Cheap Dates


This article, 102 Things to Do on a Money-Free Weekend, inspired me to share our Date Jar.

Our Date Jar doesn’t have everything in it like this list does. I guess I could also include Reorganizing The Garage on here, which might be relaxing to some, but since I’m dreadfully allergic to dust it’d be more like, “Reorganizing The Garage while Suffering Heart Palpitations from Sudafed Overdose.”

Date Jar is something we brainstormed one day, and as you can see it has price points of all kinds. So we have stuff in there from “hiking” to “weekend in Seattle.”

I thought I’d share some $25 and under ideas from my jar, because saving money is never a bad thing. These are region-specific, but you should look for similar goings-on around you.

The Arts

  1. Improv theatre groups: in San Diego, our favorite long-form improv shows are at Sidestage Improv. There’s a regular troupe, and they also host acts from around San Diego and LA. Tickets are only $10.
  2. TwainFest is a family-friendly free festival at Old Town, on August 25 this year. Our kids had a blast pretending to cast votes (and ultimately getting denied because of the 1800s voting rules!) and gawking at the giant papier mache Mark Twain heads.
  3. Art nights: Ray at Night and Liberty Station both have these once a month. Of course, you might want to buy some food from vendors or some jewelry or art, but there’s no admission fee. San Diego Ballet also offers free mini-shows sometimes at the Liberty Station event (first Friday). Little Italy has a quarterly night event.
  4. Culture and cocktails at the SD Art Museum: A quarterly event with booze, a DJ, and of course art, this is free for members (not the Explorer pass members, but SD Museum of Art members) or $20 presale or $20 at the door. If you’re single, I hear it’s a great way of meeting new people (don’t ask how I know. I have my ways).
  5. While we’re at it, the SD Museum of Art also hosts lectures on its special exhibits. These cost from $8-$12.
  6. In fact, if you’re interested in the visual arts, you should visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s website to see what programs they offer, like this free lecture.
  7. Attend an author talk at Warwick’s or Barnes and Noble. Do you have to buy the book? Not technically, usually. But you should, and it’ll run from about $16 for a paperback to around $27 for a hardback (okay, that’s $2 over). But totally worth it.
  8. Go to a library sale with your sweetie. Our local branches hold these monthly, on a Saturday morning. Personally I love taking Cadillac to these because he carries my haul for me.
    DimeStories is a super duper awesome monthly event. Held at SD Writers Ink in Liberty Station on the second Friday of every month, you can either listen to 3-minute long stories (for FREE!) or pay $5 and read your own.
  9. Theatre: for $25? Skeptical? You have to do some searching. Check out Goldstar for comp or deeply discounted tickets– many productions offer these on preview nights. Goldstar has a $5.75 per ticket fee, so your total cost for two comp tickets will be $11.50 (look, Ma, I’m doing math!). Also check out your local community colleges’ theater departments for their productions.


  1. Hiking. Mission Trails (not Cowles Mountain, way too crowded) is our favorite because it’s close to us, but there are lots in the county. Start here for a list. To make it a real date, pack a picnic, a blanket, and a bottle of wine.
  2. Mountain Biking. Mission Trails is a popular, easily accessible course.
  3. Bike a paved path. Do Lake Murray or the Boardwalk at Mission Beach and stop at Starbucks (Lake Murray) or get an ice cream cone after.
  4. Kayaking Mission Bay or to the La Jolla caves. Last year we bought a 2-person kayak and it’s seen good use. If you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard or surfboard, you can rent one or borrow one.
  5. Archery range at Balboa Park. $2 donation.
  6. Disc golfing at Morley Field. $4 on weekends. They rent discs for $1.50.
  7. Walk the Zoo or Safari Park. We get the annual membership, but hardly ever go without the kids. Sans kids, these places are totally different– we like to observe animals for a long time. You could also bring a camera or a sketchbook and try your hand at making some art.
  8. Drive. You’ve seen the signs for years. Finally do that 59 mile Scenic Tour.
  9. Snorkel. once you have the equipment, you can use it over and over again. La Jolla Cove is probably the best place in the area to see some fish.

