practically free friday #16 – host a stuff swap

A few times a year I end up going on a decrapification spree around the house, rounding up the things we don’t use and either giving them to someone we know can use them, or donating them to a thrift store. Despite the fact that we do this frequently, stuff still really adds up. I mean, I am a thrift shopper. A craft-maker. A re-user of things (hell-o! jar collection!). And people are always, always giving me STUFF. And I love it. I love finding clever ways to reuse things. I love that people think to give me things rather than throw them in the landfill. And I have great intentions for repurposing, many of which I get around to. Sometimes, though, it gets to be too much. There are lots of options for decrapifying. Yard sale. Selling online. Donating. Giving to friends/family. I’ve done them all.

Somewhere years ago, I heard about stuff swaps. AKA swap-and-bitch. How fun is that? I’ve been meaning to get one together for a while and this summer I finally hosted one (in June.. I’m a bit behind on the blogging). Swaps are awesome, because everyone has stuff.

Here’s how I did it, with much success.

  1. Determine what you’re swapping. I settled on limiting it to clothes/accessories and home goods and it actually was still really insane and disorganized. Maybe picking one or the other would have been better, but this did make it really fun and interesting.
  2. Come up with an invite list and make up invites. I was careful to invite like-minded ladies. Digging through other people’s stuff (or having them dig through yours) isn’t for everyone. There ended up being 8 of us and it was perfect. My invite is below – I put on some loose rules to keep confusion/questions to a minimum.
  3. Make up snacks and drinks. You’ll notice on the invite I encouraged people to bring things to share if they wanted and most everyone did. It was casual and pot-luckish.
  4. Make it informal. We spread out our boxes of stuff, draped clothing over every piece of furniture, tried stuff on in back bedrooms and bathrooms, and picked things for each other to consider. Everyone created their own take-home piles. I don’t even know who took what, for the most part! I was concerned I’d have to force people to start browsing and taking, but no one was shy.
  5. Donate the rest. The purpose is to clean out your stuff. I told everyone that anything left could go home with the original owner, or left with me to donate. Though we all scored a bunch of good stuff there was plenty left to donate, which I did the following weekend.

That’s it! I ended up with several framed prints (just for the frames), some yoga attire, a cute halter, and a handmade crocheted hat. I unloaded about 6 large boxes of clothing, shoes and household stuff.

There are some benefits of swapping over just donating. First, it’s a fun and free way to spend time with your gal pals. Second, it’s easier to let go of the good stuff when it’s going to someone you know! It made culling easier, somehow. Third, the stuff you’re getting in return belonged to someone you know. If you have a used stuff phobia, you may not mind if you know the previous owner.

Has anyone ever hosted or attended a swap?


how to start, and maintain, a cooking club

Last weekend, hubby and I hosted our 4th Cooking Club event at our place. The theme was food-on-a-stick, and it was super fun! All kinds of good things. We made pizza-on-a-stick and salad-on-a-stick. Also on the menu and in our gullets: eggplant skewers, chicken souvlaki, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, Greek salad, cherry pie, cheese cake, strawberry shortcake… all on a stick!

I am the organizer of this little growing group, so I keep track of every event. I realized this week, we started over THREE years ago, and have had 32 cooking club events!! I venture to say I’m a veteran at this. So, it’s time I did a post about it.

Here are my tips for creating your own cooking club:

  1. Start small. Find a few foodie friends and hit them all up with the idea. The group WILL get bigger and you want the core few to be very committed so it doesn’t fizzle out! To kind of prime everyone I did lay out some “rules” for the theme, and asked everyone to bring specific things for a planned menu. I talked about planning that first one way back in March 2009 on my old blog. There were eight of us in total which was still a LOT for that tiny kitchen. I asked those who attended to be willing to take turns hosting and we decide once a month was perfect.
  2. Establish some rules to break. The “rules” initially were that the host picked the theme and often made the main dish, and the rest of us brought appetizers, sides and desserts. It’s since evolved into a more extensive potluck (lots of main dishes, lots of cocktails, lots of everything!). It is best to be pretty organized in the beginning – once people get the “vision” they will break out of it and make it their own.
  3. Change it up. It took only a few months before people started asking to be invited. We mulled it over and decided to open it up. There would be less structure but more people is always more fun. We’ve also made sure to not duplicate themes and even add activities (Irish food + beer pong for St. Patrick’s Day, costumes for 70’s night..)
  4. Make sure someone keeps it organized. The host for the month plans and sends out the email, but it’s been beneficial for me to send out periodic emails that are more housekeeping-related to keep it all going. Like in December, I sent out an email to everyone asking people to chose their month, on a first-come-first-served basis and within minutes the 2012 cooking club calendar was full. Or if someone needs to cancel I can look at the list and ping those who haven’t hosted in a while (or ever) for the chance.
  5. Make it easy on people. Some people love hosting and some people get so nervous. I make sure to help people out by giving them ideas for themes (if they ask). Some people run with it. And I don’t force people into hosting. There are some clubbers that come almost every time but never host it. No worries. Someone always wants to!
  6. Calm your inner control freak. I wanted this to be so organized that we would all post our recipes to a blog. I started one and it didn’t last. Only a few clubbers wanted to bother. I had to be ok with it that it’d become a BYOB and potluck party more than a fine culinary experience. Thus why my first theme entailed Italian food, china and wine and the last one – food on sticks and PBR. Which leads me to..
  7. Let everyone do their weird thing. Hosting is kind of my “thing” now and I want to get all Martha about it. And some of the others do, too. It’s a great excuse to ask everyone to dress up for a night of cocktails one month, then wear our best 80s band tee or overalls for White Trash cooking. 
  8. If you can’t handle 6 & 7, here’s my highly-specific solution: Start another one. A couple years ago some of the original members decided to start a second “secret” cooking club. Where we’d actually cook something quite impressive and complicated, together, and eat it in a civilized manner. Whereas the other cooking club was a party, this one could have rules and structure (The First Rule of Food Club is.. DON’T TALK ABOUT FOOD CLUB).  It’s dissolved since, but it was kind of fun to reignite the original idea for a while.

