Tag Archives: Tips

Little Big Gift Guide: Thrifty Ideas for Stocking Stuffers

12 Dec

Today is the first installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly. Today, Thrifty Stocking Stuffers, and later this week, Thriftier Stocking Stuffers, and last but not least, Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers.

Instagram magnets: for $14.99 Stickygram will create 9 magnets out of the Instagram photos of your choice. My plan is to do this and split the photo magnets among family members.

Phone cords: for whatever reason, the necessary USB cord for the iPhone seems to always crack and wear, leaving exposed wires that result in a poor connection. I could always use an extra USB cord, and for that matter, extra screen protectors and replacement ear buds (they always find their way to the washing machine at our house) make handy stocking stuffers, as well.

Flash drives: I’m lusting after this key-style flash drive. Particularly useful for students and nerds! Especially useful for nerd-students.

My Etsy shop: Shameless self-promotion time! In my shop I have a number of smaller items that would make excellent stocking stuffers. Support small business and an active reuse market! Also, my thrifting habit.

Books: The thriftiest way to give books is to give away books you no longer want to keep (which I’m cool with as long as the recipient would be interested in it), or to find something while thrifting or at a library book sale. But don’t forget independent book sellers or even mass-market retailers. My dear friend Stefanie loves to give books at holidays and we all look forward to getting them.

Personalized calendar: for as long as my mother has purchased calendars she’s always had a cat calendar every year. Somewhere along the line Anthony and I started purchasing calendars for her as our Christmas present. After a couple years I had the idea of making her a cat calendar using photos I took of her own cats, and she loved it. When Isobel came along we made her cat and granddaughter calendars. She looks forward to this every year.

Shop Etsy faves: If you do happen to have a budget for presents, and the person you are buying for has an etsy account, take a look at items they’ve favorited through their profile for ideas. My friends and I started using Etsy faves as a wishlist and like to buy items off their lists when we can afford it. We know they’ll love whatever we buy them, and since we all know about this idea we include faves at a few pricepoints. We have had the issue of two of us buying the same present for someone only once (since faves aren’t an actual registry, after all) and overall this system works well. I love supporting small biz while making a friend happy.

Magnets: I always need more magnets, Instagram or otherwise, and by this I mean cute magnets, of course.

Gift cards: Gift cards aren’t an usual gift idea, but when times are tough sometimes the best gift someone can receive is a gift card for some much-needed clothes or a luxury they wouldn’t purchase for themselves otherwise. When my cousin had her second child, my Aunt Kay said she’d by her the gift card of her choice: a mani-pedi, a massage, or one month’s worth of a housecleaning service. (For the record, my cousin chose housekeeping. I would have, too!) I like to buy gift cards for iTunes, Target, Amazon, Old Navy, or our local favorite sushi restaurant.

Dishtowels: It’s common knowledge that I’m a dishtowel junkie. They are an inexpensive way add style to a kitchen—a room that’s hard to change without major remodeling. And they fit in a stocking perfectly, too.

Mouse pad: It seems like mouse pads have a short shelf life before they get all faded and gross-looking. Adorable options abound on Etsy.

Photo books: After Isobel was born I scraped together the three brain cells I had left and made a photo book for each Grandmother. I bought inexpensive photo albums at Michael’s and filled them with photos of Isobel, starting with a shot of my giant pregnant belly and ending with Isobel at three months old. In my mom’s book I included photos of her holding Isobel plus other shots of the family, and vice versa for my mother in law. We had these ready in time for Mother’s Day and they were a huge hit. The grandmothers had their books on them at all times so when people asked about their grandchild they could proudly show off their photos. After all was said and done they cost less than ten bucks each. You can always go to one of those photo sites for a more professional looking book, but they loved their albums and still treasure them. I ended up using a photo book service to make a Friends of Isobel book, which we created to help introduce Isobel to our friends that she might not see that often. (You can read about that here.)

Cute socks: Perfect for winter, warm, cute socks are always welcome in a stocking.

Today’s installment was for those of you lucky enough to have a budget, but what if your budget too strict for this gift guide? Never fear, later this week I’ll be coming out with two more gift guides for really-low and even no budget gifts that still meet the lovely and useful criteria. Stay tuned!