Doing Things at Which You Suck

My youngest plays softball. Today she expressed some frustration with it– actually directed at herself. She’s not that good at it, she told me; it’s causing her anxiety. (yeah, she actually did use the word anxiety).

I encouraged her to keep doing it. “You may not be the best one on your team, but that’s okay,” I said, and I wondered if that is really true. Aren’t we all programmed and encouraged by society to want to be #1? Ichiban, as my mother would say. Be the best, or be nothing at all.

If you’re not the best, is your “self-esteem” forever crushed, or will you be okay? If you’re on a team and you’re not the best, will the others resent you for holding them back?

Recently I’ve started doing things at which I suck. Greatly. I bought a month’s worth of unlimited classes at a dance studio.

I am not a very good dancer. I am not coordinated in that way. I mean, I actually have good hand-eye coordination, owing to years of piano, so I’m not the worst at things like tennis; but I have trouble remembering the steps of dance. To know which foot goes where and when, on the beat.

I go with a friend of mine, who danced for years, competitively and in college. Maybe I should have felt intimidated by that, maybe that should have made me stay home– but instead I was comforted. I knew she could help my sorry ass when I needed it.

So I’ve shown up at a few classes. Jazz, populated with 18 year olds who can do the splits– the freakin’ side to side splits, mind you; whose instructor went through the steps with dizzying speed. Last night it was tap, which had a more diverse group of ages but which was three weeks into their three-part routine. “Shuffle step step!” the tap instructor called out, as I wondered what on earth a shuffle was. I took tap when I was like 6. I don’t remember much of it. But I kind of figured it out, or at least I kind of pretended to.

I followed the routine, and I swear to God I got worse and worse with each run-through. We had to break into pairs and my friend helped me with some troublesome steps (the “flea-flicker.”) Today I don’t really remember the steps at all, though I meant to practice for next week.

Because I’m going back, though I was the worst one. Because I got sweaty and the other dancers are so nice and I liked the tapping noises and I really liked how it felt when I did a step correctly.

Some people are naturally talented at certain things, and require less work to get really good. Other people are bad at those things, and require more practice and nurturing to only get to a not-bad level.

So some softball girls will play this year, just to build coordination and have fun, and that will be that. Others will go on to play college softball.

And I think– or I hope– that playing on a team (not that I know, because sadly I’ve never been on a sports team) is like going to class with my friend. Your teammates are there to support you, not make you worried.

I remember when I was growing up, we had the graveyard of abandoned hobbies in our garage. An aquarium because my oldest brother wanted to be a marine biologist. A chemistry set because he wanted to be a chemist. But he didn’t become either of those things and I remember my mom was kind of, like, mad about it. Like she still regretted “wasting” money on these hobby sets.

Sometimes the point is not to be the best, but to participate and learn what you can. To show up and try. Next year, my kid will try a different sport and maybe it’ll be the one she’s got natural talent for. Maybe I’ll try a different hobby and that will be my thing forever (I always imagine myself being the oldest figure skater at the Olympics, like the Natural). You don’t know unless you try, and you don’t know how good you can get until you spend a bit of time doing it.

Happy New Year!

Hello, little blog world! (waves). Wow, kittens. How long has it been? Obviously I’m not writing on here as much as I once did. Why? For one, I switched servers and this server has no phone app– from which I often began blog posts– and I have to get my blog redesigned to accommodate some new features.

For another, blogging takes up quite a bit of “creative juice.” I would like my blog posts to be fairly well written, which means rewriting, which means time, which I don’t always have.

So those are the reasons. Maybe not excuses.

I have lots of big things planned for this year, not the least of which is my new book, SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, coming in April. I recently looked on Amazon and saw some reviews on there already, to my surprise. I don’t recall there being Amazon Vine reviews for ROSES. I think there were for HOUSEWIFE, but I think they were not the greatest initially. Luckily, they’re good so far! Phew! (And don’t forget that preorders are the sword by which books rise or die. This is the #1 way to help an author stay in business. Pre-order a copy if you think you have a 5% chance of possibly wanting to read the book. The price will go down as more people order and as the pub date nears.)

