Hot.  It is hot.  Cool, it is not.  How I wish it were chilly but it is hot, hot, hot, HOT.

Have I mentioned it’s hot?

People who hang out with me on a regular basis know some of my fave things in life.  Sangria is one of those things.

Sangria comes in a kajillion different ways but generally includes wine, fruit, juice and some other stuff.  While I appreciate a crisp white sangria, red is my go-to.

Lots of restaurants serve sangria and I must say that none of them make it better than I do.  (Oh no she di-‘unt just say that!)  Apparently practice does make perfect 😉 and I have finally given up ordering this when dining out as it’s just too disappointing.  Everyone tries to get all fancy-pants about it with 12-ingredient-long recipes and almost always waaaaay too much sugar.  Blech!

I even saw a restaurant in Mammoth Lakes this summer that boasted “World’s Best Sangria!”  Not even close.

Simple.  Lightly sweetened.  Refreshing and beautiful.  I have a few sangria recipes I like, including one that uses pineapple juice and spiced rum, but for now please say hello to…

Michelle’s Simple Summer Sangria

Ingredients: 1 bottle red wine, 2 cups OJ, 1 can club soda, chopped seasonal fruit (I used a nectarine and a plum here) 2 tbsp. sugar, 1-2 shots brandy or rum or triple sec.

Directions: Chop the fruit and set it in the liquor with sugar for an hour or so–longer is fine.  Chill all your ingredients and mix them all together, serve over ice (casually cute Martha Stewart glass jar optional) and smile.  You may want to add another 1-3 tbsp. sugar to taste.

Tips: Don’t break the bank on the wine.  A mediocre $5-7 bottle will do fine.  In the fall I make sangria with oranges and apples.  In the spring with strawberries and cherries.  It’s all good.  Really good.

Bonus tip: Sangria always tastes better when shared with good friends, like Dale and Lisa.  Cheers!

sangria cheers!


Double Header


So we threw a double-header birthday party last Saturday (Rhea’s favorite part of the cake pictured here.)  Two of my three kiddos turn a year older within a week of one another, and this year I decided to combine and conquer.  It was a total blast–so much fun, in fact, that I didn’t even think to grab my camera much during the festivities.  I was completely immersed in the excitement!

Lucky for me my kiddos have made friends with children of parents I love to hang with, so, I’ll admit it, it was kind of like a big party for me too.

I love to throw parties.  LOVE IT.  I always wanted a big sunny house so that I could cook up a bunch of food and make pitchers of sangria, and then invite over my family, neighbors and friends to eat, drink and be silly with us.

Entertaining can be expensive though–and I am a thrifty girl by nature.  I won’t short change my guests’ party experience and I wouldn’t dream of serving cheap, crummy food (heaven’s no!)  For me there’s something about the challenge of working from a budget and making due with clever vs. expensive/easy that gets my party juices flowin’.  Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still do stuff from scratch and play the party-budget game each time.  Keeps my on my toes and my children don’t need wedding-reception style parties to celebrate life anyway.

Here are my top 7 tips for throwing BIG, fun, manageable and affordable fiestas:

1. Plan ahead with food prep.  Making your own food is key to saving money.  I shopped for groceries on Wednesday and started prepping food on Thursday.   Working on my menu on Thursday and Friday helped break up my efforts and not make the time investment feel so burdensome.

Prepare as much as possible before the party to insure a more relaxed time for the hosts!  Even though we served grilled chicken at Rhea’s party, I baked the chicken on Friday.  This way Mike could toss it on the grill for 10 minutes to warm it up.  Done!

2.  Double up or share resources if possible.  By throwing two parties in one day I cleaned my house once, prepared a ton of food once, and cleaned up once.  My middle child is already pondering ways to stretch the dollar for her October birthday–and even suggested we team up with another October-baby friend so the families could share some of the costs. “Plus we invite the same kids anyway, mama!”  I don’t know if these plans will materialize but that’s my girl!

3. Choose food items wisely. For example, I made a triple batch of my cole slaw.  Cabbage is inexpensive, and cole slaw actually tastes better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days (made mine on Thursday!)  Grayson (first party) wanted Dodger Dogs and Rhea (fiesta numero dos) wanted chicken and ribs.  Cole slaw goes with both!

Make pitchers of lemonade or punch instead of purchasing expensive juice boxes  (saves on trash too.)

4. Bake your own cake.  No-brainer from a financial standpoint.  I like Trader Joe’s Vanilla with real vanilla bean cake mix.  It tastes homemade and if you’re not a baking fan (hi!) you can save the headache and still impress your guests.

5. Instruct kids to write thank-you notes before the party.  I got this idea from my sister, Deb, and I absolutely love it.  “An attitude of gratitude” is a very important concept at our house.  Rather than having my kids write out thank you notes for gifts, they now write out a “thank you for helping me celebrate” note that gets handed out to guests upon departure.  Not only is there more motivation to write notes before the party, I like the emphasis on thanking friends for their presence, not just their presents.

Grayson’s (dual immersion kindergarten) notes are in Spanish as that’s the only phonetic system he can use at the moment.  Each note says “Thank you for coming to my party!”

thank you notes

6. When appropriate, include kids in financial decision making.  Like I said, I stick to my party budget.  We usually have pinatas for our birthdays, but I suggested to Rhea and Grayson that since we were doubling up our party fun, we could splurge a little and get a bouncer for the day–but doing so would mean no pinata for either one.  I want my kids to feel celebrated, yes, but I think it’s important for them to understand that money doesn’t magically appear in my wallet in copious amounts.  We can do a lot of things, but we can’t do everything.

7. If you can swing it, I really must advise you to rent a Gy-normous Tweety Bird Bouncer like this honkin’ thing:


Although we normally don’t go the “bouncer route” for our birthdays, by doubling up Mike and I could justify the cost.  And then, for an extra 15 bucks we got this larger, super-ridiculous bounce-house. (I mean, seriously, does it get more ridiculous than this?)

My kids, seen here with a neighbor, were literally speechless when they saw this thing inflate.  12 or so kids could easily jump around inside.  Between the two parties, neighbors coming over in between and my extended family wrapping things up at the end, there was someone jumping up and down in this thing for eight hours straight.  Toh-tally worth it.

Thank you, everyone, who took time to come bounce-eat-drink with us on Saturday.  Rhea and Grayson had a ball (and Josie too!) and so did Mike and I.  We feel extremely blessed to have our three amazing kids and so many great friends to party with!