Thrifty Living: Thrifty Tips and Recent Scores

5 Dec

Some thrifty things I’ve been doing to save money:

* During the morning and early afternoon I try to find some excuse to use my oven: drying herbs, toasting nuts, roasting potatoes, whatever. I can keep the thermostat down a few notches because the heat from the oven will keep the kitchen toasty while at the same time making something tasty for later.

* I’ve also pulled out my stack of crocheted blankets from the linen closet and just keep them on the couch. When one of us gets cold I insist we put on a blanket or a sweater before we turn up the heat. They look lovely in a pile and are more likely to get used when I keep them out.

* I tried the no-heat curl method to try a new look. I already had the hairband so trying this was free!

* I’ve been using the library a whole lot more. This option should be obvious after working in a library for eight years, but since we also had Anthony’s Borders discount, and since discovering the handiness of reading ebooks via the iPhone, I stopped checking books out of the library. I still went to the library–I mean, between my mother and I Isobel’s been to every story time available since she was a year old. But we’d leave when story time was over. Now I stay and make sure I have new additions to both my and Isobel’s bookshelves every week.

* I don’t have a lot of pairs of pants. Since losing over 20lbs due to my time on the elliptical and the debilitating panic attacks I really only have two pairs of pants that fit. One of them has stylish (or so I tell myself) holes worn in the knees from constant use. I can’t afford to go clothes shopping but I did have enough to buy a few pairs of colorful tights. I love the way they add a pop of color to my outfits while keeping me warm and extending the life of my jeans.

* I’m being pretty strict about our one napkin and one rag per day and I’ve been trying to expand this rule to cups and plates, too. This is an excellent way to save water and saves me a lot of work in the dishes and laundry department. Score!

* I haven’t been doing any major thrifting because I’m still in the midst of my giant Etsy storage and reorganization project, but I’ve stopped off yard sales and a thrift store here or there over the past month and these photos are some of the things I’ve picked up: a colorful crocheted poncho for Isobel, pegasus and unicorn mugs for me (and Anthony, if he’s so inclined), and some lovely wooden hangers covered with a delicate web of crocheted threads. These were obviously handmade and came from an estate sale. I wish more people would learn how to do this because it’s gorgeous and I’m afraid it’s a dying art. I got all six hangers for a dollar. Can you even imagine how long it must have taken to make these?

Anybody doing anything differently to save money? This time of year I could use all the help I can get.

Thrifty Living: Tips for Decorating for the Holidays on a Budget

13 Oct

It’s been ages and ages since I participated on Pinterest, mostly because I’ve been busy and Pinterest is a rabbit hole from which my attention span threatens never to return. There’s just too much good stuff and before you know it I’d be sitting at the computer in my underwear with unbrushed hair shoving cheerios into Isobel’s gaping maw while she clamors for attention because I just have to bookmark one… more… pin…

But it’s Halloween and I love this time of year so I made a board for Thrifty Halloween Decorating Ideas. Now that we’re down to one income I’ve been thinking more and more about inexpensive ways to decorate, and celebrate, the holidays. This is going to become even more important to me as Christmas approaches, and I wanted to share my thrifty decorating philosophy.

Location, Location, Location.

The first thing I did was select the areas I was going to decorate. In addition to having a limited budget, I have a limited amount of storage space for decorations. And anyway, I don’t have the energy to give my house a Halloween makeover every year–I just want to imbue it with a warm autumn spirit.


I prefer small decorations that are easy to store and are fun to look forward to every year. Even with my small budget I was able to add two pieces to my autumn stash: dishtowels and magnets.  (A few people wanted to know where I bought the towels: I ordered them from Zen Threads on Etsy. I love that company can’t recommend them enough.)

Some years I can’t afford to buy anything from Etsy, but when I can I do because it’s an investment I can use and enjoy every year. Especially now that Isobel is older. I remember how important pulling out those yearly decorations were to me as kid, and even now when I visit my parents a wave of nostalgic happiness washes over me when I see my mother’s black cat wreath hanging on the front door.