Anyway, back to the new year. What things do you have planned? This year, I’m going to try to be more social. I tend to be kind of hermit-like as a writer and I’m not naturally prone to throwing parties, nor did I grow up with that; but I’d like to maybe do that this year.

Happy January, everyone!

Everybody is Against Me

You guys, I am offended.

Like deeply offended.

Every time I go to my kids’ school for drop-off or pick-up, even if I don’t get out of the car, I see these women with jobs outside the home. They’re in their fancy clothes from the Banana Republic or Nordstrom or Old Navy and they’ve got big diamonds on their fingers and they have the newest iPhone and they…they give me the side eye. And then their MAC glossed lips curve cruelly upwards like daggers into my soul. Like they’re saying, “Ohhh, I wore these clothes to rub the fact that you don’t work outside the home in your face, you greasy-haired yoga-pant wearing WRITER scum.”

It hurts my feelings.

Women shouldn’t wear fancy clothes to pick up or drop off. We should all be wearing the same thing, because this is America. Some nicely pressed jeans (not too tight!) and a button-up shirt (no gaps between buttons!) and some flats (nothing flashy!) would do. Hair should be pulled back. Makeup should be minimal, but tasteful. Eyelashes should not be too long. Lipstick should not be too bright.

I don’t care if you have to go home and change on your way to work. That’s what you need to do, otherwise I will a) be judging your clothes and b) have my feelings hurt.

“Margaret,” you should be saying right now, “you need to switch over to your decaf chai, stat!”

Today Yahoo had this article about women who wear gym clothes to pick up their kids. It’s one long treatise on how women only wear workout clothes not because they’re comfortable or they don’t have time to change or they’re on their way to/from to the gym, but because these moms are part of a “Lululmafia,” meant solely to lord over their smoking hot bodies over the rest of you squishy peons.

What you should do is go home and change first, because even though the people at the gym just saw your gym clothes, the  good parents of delicate sensibilities at your school CANNOT HANDLE THE REALNESS. “Maybe wearing body-hugging spandex is just a fashion statement, and an opportunity to show off your buff body. Or could it be merely an aspirational status symbol, kind of like the ‘LA Law’ power suit of the ’80s was for women who longed to be lawyers?” the article says.

I live in San Diego, allegedly the 8th fittest city in the US, so this seemed like a big old yawn to me. Lots of people wear gym clothes to get their kids. Only because we’re that hot and we are rubbing it in your faces, cities 9-20000. In your faces!

Even men in workout gear are seen picking up their kids, men with biceps bulging out of their triathlon shirts. But men are so innocent of any ulterior motives that the writer of this article 100% leaves them out. Because if a man drops off his kid while wearing running clothes, he probably has a better reason than a woman, right? A woman’s just trying to send the message that you’re inferior. A man actually is going running. (And I wonder: when Cadillac does pick-up, does he sit there judging the other men on what they’re wearing? Pretty sure the answer is no.)

But women tend to cattily judge each other, even as we protest that we shouldn’t teach our daughters to do that.  I suppose it springs from some animal level: we assess other animals to see whether or not they’re a threat.  On some level, somebody is jealous of the other woman and wants to put her in her place in the hierarchy she made up in her head. Doesn’t that other woman know that *you’re* the hottest ticket in town? Not her! Put that firm yoga bottom away! However, we are also smart humans, which means we should be able to say, “Hmmm, it doesn’t matter that that lady looks good in her workout clothes; neither I nor anyone else is diminished because of her workout gear.”

And, guess what? I have good news for you, sister! Are you ready for it?


Ready for the news?

Lemme hear you say it!


People do not get dressed for school pick-up with the intent of shaming other people. If you think that  you are making yourself unhappy. Making up stories about other people’s intent is always a recipe for depression. You cannot control or know what other people are thinking.

If I decided to not wear gym clothes to school anymore, if I decided to dress up with heels and makeup and jewelry, somebody else would then complain that I was showing everybody up by looking too good for school. “Look at that high-falutin’ author strutting around like she’s the queen, shaking her can all over town,” someone would grouse. “Ugh. Who does she think she is, showing off like that?”