I have gained so much from starting a Cooking Club! I’m a more adventurous cook. I no longer have hostess anxiety {ok maybe a little}. I think a little more creatively all the time as a result- really – because I’m on the lookout for ideas and inspiration. And I’ve gotten to know people I work with {and friends-of-friends} better as a result. We are a little family who bonds over laughs and flavors and a shared hobby. We know each others’ kids and significant others and pets and silverware drawers.

Just for fun, here’s a list of all the themes we’ve had through the years {the * means we hosted at our house}:

  • Mar 2009: Italian*
  • Apr 2009: American/BBQ
  • May 2009: Mexican
  • June 2009: Greek
  • July 2009: Cajun
  • Aug 2009: Hawaiian Luau
  • Sept 2009: Soup Kitchen
  • Nov 2009: Breakfast for Dinner
  • Jan 2010: Caribbean
  • Feb 2010: Fondue
  • Mar 2010: Asian Fusion
  • April 2010: French
  • May 2010: Indian
  • June 2010: Backyard BBQ *
  • July 2010: White Trash Cooking
  • August 2010: 70’s-Themed Cooking
  • September 2010: Mongolian BBQ
  • October 2010: Crock Pot Classics
  • November 2010: Baked Potato Bar
  • January 2011: Mini Pizza Party
  • February 2011: Favorite Foods
  • March 2011: Irish & Beer Pong
  • May 2011: Appetizers, Cocktails & Wine
  • June 2011: Grill Out @ Willard Bay + boating
  • July 2011: Vegetarian*
  • August 2011: Brazilian
  • October 2011: Thai
  • December 2011: Red, White & Green + Secret Santa Gift Swap
  • January 2012: Spicy Food
  • February 2012: Seafood
  • March 2012: Restaurant Appetizer Copy Cats
  • May 2012: Food-on-a-Stick*

The rest of the year is planned out so no sign of fizzling out any time soon. Is anyone else into anything like this? What have your experiences been like?

inspiration – outdoors eating areas

What is it about eating a meal outdoors that’s so awesome? Maybe because it sparks memories of picnics, BBQs and summer vacation? Or maybe just because it is just different from the normal routine? Our house and yard are both totally torn up right now with various projects going on, but with the lovely weather the last few days, we have had the luxury of eating on our deck a few times! The deck is seriously my favorite feature of the house – right off the kitchen and covered, it is the PERFECT little spot for enjoying the weather. We made yummy grilled pizza yesterday for the two of us. The night before I grilled burgers for us (Boca for me!) and my brother-in-law’s family and we ate outside.  Our Margherita pizza grilling, mmm ——–>

It’s a ways off, but I have big plans for our yard and deck because I love entertaining! So while it’s rainy today and projects are being put on hold, here’s some inspiration for some outdoor eating/entertaining areas that will make any casual meal outside rock all your senses at once!:

{via Elle Decor}

{Via Remodelista}

{Via Elle Decor}

{Via Suburban Spunk}

How gorgeous are these spaces? They are more welcoming than any room in my whole house! I feel like any of these provide major inspiration for some things that can be done on a dime. Some fairy lights, some planted pots {I can spray paint some I already have}, and how awesome is that teal-painted door in the first photo? I think even in our new-construction home it would be a great idea to paint the back door a fun color.

{This reminds me I really need to do a post on the before of our yard before too much progress happens!}

happy halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I love this holiday so much! Friday we threw our annual Halloween bash. Here are some photos.