Some other really great handmade Halloween accessories on Etsy right now:

Candy Corn Bunting

Pin-up Witch Magnet

Super Cute Ghost & Pumpkin Magnets

Spider Hand Towel

Fancy Skulls Towel

Crocheted Pumpkin Towel Set

Use What You Got.

I used some things I already had from previous years, and since I was bored of them I used them in a new way.  I turned a metal sign into a huge fridge magnet, for example, and that was enough to make me happy. I also used stuff I already had in other parts of the house. Thrifty home decorating TV shows use this trick all the time and the homeowners are always thrilled. Something old feels new again, and it costs nothing.

Nature’s Gifts.

Decorating with nature is the ultimate thrifty option, and it comes with the benefit of being an enjoyable way to ignite a curiosity of the natural world in your children. We collected acorns this year, but pine cones, seed pods, dried berries, and, of course, leaves are available nearly everywhere, and they are free.

If you notice from the photo above, the acorns we gathered not even a week ago have mellowed into a deep brown, and their hard shiny shells remind me almost of coffee beans. So beautiful. I found this silver platter while thrifting and thought it perfect for storing the seeds. Larry, Moe and Curly, my paper skulls, look on, unaffected by autumn’s splendor.

I like just putting the beauty of nature on display, but you can take this one step further and turn them into crafts:

Acorn Magnets

Acorn Photo Frame

Preserved Leaf Garland


Other than adding spiders to some thrifted doilies I haven’t done any crafts this year. (Unless you count turning a metal sign into a huge magnet, which I don’t.) Crafts, however, are awesome.

See the nature crafts list above, plus:

Spray-Painted Pumpkins

Make ‘potion jars’ out of terrariums

DIY Luminaries

Lace pumpkins

Spray Paint can turn regular objects into Halloween decorations

Thriftin’ is Easy.

I bring up thrifting so often you probably think it’s my go-to solution for every problem. And you’d be right! You’d be amazed what you can find secondhand. I like to find stuff that’s not meant for Halloween specifically, but thrift stores save seasonal items and bring them out specifically for shoppers looking for decor at a bargain. Even the doily spiders were found in a thrift store! My favorite, of course, is still the skull specimen display created out of a thrifted cheese dome. Holiday decor is a pretty big deal at thrift stores. I once saw a fight break out two feet away from me because two customers saw a ghost-themed wall hanging at the same time.

I hope this post has inspired you to find thrifty ways to decorate. Have your own thrifty Halloween links to share? Share them in the comments! I’d love to add them to the Thrifty Halloween Decorating Ideas board.

Tips for Surviving New Carpet

4 May

If you are moving or are getting new carpet or have another life change wherein all your worldly belongings must be shoved aside for a day or so, I have some tips that might help you with the transition.

Ye Olde Stoveside Changing Station

1. I set up a changing station in the kitchen that I could access by entering the house through the garage and then into the kitchen, but just incase I also had a diaper bag packed and ready to go. If I had to I could have changed her in the trunk of my car.

2. Think about the essential items you’ll need immediate access to during this project: a sweater if things get suddenly chilly, prescription meds, keys, phone chargers, laptop, snacks and a change of clothes for your kid.

"Sorry! Occupied!"

3. Call your friends and ask if you can use their bathrooms in advance. We planned on keeping at least one of ours open but the carpet installers didn’t know this and had other ideas.

4. Plan out how and where your kid is going to nap through this. She could have always skipped her nap but dealing with an insane toddler while putting our house back together is pretty low on my life list. It’s tied with “getting to know Fire Ants up close and personal.” Isobel ended up falling asleep during the car ride back from Grandma’s. I called Anthony who got the bed  ready to go. She slept outside for an hour and a half, which is a successful nap in my book. The only problem was the wind. It wasn’t cold but it was touching her and that sent her into a mini, rage-filled hate spiral before she passed out again.

5. Realize things are going to be a crazy mess and that’s okay. By the end of the day our carpet guy was like, “Do you guys have a calculator handy?” It took some measure of self control to not be all, “Does it look like I have anything handy?” Prioritize the things you really do need an let go of the rest.