I mean, judge me for flipping you off as I cut off your car in the fire lane. Don’t judge me for what I’m wearing while I’m doing it.

Judging others as if they’re always out to get you is an entirely useless and unhealthy exercise. I’ve seen this mindset of thinking, “Oh, this woman’s against me!” happen both with these kinds of click-baiting articles and in real life. I have a friend who mentioned this one woman we both knew. Woman A didn’t like going over to Woman B’s house because Woman B’s house was so neat, that Woman A felt ashamed that her own house wasn’t neat. So her solution was to not visit Woman B.

Well, if people have a neat house, they’re likely not keeping it neat to make you feel bad. They’re keeping it neat because they like it like that. They don’t give a care about your house.

And if they do care that much about your house, then they’re anal retentive weirdos. Judge them for that.

Likewise, I had a friend who said she hated going to the gym because of all the gym bunnies there, judging her. Um. How do you know somebody’s judging you (unless they write a Yahoo article)? Are you in that person’s head? The most likely story is that these women just work out a lot and are minding their own business.

Why would you let the THOUGHT of what someone else MIGHT THINK control what you DO?

Here’s my advice for today, and the rest of your life.

I was viewing a Gracie brothers video (because I sit around in my yoga pants learning how to fight)  in which they watched and broke down a street fight that somebody recorded. The Gracies are members of the legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu clan, and obviously they could fight everyone they meet, all day long, and win. “How many fights have I been in?” asked one brother. “Ask how many fights I could have been in. 6-8. But I’ve been in zero.”

“Zero?” asked the other brother. “How is that possible? Don’t you want to TEACH THEM A LESSON?”

“It’s not my job to teach them a lesson,” the first responded. “I de-escalate. I walk away.” He explained that unless a life is endangered, fighting is not really worth it.

So save the judgment and criticism and action for when a life might actually be endangered. Trying to live and control other people’s heads is not going to work.

Let’s try to be members of the Get Along Gang, here.

Also, I bet if the Gracies wore workout clothes to pick up, nobody would say anything.

10 Things Having a Dog Has Taught Me

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”– Milan Kundera

InstagramCapture_d6986870-7647-4e5f-8509-bd12fef16a61_jpg (1)

I never really considered myself a dog person. The dog we had when we were growing up was kept outside, chained to a fence. We were never even allowed to take him for walks(I know, the poor dog! What a sucky life). As a child, I didn’t know how to train the dog not to jump on me and I was unable to advocate for the dog or convince my parents to do things differently.

We had a Lab mix for a while when the older kids were little, but allergies got to us. Three of us have had allergy shots, and seven years later, finally we were able to adopt Gatsby.

When we first brought him home, I wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake. He was seven months old, he’d lived mostly in a crate, and he was nuts. Never trained, he’d bite constantly at all of us– not hard, but hard enough. He used his mouth as his hand. He jumped. He couldn’t sit still.

A little over a year later, we could not imagine not having Gatsby in our lives.

I’ve been thinking of what I’ve learned from this teddy bear of a dog.

1. Live in the present.
So you made a mistake and get scolded, or somebody accidentally steps on your tail. You’re hurt for a second or guilty, and then you move on. Period.

2. Don’t worry about dirt.
Before I had a dog, I didn’t like getting dirty or having dirt tracked into the house. Well, I still don’t like it, but now I know. A little dirt is a necessary trade-off for a good time.

3. Be yourself, and people will like you.

Gatsby is a happy-go-lucky dog who goes up to everyone with what looks like a big grin on his face, his tail wagging. Does he care if they don’t like him back? No. He just goes on being himself. And I can’t take him anywhere without people commenting, “What a happy dog!” And he makes people smile. I wish I could be like him.

4. Feeling Sorry for Yourself Hurts Only You
Gatsby does not like it when somebody starts crying for no good reason. For example, if someone is just feeling emotional and put-upon and begins crying over an imagined slight, Gatsby will straight-up run away and avoid that person. You get no sympathy from Gatsby. This tends to make people (cough, kids) snap out of it. Even laugh despite themselves at Gatsby’s disapproving glance.

