) that made my body feel like it was about to pop ice cubes out through my skin. I’m not recommending it, is what I’m saying. Unless you are uninjured but missing the cold sensation of Icy Hot or perhaps are stranded nude on a ninety-degree island. One with a Bath & Body Works store, or an internet connection.

(Today, if you must know, I went for a years-old bottle of Jingle Bellini which is faintly peachy and not in the least reminiscent of the holidays.)

(We are still talking about lotion.)

My husband and I have idly been discussing the menu for the upcoming holidays, and I am wondering something very important:

What do YOU eat on Christmas Eve? And on Christmas Day – for breakfast and dinner? And on Hanukkah, because that’s relevant too and because it’s the holiday with which I have the least food experience!

My family’s Christmas tradition, as far back as I can remember, has been to eat curried chicken and rice soup on Christmas Eve and then to eat a porterhouse spice roast for Christmas Day. My mom would make the soup, and my father and brother and I would go out delivering our homemade chocolates on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, after the presents were opened, my dad would make pancakes and bacon for brunch. (I have a vague recollection of having had coffee cake some years, but you haven’t yet lived if you haven’t eaten my father’s pancakes.) For dinner, my dad made the spice roast, accompanied by his homemade Caesar salad and lemony steamed broccoli and my mom’s goat cheese and garlic mashed potatoes. YUM. There is nothing that smells like Christmas the way his spice roast does.

My husband’s family tradition was to go to their country club for Christmas Eve dinner, and then, on Christmas Day, his mom would make a beef tenderloin. A couple of times, in the years since my husband and I have been together, his mom tried to change the Christmas Eve tradition to fondue, but I think we all felt so disgusting afterwards it didn’t really take.

But this year will be the first Christmas we’ve hosted that my FATHER isn’t here to make his spice roast. Why yes, I did make my dad cook Christmas dinner the past three years IN MY HOUSE for MY GUESTS why do you ask?

So my husband and I are dithering over what to serve. Join us, won’t you?

Christmas Eve Dinner:

My parents – for whom the Christmas Eve tradition is soup – won’t be here. So… do we go out? We don’t belong to a country club, so that’s not an option. But I don’t know what I’d cook. Roast chicken?

I don’t know that the soup has sufficiently become OUR family Christmas tradition, though maybe my husband feels differently; I should probably ask him rather than rambling on to YOU. But here we are.

Christmas Day Breakfast:

My husband has made a French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast the past few years. That’s probably what we’ll do again. It’s easy to assemble, and you do it the night before and just shove it in the oven when everyone begins to open presents.

(My husband, who loves anything and anything British, tried for a couple of years to make a Christmas bread for Christmas Day… but no one else ate it.) (I tried it; it was so dense and full of things that I just couldn’t enjoy it.)

Christmas Dinner:

Christmas dinner remains a mystery! Do we try a beef tenderloin? It sounds delicious, but I’ve never attempted it. And what if it’s a big failure? (The idea of making a failed version of my mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas meal gives me the shudders.) Same goes for the spice roast; and I am even less inclined to try that, I think, because I associate it so strongly with my dad. (Although I admit to a strong leaning toward nostalgia, and would love to have it become OUR family tradition as well.)

I do not like turkey, and have already made my one turkey for the year, so that’s out. No one in my husband’s family particularly likes ham, so that’s not a good idea. A pork roast seems… less special somehow. So I guess I am leaning toward beef. But… WHAT?

Hanukkah Food:

And do I need to think about something different and special for Hanukkah? Since the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year, I’m guessing I might have to switch up the soup plans for something else. Not that I have any idea WHAT. And I have zero clue how to make latkes. And zero desire for anyone else to make latkes in my kitchen. The last time my mother-in-law made latkes – which were delicious – her house was wrapped in a skein of grease and Fried Smell that was very unappetizing. Can you BAKE latkes?

All this talk about food is now making me think about what else I’m to feed our guests while they’re here. My in laws will be here for eight days. My sister and niece will be here for an unspecified amount of time.

Desserty Things:

I tend to forget about dessert, but I suppose that’s important too. Usually, my father and I make chocolates. But… this year I am not going to do so. I will miss it, but I just can’t handle the stress of hosting all these people and also trying to make artisan chocolates in my kitchen. No thank you.

My husband and I are watching The Great American Baking Competition and one of the challenges was all about cookies and bars. So he has been delightedly scrolling through Christmas bar and cookie recipes.

I think I’d be happy with these faux-Twix bars, which are easy and delicious.  But I’m wondering a) what kind of holiday sweets YOU make and b) what you serve for dessert on Christmas/Hanukkah/etc.

Meals Surrounding Christmas:

Breakfast will be… I don’t know. Yogurt? I guess I’ll get some eggs and bacon and milk just in case… I don’t really do breakfast. My child does, of course, but it’s usually frozen pancakes or waffles or cereal or toast and yogurt. I have lots of THOSE THINGS on hand.

Lunches are not my forte, so I suppose I will do what I always do when we have guests: Get a bunch of cold cuts and fancy cheese and crackers and olives and encourage people to help themselves. There will be bread and PB&J and grilled cheese ingredients. (Side note: I am terrible about estimating what we need, and inevitably wind up with WAY too much food. Bleh. I am not looking forward to that part of things, the part where I throw away a bunch of perfectly good food [and money]. And idea how to get more appropriate amounts – without having to go to the grocery store every day?)

Dinners, I can do. I have already purchased the ingredients for this mushroom and spinach lasagna. I’m making one for a friend, and I thought I might as well make TWO and freeze one to eat while my in laws are here. I’ve made it before and it is, as the website implies, damn delicious. So that’s one night taken care of.

Another night is my father-in-law’s birthday, and we’ll go out. So we’re down to needing meals for six days – two of which I addressed at length above.

I’ll probably do boeuf bourgignon one night – or, maybe, instead, I’ll do a coq au vin (which is really the same thing, but with chicken instead).

And maybe tacos another night, since Carla LOVES tacos. Bonus: they are super easy. Double bonus: They are my favorite.

Aaaannnndddd…. Maybe this pork loin with wine and herb gravy? I’ve done it once before, and it was easy and pretty tasty. Maybe with a salad and some… roasted potatoes?

That leaves one more night. I think we will go out. Two nights out in the course of an eight-day visit doesn’t seem excessive, does it? I hope not, because I may have just blacked out a little thinking about all the dishes I will be doing. Or! I passed a local restaurant the other day that had a sign out front with two irresistible words: ORDER PIZZA. Maybe that’s what we’ll do!

What do YOU like to serve when you have company? Extra points for easy.


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