6. We have an extensive home library collection. It consists of four tall Billy Ikea bookshelves against one wall, and a shelf devoted to D&D books on another. Each shelf has a unique arrangement depending on what it stores, and considering I have devoted a huge chunk of time organizing it loosely based on the DDS, I wanted to preserve that work. Honestly the thought of taking it all down and packing it away in boxes made me slightly unstable. Too keep things organized I numbered the shelves 1-4 & D&D. I packed up the books in order of the shelves and I labled each box according to their context, like so: Shelf 2, Row 3. To keep track of which shelf went where I taped a note to the immovable shelf noting its particular number. Although we removed the indivdual shelves, the pegs stayed in place so theoretically things should go back in order realtively easy. If you think manual labor is easy, that is. I do not, but that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that organization is preserved.

Justin and Jake, who helped us throughout this ordeal.

7. Purge what you can. I took a fully stuffed car with me to Goodwill while packing our house up. I’m good at decluttering and I still had a mountain of donations to drop off. Other, more patient people might consider a yard sale, but I did not want to find a spot for all of this crap, and I’m notoriously bad at yard sales. I mean, I’m good at going to them, but let’s just say the Goodwill people recognize my car when I pull up to the donation area and their eyes turn into dollar signs when I give them sacks full of stuff.

8. We locked our cats in the garage until the carpet men left. They are insanely curious and would have gotten into as much trouble as they could manage. They did sneak out on a couple of occasions, but over all the plan went well: their food and litter box is already in the garage, and the weather was mild enough that I didn’t have to worry about them overheating. They did meow pitifully the entire day, which was annoying, and when we went to let them out after it was all said and done they were not interested in leaving. Cats, yo. They’re nuts.

Has anyone out there gone through something similar? Have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them.

Have Toddler, Will Travel

11 Aug

Although I am back at work now, Anthony and I spent the very last bit of my summer vacation driving to Santa Cruz and Monterey to attend the gorgeous redwood-filled wedding of my cousin Josh. I have a set of cousins on my Mom’s side that we don’t get to see that often. They are educated, adventurous and liberal, so we get along famously. I was excited to go and see another cousin get married, I was excited to have an adventure with my extended family, and I was excited to take Isobel to the beach for the first time.

But ‘excitement’ would not be the word I would use to describe my feelings about traveling with Isobel.

By all accounts Isobel is what anyone would call an ‘easy’ baby. (I really don’t like that terminology—it implies that hard babies somehow choose to be that way to make your life difficult, when in reality they are just being a baby. But I digress.)

Isobel doesn’t cry unless there’s a pretty damn good reason, she is very social and friendly, and has a joyful disposition. But she does have tons of energy and very little patience. I blame Anthony and his athleticism for the former but take full responsibility for the latter. It’s one of my faults and I see it all too clearly in her. All this adds up to a girl who does not tolerate long car rides because she would much rather be running around at warp speed, thankyouverymuch.

I did not look forward to taking her on this trip with enthusiasm, but with trepidation.

But we did it! We survived. It was our first overnight trip with Isobel and we survived. I felt like we should have driven through a ticker-tape parade held in our honor on our way back in town. Here’s what I learned from traveling with a toddler.


Packing light was my goal. It has never been before, but I have been experiencing Stuff Fatigue lately and I wanted to be as unencumbered as possible. Even though we ride in style in my beloved Buick, most of that ample trunk space was taken up by Isobel’s stroller, a non-negotiable item. The stroller was how we planned to cart her around during the all-important nap time.

I succeeded on my end: I packed only the essentials for myself and Anthony and never before had we taken so little with us on a trip before. I’m proud to say that we used everything that we brought.  I was slightly less successful on Isobel’s end as I brought too many shoes and some of the outfits I brought were too big. But it all fit in the car without too much of a fuss and even though at the time I felt like a packing light failure, in hindsight I can see I did pretty well. We just brought two pachas with those and washed and reused them. I have to say, though, Isobel could have used more on the clothes front. She immediately got chocolate shake all over her adorable cupcake sweater (thanks, Dada) and could have used another sweater along with more pants. She peed through the disposables several times and soiled the half the pants we brought. Honestly, this was the first time on a trip ever that I didn’t bring quite enough but we survived just fine. Overall, I’m happy with how that turned out.