However, if you’re really sick or deeply hurt, Gatsby will come sit at your feet and stay with you all day. Like today, when Little Girl had a fever and was laid out on the couch. Gatsby got no walk and didn’t get to take the kids to school, but he stayed close.


5. Greet everyone you love as if you haven’t seen them for a hundred years.
Every time one of us arrives back home, Gatsby greets us with enthusiasm. It’s like we were off fighting in a war and were MIA. His whole body squirms and wriggles. He leaps. He twirls. He cannot physically express how happy and glad he is that we are home.

None of us know, when we part, if we will be together again, even if one of us is just stepping out to the grocery store. That may seem macabre, but it’s true, isn’t it? Be grateful when one of your loved ones arrives back home safe.

6. Exercise is fun and good.
Gatsby has forced me to be more fit. If he misses his walks, I can see him growing more anxious before my eyes. And after he gets a good run at the park, he comes home happy and satisfied. I too feel anxious and out of sorts if I don’t get exercise. I never much liked exercising, but now I do.

7. Be Unapologetically Alpha
Gatsby needs a strong Master. He’s too smart otherwise, and will find ways to do what he wants. He loves Cadillac and wants to please him.
Having a dog like this has taught me and the kids how to take charge. Saying in a soft voice, “You should sit,” does nothing. We have learned how to command. How to tell someone what to do without a trace of apology in our voices. How to walk with our shoulders back, the leader of the dog.
I believe this has been a fantastic lesson for the kids.

8. Try, try, try again.
Gatsby doesn’t get frustrated when learning a new trick. Not when there are treats involved. I know, as his owner, that training a dog for new trick takes repetition and practice.

This is a valuable lesson for the kids: we don’t get things perfect on the first attempt. And little rewards help our motivation, even if those rewards just come in the form of some praise.

9. Physicality isn’t Scary
One of the most startling things for me was watching how Cadillac roughhoused with the dog. It just seemed…so rough. And the dog loves it.

My son, who has two sisters, has never really been the roughhouse type– until he got the dog. Now he gets down and wrestles the dog and it’s a big mess and they’ve never looked happier.

I know now that it’s normal for me to sort of knock my big lug of a dog out of the way with my leg. Dogs are physical creatures, and so are humans, really.

10. Know when to be gentle, and when to be rough
Gatsby knows he cannot jump on Grandma. He sits by her and leans against her to be petted. He knows that Grandpa will allow him to jump up, and so will Cadillac. Gatsby knows not to jump on me. He knows the girls don’t like it. He knows the boy does.

Gatsby likes to go outside and run the neighborhood with a neighbor dog. That neighbor has two small girls. Once Gatsby ran full-speed toward the smaller girl. I was terrified he’d knock her over. But no, he slowed and gave her wide berth.

Sensing who is fragile and who isn’t is a good skill to have.

Can Authors Have Brands?

Last week, I listened to author Lisa See talk about branding, courtesy of Susan McBeth’s Authorpreneurs program. (Note to all authors: if you’re coming through San Diego ever or would like to, contact Susan’s Adventures by the Book and see if you can set up an event with her. She runs fabulous events).

lisa see by Susan McBeth

Authors have “brands.” Did you know that? I did, but it always awfully smacked of “selling out to the man” or something. We’re artistes! We write what we feel driven to write.

I have always written about what I wanted to write about, without thought of which category my writing fit into or trying to shoehorn it into a certain genre. Not that I did it on purpose, exactly; it’s just how things worked out. I had stories I wanted to tell and the genres came after.

My second book won an American Library Association Award for Best Women’s Fiction, so I think we can somewhat objectively say it wasn’t poorly written. However, that book didn’t sell nearly as well as my first book.  Hmmm. Is it because the subject matter was different? Maybe that people didn’t connect with a potential downer of a storyline (character with a grave illness). I did go back to writing a Japanese theme for this third book because I found something I really really wanted to write about, a warrior woman associated with my mother’s family tree.

