Valentine’s Day gift guide by budget

strawberry soda and doughnut

Do you and your partner like giving and receiving Valentine’s Day gifts? Has that changed for you over the years?

Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for Paul and me, but we usually have a nice dinner whether at home or out, and exchange small gifts.

One year, I came by train from Covina to Union Station in Los Angeles where he picked me up. This was his first year living in Santa Monica, before I moved in with him. I brought him a strawberry soda and two donuts from The Donut Man in Glendora for us to share.

There was another year when he and my brother-in-law had to work on Valentine’s Day, so my mom, sister Katie, and I all had dinner together at California Pizza Kitchen. Although unromantic, it was a very lovely and memorable Valentine’s Day. I think I gave my mom a gift and probably Paul one later, but I can’t remember now what.

I can not remember what we did last year. Maggie was two months old and we were struggling to figure out her eating and sleeping habits. She was our Valentine. We were all each other’s Valentines.

If you’re having trouble thinking of what gift you can give your sweetheart, or your mom, or your friend, I have a few suggestions in order of price.

Under $15
Of course, chocolate is usually a good choice. If your loved one has a favorite that’s a safe bet. I find Ritter Sport to be a nice crowd pleasing favorite. My favorite flavors are the milk chocolate with butter biscuit and the milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

If you want to give a homemade chocolate treat, I have a recipe for you! Try my homemade chocolate peanut butter hearts.

If you care to buy a gift that is a little sexy, might I suggest a nice pair of underwear? Underwear for the men: Pair of Thieves. For the women: Aerie.

Or gift a nice pair of socks, or three. There’s this inside joke in my husband’s family. One of the kids got a pair of socks in his Christmas stocking and said, “Socks, really.” But, I think socks are great and lots of grown ups appreciate cozy socks. Socks for the men: Pair of Thieves or Uniqlo. For the women: Madewell or Uniqlo.

Under $30

I like the idea of giving gifts related to experiences or hobbies and thinking of ways you’re creating memories together. These scratch off maps are perfect if you like that too. I’m considering getting the “100 things” scratch off poster, but just not sure where to put it in our home.

A map that you can scratch off

100 things to do scratch off poster

Under $50
It’s the perfect time of year for a nice warm fuzzy robe. For the men: Lands End robe. For the women: Aerie robe.

Over $50
An experience: movie theater gift certificate, concert tickets, tickets for a play, amusement park, or a cooking class.

Personally, I don’t believe in spending more than about $30 on Valentine’s Day and it’s not in my budget. I would rather spend more on an anniversary or birthday, save for a trip, or save for something needed. But if it were in my budget right now, I think my husband would be thrilled at surprise concert tickets and I would be very happy to have a surprise cooking class. Or, maybe sometime we will plan something together, not as a surprise, like a trip to Universal Studios.

No matter your budget, think about what your partner may want or need. If you’re not getting far with that, think about what their favorite activities or hobbies are and what the two of you might like to do together to make the gift personal.

Maggie turns 1


I have been meaning to write a blog post commemorating Maggie surpassing the one year mark for more than a month now. She turned one year old in the middle of December and now here we are in the middle of January. It is funny to think that I am now the mom of a one year old. It is honestly hard to write about because it is a little hard to think about. My baby is growing up. It’s happening so slowly and quickly at the same time. Continue reading

10 favorite winter dinners


Do you have recipes or dishes that you come back to again and again when cold weather hits? Do you think there is a difference between warm weather food and cold weather food?

I was watching a Giant Bomb video podcast a while ago with Paul, and the guys were talking about whether there is a difference between summer food and winter food. They seemed to agree that they eat more salad in summer and more soup in winter. I would definitely say that’s true for me.

I love the opportunity to make soups and stews in the fall and winter months. In the California heat of summer, I try not to turn on the oven or use the crockpot much, as that quickly raises temperature of our already hot home. Even using the stove can be tough when it’s already sweltering. Once it gets cold, I am so happy to use my oven and crockpot. They can make for more hands-off cooking.

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Meal plan vs. reality

Once again, we ate pretty healthy meals this week. We didn’t eat much frozen food, not even for lunches. We only ate a meal out once and that was In-N-Out for lunch on Friday.

I felt very, very, very lucky to have home cooked meals Wednesday through Saturday that I didn’t cook myself. I’m counting taco man tacos at a party as home cooked here.

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Stovetop macaroni and cheese


One of my favorite comfort meals is macaroni and cheese, especially when it’s cold. It’s one of my favorite winter meals, right up there with chili and broccoli soup. Although it’s not winter yet, it’s starting to feel like it. Today it rained fairly hard and it was windy too. That doesn’t happen too much around Southern California, so when it does it’s a big deal. We’re wimps, I know.

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My 10 favorite newborn products


My sister Mary is exiting the newborn stage with her beautiful baby Elena. Thinking about that, I started reflecting on my time with Maggie as a newborn recently. It was an exciting time, but like all new parents, Paul and I had a hard time figuring out how to care for our new baby. Maggie was adjusting to a whole new way of life too, being outside the womb.

In addition to the invaluable support of family and friends, there were some products that I found especially helpful in the newborn stage. I thought I would share my top 10 list with you all.

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Meal plan vs. reality

snack plate dinner

Sleep hasn’t gotten any better. I have been thinking of doing sleep training with Maggie but I’m not sure how. I don’t know if certain methods would work for us. I hate to hear her cry. But I also want to teach her to fall asleep on her own eventually and not have to hold her until she falls back to sleep 4 times a night.

We had simple meals this week because of the poor sleeping habits. My favorite meal was the barbacoa meat made in the crockpot using the Gimme Some Lovin’ recipe. The meat turned out perfectly seasoned and tender

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Sweet potato oat muffins (Toddler-friendly)

sweet potato oat muffins

My baby is quickly turning into a toddler. She’s a toddler who loves to eat and I’m thankful she’s not picky yet. To try to keep up with her appetite and nutritional needs, I’m trying to give her more healthy “big kid” food and not rely on purees as much. She’s become a lot better at picking food up, putting it in her mouth and chewing it. Adults don’t really think about how eating involves all those skills that babies have to learn.

If you don’t have a toddler to feed, you can certainly still make these muffins. The recipe is very easily adjustable and they make a great healthy snack. You can easily make them more sweet by adding sugar or chocolate chips. If you don’t have mashed sweet potato readily available, canned pumpkin totally works.

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Cranberry pecan spinach salad

This salad is made with a baby spinach and greens mix, pecans, cranberries, and a triple berry balsamic dressing. I was inspired to make the dressing when I came across my cousin Laura’s recipe for Triple Berry Spinach Salad in our family cookbook.

I think this salad would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving table. It feels like a fall or winter dish because of the cranberries and pecans. You could also eat this the day after a holiday get together with the addition of leftover turkey or chicken.

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