We were gone four days. We did not have access to a washer or dryer and if we did it surely would have been polluted by Incorrect Detergent, so we ditched our cloth diaper efforts and broke down and went with disposables. I have no regrets. We barely have enough diapers for two days, meaning we are constantly in a diaper wash cycle at my house. I was also not happily looking forward to carrying around four days’ worth of soiled diapers in my trunk. I have to admit that it was very convenient to use disposable diapers, but as soon as we were home we switched right back. The extra work is worth it to us.


Strategically planning out our drives during Isobel’s nap times made a huge difference. This tip alone made the trip doable. I also was sure to pack things to occupy her in the car when things turned dire. I had her normal assortment of toys in the back seat: her “I ❤ NY” purse filled with snot suckers and medicine spoons, her stuffed tiger, and her baby, but when the melt down begins regular toys just aren’t going to cut it. That’s when I pulled out my keys and wallet and let her have at it. If there is an item you know will capture your kid’s attention for a good while, bring it, but save it for when you really need it.

In addition to having multiple pachas for the road (including bringing bottled water and formula should her demand exceed my supply), I also was sure to have her sippy cup and a bag of Cheerios on hand. It’s been so hot that we travel with a sippy cup and water to make sure she stays hydrated. We also share appropriate bits of our food with her. She insists upon this by loudly saying, “THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU,” as soon as any sort of bag enters the car. How sad is it that she recognizes fast food bags? This is the human condition, I suppose.


When we got to the hotel room Isobel made a beeline for the phone. Instead of wasting precious energy constantly shooing her away from making long-distance calls I simply unplugged the phone line. There, kid. Have at it. She had a ball and I got many sanity-saving seconds to myself while she made calls to her various kitten and human friends.

Aside from her car toys (which stayed in the car) and her baby, we really didn’t bring any toys for her. This was a strategic move: not only were we packing light, but in my experience the Same Old Toy in a Brand New Location will be immediately ignored for the fun of exploring. This held true. And don’t worry, your kid will find things to turn into toys. Anthony’s comb and an empty water bottle were her favorite toys in the hotel but she also had lots of fun ‘diapering’ her baby and unpacking our suitcase. If it was safe & sanitary, we let her do it. She was blissfully entertained.

And don’t overlook natural things about hotel rooms that would engage a baby: we had fun putting things in the empty dresser drawers and she had fun opening them and finding a surprise. We were also quite entertained but taking photos of ourselves with flash. Flash was a big hit. Who knew?

Turning the TV on and off was also fun for her, but that got kind of annoying for us.


We are the nutty sort who co-sleeps with their kid, so bedding accommodations were not a big deal: she slept in between us like she always does. In fact, we enjoyed the spaciousness of a King-sized bed on vacation when we normally squeeze into a Queen. I actually felt too far away from Anthony. The bed was very comfortable though. Unlike our fashionably low-to-the-ground bed at home, this one was about four feet off the ground, so Isobel was carefully supervised whenever she was on it.

Since Isobel has the same attraction every toddler experiences with outlets I was sure to bring several outlet covers with me. I was very glad I did. Other child-proofing extras were making sure any hotel-offered goods were out of her reach, including the trash cans. We kept the door to the bathroom shut at all times. The room came with a safe that we set a chair against. This way she could enjoy pushing all the buttons without us worrying about her locking something in there.

This might horrify you, but we were so busy every day that we got home exhausted each night and we didn’t fret about bathing Isobel. I washed her face and hands and brushed her hair and wiped her bottom extra good during changings. I didn’t want to cart an extra towel, soap, toys, and faucet cover. If she had gotten really dirty I would have just dunked her in the tub with the bar of Dove soap I have, making sure not to get it near her eyes. But that wasn’t an issue and nobody died. A success.

(As you can see from the my photos the room was very modest, but for some reason it had the most glorious shower head on earth. Each time I showered I had to convince myself to leave. Thank you Quality Inn, Santa Cruz!)