Is writing about half-Japanese people my brand, then? Or is my brand “family relationship dramas?” What is an “author brand,” anyway?

Basically, it’s what people expect from you when they pick up a book of yours. This expectation stems from whatever book you wrote that sold the best. See’s brand would be historical novels containing a secret, with Chinese or Chinese-American characters.

But what if she wanted to write about non-Chinese characters?

Sure, she could. She could in the sense that this is America and you can write whatever you like. Nobody’s going to take her laptop away and throw her into the gulag if she writes something different. HOWEVER, the publisher might not publish it.

On one level, I feel like this may be unfair to Lisa See. When I read a Lisa See novel, I know I will get a beautifully written, exhaustively researched novel with some historical flair. The style of writing would not change, just the subject matter. What does subject matter have to do with style?

Then as she continued the talk and my mind (with its long synapses, a quality of an introvert) digested all of this, I had an epiphany.

I think what turned me off so much before about “branding” was the fact that the word “branding” was used. However, try substituting the word “style,” perhaps combined with “subject matter.” I think about different visual artists and the themes they explore, I can certainly tell their styles apart, and the artwork is mostly thematically cohesive.

If you look at, for example, a Picasso painting, you know it’s a Picasso painting and not,say, a Jackson Pollock. For the most part.

Here’s Woman with Mandolin, by Picasso.

Woman with Mandolin

Here’s Blue Poles by Pollock.

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock

But both men had different styles (or brands, if you will) early in their careers. You could even say that the early Pollock looks a bit like the later Picasso.

The Old Fisherman, Picasso, 1895

early picasso

Naked Man with a Knife, c. 1938, Jackson Pollock

Naked Man with Knife c.1938-40 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956

Another distinctive artist is Diane Arbus, known for her photographs of those on the fringes of society. Both the subject matter and style are hers. But she and her husband did start out as fashion photographers for magazines like Vogue.

Do these and other artists have the ability to work in different styles competently? Yes.  But were they known for working in all of them? No. They developed a distinctive style, or voice, or brand.

This is true for musicians as well. I was watching The Voice the other night. A guy sang “Pretty Woman.” He sounded exactly like Roy Orbison, like a Roy Orbison impressionist, in fact. Nobody turned their chair for him, and all the judges said that he sounded too much like Orbison. They wanted somebody with his own sound that sounds like nobody else on the planet.
Your style (or your brand) is what nobody else has. A different take. As the writer Anna Quindlen said, “Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.”

So, all this was going through my head during See’s discussion. And I wondered, is it really unreasonable for me to have a style and subject matter that I am known for? That is pretty much the only new thing I’m bringing to the table, right? That is my brand—or whatever you want to call it.

Maybe the “brand” isn’t totally dependent on the author. Maybe your brand is just what the market (your readership) decides for you. Maybe your readers will follow you no matter what you write about, maybe they won’t.

I think you have to write about what moves you, and your brand will follow. After all, there are never any failproof guarantees about bestseller-dom or awards; if there were, publishers would have figured it out. Perhaps you already know what you want to do, or perhaps it will take a few books (another issue: are authors even allowed the time to develop a brand these days?) just as it took some time for these artists to develop their distinctive styles.

10 Menu Planning Tips for Busy Moms

Or Busy Dads! It goes without saying (because I use the word Mom sometimes as a universal word for Parent, the same way you might use the word “he” to signify all of humanity. I.e. “He who laughs last best.” “Moms who plan meals laugh last.” See?).

This might seem like a kind of un-glamorous post (honestly, where are all my posts about high-falutin book parties and designer dresses, hmmm? I thought that’s what I was signing up for when I became a writer!) but it’s completely necessary. And, when looking at my Facebook feed I see I am far from the only parent with this problem, no matter what the job is.

Because those darn kids just INSIST on eating every single day. Who knew this would happen? For eighteen years, times three?

I work (yeah, I know it doesn’t seem like it. Pre-order SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW now! You don’t have to pay until April!) but because I work from home, the menu planning always falls on me. As it should, because if it fell on Cadillac I do believe we’d be eating hamburgers or cereal every night of our lives. (And because you would laugh, seriously, if I told you all the stuff he does around here. Meals are my one job besides picking up kids from school, and he does 99% of everything else).