Some notes:

  • The “photo booth” idea was snagged off some other blogs. Basically I painted a sheet of MDF with some oil-based paint (one coat did it) and went to town with a Sharpie Magnum (my new favorite product). I was inspired by the “Frames” wallpaper that was so popular in blogland a couple years ago. I spray-painted a big black poster frame I already had with some yellow spraypaint made for plastic. Love that stuff!! Took about 4 coats to cover the black entirely and it still isn’t perfect but it does the job in some kitschy photos! We set up a digital camera on a tri-pod across the room. Was a hit!
  • My “raven” costume was very DIY. I had the dress from a costume a few years back. I glue feathers to the inside of the mask and made a beak with craft foam and super-glued it to the front. I cut fingers off some gloves and safety-pinned some feather trim around the edges. A feather boa and some feathers stuck in my hair and the look was complete!

  • Food was a cinch. We made up some queso a’la Chili’s with some Velveeta and canned chili, set out a big bowl of tortilla chips, and lots of little bowls with all the fixins: jalepenos, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, olives, etc. I also made up a vegan “cheese” for the vegans in the crowd. Mixed up a few cocktails in pitchers and gave them festive names {Hauntini, {Pumpkin Piss- ha!, Witches Brew}. We taped the cocktail names to the pitchers.

Did not exactly stay within my $100 budget, but this was certainly a budget-friendly party with lots of quirky extras. Hope everyone had/has a fantastic Halloween weekend!

DIY photobooths

I had an idea to make my own photobooth for my next shindig. So I Googled it. And would you believe there are like A MILLION brilliant executions of this out there? I LOVE THESE. I’m totally going to figure out how to do a fun one for Halloween.

Via Every Last Detail.

Via Bridepop.


Via RuffledBlog.

Via Looks Good to Me.

I think it would be fun to have a basket of props and costumes {mustache on a stick?} available for the shenanigans.  Anyone ever done this?

Zombie Bash recap {in pictures}

Thanks to everyone who came!

Best costume prizes went to Becca {Sally} and Jim. Congrats!!!

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But no one disappointed. Check out the rest of the sexy people:

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And a few other snaps worth posting…

Kid’s wretching Jack-o-Lantern & Morgan’s pumpkin cooler.

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Food spread & body parts:

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Cowboy lap dance action:

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Creepy-perfect Halloween moon:

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Halloween costume recap

I want to post about the Halloween party in some detail, but for now, here are a couple costume shots.

For work, my team dressed in 80s-style garb. My inspiration was Cindy Lauper-esque. Dustin channeled Ted from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Deanna was a Glam rocker. Teresa did a wicked goth-punk look. Rowr. I don’t know what the Jazz-hands are for. I was mixing up decades maybe.


For the Zombie-bash, I WAS going to go for something Zombie-like. I came up with pin-up girl Zombie because I wanted to wear my bridesmaid dress from Heather’s wedding again! But the makeup didn’t work out so I went for plain-ol’ pin-up girl.

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I watched YouTube tutorials on how to do my retro hair. Wish I had a better picture, because it was bad ass, if I do say so myself.

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Jonathan made a great Tommy Lee. Love the tattoo sleeves!!

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More to come on the party. 🙂 Everyone had GREAT costumes and it was soooo much fun!!!

zombie bash fabulous prizes

I promised a costume contest with “fabulous prizes” at this year’s Halloween party. Here they are, those of you who are vying for the coveted title of Zombie Queen and Zombie King.

Best costume, female: Your glam prize bucket, you gorgeous ghoul, includes: a bottle of dangerously cheap white zinfandel, two goblets, a copy of the horror movie staple  “Dawn of the Dead,” a bleeding skull candle, and a pink glittery skull key chain.


Wait? What’s that label say? MUUUAHHHHHAHAHAHA


Best costume, male: Your fabulous prize, your clever devil, includes Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale, two skull beer mugs, horror classic “Night of the Living Dead” and a bitchin skull lighter.


Best of luck!


sushi night.

Last night I hosted my first-ever sushi-making party at my digs. It was a great success! So fun. On the menu: miso soup, California rolls, tempura shrimp, chicken and vegetables, homemade teriyaki sauce and Sake. Steve even brought Japanese beer.

I assigned each guest with a list of ingredients to provide, keeping them relatively the same, cost-wise. I furnished everything for the California rolls and busted out my new porcelain appetizer plates, condiment dishes, and chopsticks. We learned to make each dish together, as much as my freakin tiny kitchen would allow. Here are the recipes!

Here are Steve and Deanna working on some tempura chicken and vegetables:


We made California rolls. Supposedly none of us had done this before, but I think Becca must have secretly practiced rolling beforehand because hers looked totally perfect.


Getting ready to pour some sake:


Here’s the spread! I can’t believe how much we made and that it all turned out so delicious!


We sat on the floor around my multi-purpose IKEA coffee table. Everyone was a good sport about it despite the lack of leg room. Here we are about to eat!


Score! Sian used chopsticks successfully for the first time!


I totally forgot to plan a Japanese-themed desert! At the last minute I made pink cupcakes and we ate them on Hello Kitty plates. Because… awesome. The guys liked it. :p