We knew we’d be doing a lot of restaurant eating on this trip. I was a little apprehensive about that because she tolerates high chairs for about ten minutes. If that. Her goal in life is to sit on someone’s lap, either Dada’s or my own, but let’s face it, I’m a celebrity to Isobel, so she’s usually in my lap. The problem comes when she’s decided she’s done with sitting down and wants to run around the restaurant.

About three times a day we had conversations with her that went something like this, “You can sit in my lap, Dada’s lap, or the high chair. But you cannot run around. So where do you want to sit?” She fussed and rebelled a bit but there were no meltdowns or undue attention attracted toward us. We were next to several tables that experienced meltdowns, and here I’m guiltily admitting my relief—not only that we didn’t have a meltdown, but Isobel is fascinated by the meltdowns of others, so a crying kid the next table over meant peace and serenity at ours.

One of the places we ate at was a very, very popular café that was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives episode. Ever since that episode the place is crazy packed and busy. My family was split over two booths because a large enough table was not available. I didn’t notice my Dad totally photo-bombing this shot till I was going through photos later. Thanks, Dad! (If you’re curious, the food was meh. I’ve had worse, but I don’t look forward to going there again.)

Isobel’s easy to feed. She’ll eat pachas and tries whatever (and I do mean whatever) we’re eating. The problem is that she makes a mess. She rarely gets bibbed because she shrieks NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO like a tortured banshee till she pulls it off anyway. She may have ruined multiple pants by peeing in them, but dinner is where she ruined her tops.


Honestly, the hardest part of our trip was navigating using Google fucking Maps. That bitch told us we were fifteen miles any direction from our actual location. I nearly had an aneurism when we finally figured out where the hell we were only to learn that Highway 9 was closed for construction. We’d still be lost in the mountains near Felton somewhere in the with Isobel being raised by wild boars if it weren’t for two things:

  1. Angela’s generous use of her car charger (thankyou thankyou thankyou)
  2. Some Random Hippie

When we came upon the road block for Hwy 9 we pulled over to put our heads in our hands and sob and figure out what the hell we were going to do when a hippie ran over to our car and engaged us in conversation. He was looking for a ride to Santa Cruz and I was like, DUDE, WE ARE TRYING TO GET TO WATSONVILLE AND NOT GET EATEN BY BEARS OR LED TO OUR DEATHS BY GOOGLE MAPS. ALSO I AM MENTALLY UNSTABLE.

Random Hippie helpfully suggested we take Grahme Hill Road, which was absolutely correct. Thanks Random Hippie! He also correctly noted that our car was filled to the brim with Breeder Equipment and a sleeping baby and had no room for hitchhikers, so he went along his peace-loving, granola-eating, unshowered way without a fuss.

Other than Google fucking with our minds, the trip, even with Isobel, was a breeze. I’d like to think it was because we were prepared, but I’m sure it was also because we were lucky.

Dinner with a little help from my friends

28 Apr

I received an abundance of wonderful ideas for getting dinner on the table every night in the comments of my previous post. I wanted to gather them all, organize them, and present them here because 1. I’m a librarian; it’s what I do and 2. I’m hoping this will help some other poor soul who, like me, turns to the internet when they are fed up with making dinner. See the comments in the original post here.


I noticed some themes that came up over and over again in the comments. Roasting a whole chicken, for example, then using the leftovers throughout the week, reinventing it or adding it to salads. Using the carcass for stock. Basically, you know an idea is sound when several people in different circumstances come up with it. Buying a whole chicken is much more economical than buying the bird piecemeal. Using the whole thing is healthy, saves time and money, and, in my opinion, respects the bird. Erin suggested roasting it using Belinda’s Kafka method which I tried awhile back. It worked out beautifully, even though I roasted the bird upside down. Elizabeth pointed out that if you didn’t want to go to the trouble of roasting the bird yourself, buying a rotisserie option from the grocery store couldn’t be easier.