Yet I struggled, because I don’t like to plan stuff. I like to sit around doing my creative thing and being eccentric and making Art (art with a capital A!). Why don’t I have a personal chef? Where is my delivered meal service? I’m so thwarted, dude.

However, I finally pulled my head out and came up with a system (as opposed to doing nothing and then begging Cadillac to pick something up on the way home).

First, I bought me some chalkboard magnets.


I really wanted whiteboard magnets, but couldn’t find any. I was going to make some, but I kind of forgot. Then I was at Target and saw these on clearance.

Why magnets?

I wanted to write down all the meals, then be able to either erase them or switch them around in case something didn’t work out.

You don’t have to use magnets. You could use a calendar or just check Pinterest for millions of other cute ideas.

I wrote the weekdays on the refrigerator. Who cares about weekends? You might– if you do, include them.


Then, over the weekend, I take an inventory of my fridge and cupboards. What needs using? What’s in the freezer?

This week, I saw that I had ONE PACKAGE OF FROZEN CHICKEN BREASTS. This is enough for one stir-fry meal, but not enough to eat if we’re just eating chicken breasts on their own. Also: ONE 1.33 POUND PACKAGE OF GROUND BEEF (organic grassfed, worth the extra money in my opinion because the non-organic was giving me tummy aches).

That’s it.

Then I asked Cadillac what he wants to eat this week, or if he cared. Fish, he said.

The only fish everyone likes is wild salmon. Ever since my son learned that farmed salmon have artificial color and junk in them, he won’t eat it at all. But no big deal– I like wild salmon better too. I wrote that on the list.

I then looked at my calendar to see what we have going on this week. Workwise, I have my middle grade book edits. My first-pass pages for SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW arrive on Tuesday, and I have a 1-week deadline for those. For my other obligations, I have scheduled Pilates, a museum morning with a friend, and a meeting with a HS English teacher to plan our creative writing club.

I decided I will have time to get veggies and other gap-fillers on Monday. The salmon will be easy– the kids like it with a simple honey-mustard sauce (basically Dijon, soy sauce or gluten-free tamari, and honey mixed together, all of which we have).

Simplicity in Meal Planning

When planning, use the KISS Method: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This will make it more likely that you’ll actually be able to enact your menu. I usually don’t troll for recipes because they take too much time and usually involve buying more stuff that I may not use again. And then it’s intimidating! “Buy GOOD EVOO!” What the heck is good EVOO? What is EVOO??? (Extra virgin olive oil). What? No. I mean, sure, if I see something that looks delicious I might try it. But my favorite thing to do is look and see what I have, then make something based on that– it doesn’t always work, but it’s very fun, a la Top Chef. However, planning ahead is more practical when you have five hungry mouths.

I also like to keep staples on hand: chicken broth, tomato sauce, rice, pasta– that I buy in bulk when I can. For example, I like to buy my gluten free pasta at Trader Joe’s, but I rarely make it there. When I do go, I buy quite a few packages.

Your meal should hit all the good food groups: a simple protein, with lots of vegetables and a whole grain or starch.

For example, grilled or baked chicken is easy– you can marinate with Italian salad dressing or top it with BBQ sauce. You can sprinkle it with cheese if you’re crazy. Have it with a microwave baked potato or rice.

Consider using meat as an accent, like in a stir-fry. You can also choose to make extra meat– grill up a whole pack of Costco chicken breasts– and freeze it or use the rest in another meal a few days later. For example, you could cook up all of your ground beef and use some in spaghetti sauce, and save some for tacos this weekend.

Take Your Schedule into Account

I used to forget this part and just randomly schedule a meal that took 1 hour to bake on a water polo game night. Um, NO.

After looking at my calendar, I decided to buy skinless boneless chicken thighs (2-3 meals), wild salmon (1 meal), and some pre-cooked foods at Costco (the sausage). I already had pasta, marinara sauce, and ground beef for spaghetti with meat sauce. I’ll add veggies to the sauce to make it a one-pot meal. Or we could have a salad with it.