Planning, shopping, and prep work were recommended across the board. I can’t manage to get dinner on the table without some sort of preliminary thought and neither can other people, it seems. I can’t tell you how reassuring this is. Julie’s comment about doing the shopping and the meal prep together as quality time spent with loved ones really opened my eyes. Instead of viewing that time as a chore I need to realize that is quality time spent with my husband, plus it’s a healthy habit to introduce to my daughter. Time spent together, plus the mindset of making healthy food for our bodies, is a vital lesson that as a parent I need to pass on. I couldn’t agree with her more.

A stocked pantry is essential. Fortunately, I developed a pretty kickass pantry in my childless days. It’s taken ten years but my pantry rocks and I can say from experience that a well-stocked pantry can save many and evening. Dingey had the wonderful suggestion of stocking up on bulk grains at Co-ops and to have a variety of spices and condiments on hand. Cooking for yourself is only worth it if you like what you make so investing in flavor makes perfect sense. Peter thinks a well stocked pantry goes a long way towards improvising meals on the fly, and I agree with him. April recommends keeping these items on hand: pasta sauces, cheese, prepped veggies, salad dressings and marinades.

Don’t forget your freezer as an extension of your pantry! Julie sometimes makes extra of something to freeze when she knows her routine might get interrupted and Erin buys organic chickens when they are on sale and freezes them to make her purchase last.

The crock pot is a friend of both April and Bonnie. April makes soups in hers once a week and Bonnie likes that she can prep her meals the night before and set them up in the crock pot in the morning. Erin loves Kalua pork from the crock pot that can usually stretch to fit more than one meal. I’ve heard you can roast a chicken in one but I’ve yet to try it.


Peter suggested this link that I absolutely love. It’s great for meal inspiration.

Elizabeth recommends Bon Appetite’s website particularly their Fast Easy Fresh column.

Erin suggested two blogs and and I must say that I highly recommend simply recipes as well.

Several cookbooks have been recommended and as someone who has a soft spot for cookbooks, I could not be more pleased. Bonnie recommended “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” and I have heard so much about this cookbook that it’s already on my wish list. Elizabeth highly spoke of “Jamie’s Dinners” for its foundational recipes particularly. Dingey suggests “The Flavor Bible” for learning about how flavors complement each other and I think I’m going to put this on reserve at the library immediately. Bonnie recommends a collection of books available in Canada that I might have to search for in the states called “Jean Pare’s Company’s Coming.”



  1. Grill up burgers on the weekend to have on hand for lunch during the week
  2. Make casseroles on the weekend to round out your week’s meals
  3. Take a pack of chicken and marinate each piece in a different marinade
  4. Prep and marinate vegetables on the weekend. During the week lay them on the grill or sauté them on the stove.
  5. Save the dishes that have a bigger time commitment for the weekend.


  1. Shop and cook together on the weekends for quality time
  2. Keep healthy snacks on hand for grazers and frequent eaters
  3. Make your meals to double-duty by reinventing leftovers
  4. Make extra to freeze as back up
  5. Create meals assembly-line style to breakup the workload.


  1. Improv meals from a well stocked pantry


  1. Prep your vegetables
  2. use your gas grill to create fast, flavorful dinners


  1. Stock up on expensive, organic chicken when on sale and freeze
  2. Use frozen pizza dough to create fabulous, healthy, inexpensive gourmet pizza
  3. Roast a chicken to last a couple meals
  4. Use your crock pot to get multiple meals from one meal’s work


  1. Roast chicken goes far. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a good value.
  2. Frittata and other egg dishes is a quick way to get a lot of healthy protein inexpensively
  3. Keep good-quality sausage in the freezer for lots of meal options
  4. Learn the basics of foundation recipes


  1. Stock up to keep stuff on hand for improved meals
  2. Stock up in bulk to save money
  3. Make grain salads ahead of time – they last, are healthy, and filling
  4. Learn to pair your flavors


  1. Prepping the night before with the crock pot turns into something delicious the next day
  2. Keep track of recipes you’d like to try and ingredients you’ll need
  3. Have a stash of recipes that you can go to when you need something fast
  4. Stir fries are delicious and healthy
  5. Frozen pizza dough only needs toppings and you have a delicious pie for the oven

There you have it, folks, a wealth of information on how to answer the one inevitable question in life: what’s for dinner?  I think we just might have the answer.