The Ten Tips

Here’s the simplified break-down, if you didn’t want to read my oh-so-interesting thought process.

1. Decide and purchase your menu planning method– from a simple calendar to a cute bulletin board.
2. Over the weekend, or even during the previous week if you’re ambitious, take an inventory of cupboards and freezer. While you’re in there, also do an inventory of school lunches and snacks.
3. Decide what meals you can make using your inventory.
4. Look at your calendar and determine what days will be super-busy around dinner time. On those days, plan for a Crock-Pot meal, a pre-cooked meal, or eating out. Or, if someone else will cook for you, ALL THE BETTER.
5. Look at your calendar and determine when you will have time to go grocery shopping. If you don’t have time to go until Tuesday, plan Monday’s dinner with stuff you already own.
6. Make a grocery store list. I go to Costco and a local farmers market-type place for veggies and sometimes Albertson’s to fill in the gaps. A lot of people I know also swear by home delivery services, like the kind Von’s provides. They often have coupons or free codes to try the service. The time saved may well be worth the delivery fee.
7. Write down your menu.
8. After you grocery shop, freeze what you’re not going to use in another couple of days. Take out and put into the refrigerator those items you will use in the next two days. Repeat every couple of days.
9. Make your food every evening.
10. If anybody complains, they have to make dinner the next night.

This rule comes from Cadillac’s house and it’s only been broken once or twice here. I am NOT THE ONE when it comes to me doing all this work and cooking. We also feel like this is important in terms of manners when you go to someone else’s house– if you complain about the food at your friend’s, you ain’t getting invited back.

I find that having a menu takes a little bit of time to plan, but actually saves more time than the planning takes. No more do I have to wonder what we’re going to do for dinner. And, when it’s written down, if I find myself tired or sick or whatever, I can ask Cadillac to make it and he will, because it’s all spelled out already.

End of Summer

It’s the end of summer!

(Hums BORN FREE, runs around the house in birthday suit)

Here are my end-of-summer bullet points/impressions.

1. We got A/C, which made things a LOT more pleasant. It also made our electric bill excruciatingly high.
2. We are now underway to get solar with the maximum number of kilowatt hours, so we will be home-free next year.
3. My kids, having grown accustomed to having a pool and now having A/C, did not swim as much as they did last year.
4. They spent a lot of time indoors on “screentime” but I have a hard time telling them to stop. Why?
a. My son wants to be a programmer and he seems to notice things about games and programs that I sure don’t.
b. My youngest is writing a book and most of her time on the computer is spent doing that, so how I can tell her to get off the computer?
c. There are no kids around to play with and each playdate must be pre-planned,so I can’t really shove them out the door.
d. My eldest watched BUFFY and I could not bring myself to tell her to not watch so much TV because BUFFY.
e. Cadillac made them run, 2 laps without stopping, in some evenings.
5. Each kid did a camp of their choice if they wished to do so. We apprised one kid of a camp and she said, “Meh.” Then later she asked why we hadn’t sent her because MY GOD SHE SO WANTED TO GO.
a. A camp that ends at noon that takes 35 minutes to get to is not worth the time. All day camp or nothing.
6. My son grew 2.5 inches or so and is now just 2 3/4 inches below me.
7. I learned that THE GRAPES OF WRATH takes a long time to annotate.
8. I’m going to put doors on this room before next summer. Every time somebody comes through to go to the backyard or garage, they say, “HI MOM!” Even if I just saw them 2 seconds ago. This is cute and friendly but if you’re actually working, it is not.
9. Sometimes I just want to be alone when I clean the house.
10. Grass is impossible to keep alive during a drought. It was either the grass or the pool.
11. Sand is super-difficult to get out of Gatsby’s hair.
12. I need more Moms’ Night Outs in the summer than I do in the school year.
13. This summer was the easiest one yet.

Also, you might notice that my blog looks a little different. I changed servers and the old theme is not available here. But theoretically I’ll have more capabilities to do stuff with the blog. Theoretically. It might take me another year or so to figure it out, but I’ll do it eventually.