Workday Reading

The Edition: No. 197

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better. // Albert Camus

+ The pandemic is escalating tensions between parents and child-free colleagues.

+ The Rack has amazing blazers right now, love the bright orange one.

+ 37 Stress-Baking Recipes That Use 5-Ingredients or Less

+ Update your look with a ruffle sweater, H&M has this one and this one.

+ Knowing your ‘Money Script’ is the key to changing your relationship with money.

+ The Outnet Clearance Sale is on. Sergio Rossi for <$150?  Yes, please.

+ Data shows ‘fixing women’ doesn’t result in more career success.

+ This Brinker & Eliza bracelet would make a good gift.

+ What happens when a Refinery writer tries living as a ‘stereotypical French girl.’

+ My new winter boots (because it’s really cold here).

Long Read. The Hunt for Forest Fenn’s Treasure.

Last week, I was having my roots touched up, when my stylist told me about a fun idea for a party.  It’s called, My Favorite Things.

Each person brings three gifts that cost under-$10 each. Then, they swap.  When you open a gift, the person who brought the gift explains why it’s great.

I thought it was such a fun idea, I thought we could host a virtual option.  In the comments, leave a link to one of the best things you’ve ever bought under-$20.  I’ll start.

This little terra-cotta bowl makes the perfect catch-all for bedside tables or bathroom counters. It goes with any decor, and is one of those gifts that is both useful and chic.

{this post contains affiliate links that may generate commission for the author}




  1. Chels says:

    I bought this hair scalp massager about a year ago to help with an itchy and flaky scalp – IT’S A MIRACLE WORKER and has done all of those things above and beyond!!! After many years I feel like I have a healthy scalp!

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • Jgchow says:

      Thanks for pointing out this product – it sounds like exactly what I need! With my thick hair, I feel like I have product buildup and my scalp never gets as clean as I’d’ like.

      November 10, 2020/Reply
  2. Megan W says:

    This summer I converted to an amazing Contigo glass water bottle with a silicone sleeve. I love that it’s so easy to sanitize, and that the sleeve option has super girly colors. Now my husband doesn’t steal my water bottle any more!

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • Alison says:

      Are you afraid it’s going to break? I’m a little clumsy sometimes.

      November 10, 2020/Reply
      • CP says:

        I tried to buy one of these at target once and shattered it before I even got to the checkout. Maybe not the best pick for us clumsy folk.

        November 11, 2020/Reply
  3. Kate says:

    We did one of those in a small, Minnesota college town I used to live in. I think we might have a had a “local” theme, but of the 10 women who participated, 6 of us brought soap from the same local maker!

    I’d pick this Burt’s Bees lip color in a couple of shades. Light, moisturizing, no fuss, and great to slick on when you need some color before a Zoom meeting.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • Kris says:

      On the theme of quick and easy lip color for zoom meetings, I LOVE Baby Lips by Maybelline. I keep a couple colors on my desk, and have the clear one (Quenched) in my car, in my purse, and on my nightstand at all times. Highly recommend for the price!

      November 10, 2020/Reply
      • MM says:

        YES clear Baby Lips! I’ve been using it for years and have gone through so many tubes of that stuff!

        November 10, 2020/Reply
  4. Sarah says:

    I added several lazy susans to my kitchen and bathroom, which have improved how things function and look. They were about $5 each at Home Goods.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • MAL says:

      Big YES to the lazy susans. I bought a bunch over the summer and finally took the hour to clean out some kitchen cabinets & start using them. I LOVE how easy it is to find & grab things from high cabinets now.

      November 11, 2020/Reply
  5. Rhianna says:

    I always plug this lip balm but it truly is one of the best products I have ever purchased. It is all I have used as a lip balm for 7 years.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  6. Elz says:

    This cream from CeraVe is so good for all sorts of dry, flaky skin. I have really bad heels and this is a miracle worker, also works wonders on bumps and general dryness.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  7. LT says:

    I buy these in bulk for friends as a small congrats/thanks/you could use a pick-me-up gift. The shade is universally flattering, nourishing and the top is magnetic so it doesn’t come off in your handbag to be lost forever.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  8. Jules says:

    Ohh fun idea!

    Some of my fave under $20-
    – A big tub of Vaseline
    – Sriracha
    – Tony Moly Face Masks
    – Bath and Body Works foaming hand soaps

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  9. Laura says:

    I got this as a Christmas gift and it’s been surprisingly great for cooking.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  10. Mary Guido says:

    I have to go with the holy grail of face masks – Aztec Secret Clay. Just mix equal parts with apple cider vinegar (I’ve tried with water but the consistency is just not the same). 20 minutes later you will feel like a goddess.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  11. Lauren says:

    A friend got me a Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paint, Half Pans, Set of 12, as an early birthday present. It’s been a really nice new hobby for quaritine.

    Also, the ELF $4 mascara is actually awesome. Can pick up at Target or local pharmacies

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  12. Lindsey McGowen says:

    6′ Lightning cable for my bedside table to charge my phone, held in place by a cable clip and uhu-tac. I *never* lose my cable, and it’s easy to read in bed while it’s charging. All together around $20.

    Cable Clip:

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  13. Clara says:

    Aquaphor. Cannot be beat for dry and cracked lips. Sure the Bite Agave lip mask is great, but it’s 5 times the cost of Aquaphor and doesn’t work any better.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • Tiffany says:

      My friend has been doing these Favorite Things parties for a few years, and I’ve brought tubs of Aquaphor before as my favorite thing! That party is also how I got Poo-pouri.

      November 11, 2020/Reply
  14. Lindsey says:

    I’ve been to a Favorite Things party, it was great and so interesting to see what my gfs brought. I came home with a travel mug, mini spatula set, a specialty soup mix, and a few other less memorable things. Sticking with the kitchen theme, I love my garlic press and grape slicer. Both huge time savers!

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  15. Aar1 says:

    Trader Joe’s green dragon hot sauce
    And the little plastic thing that keeps bar soap up and dry

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  16. Michelle says:

    I love to cook and bake, so I appreciate good ingredients that make meals feel like an indulgence: real maple syrup (from Black Rooster Maple – $20 for a quart); good vanilla (like Neilsen-Massey); spice mixtures from the Spice Store ($7ish per flat pack).

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  17. Erika says:

    A small fan that plugs into your cell phone. I highly recommend it for all the “hot girls” in your life!

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  18. Allison says:

    I love my microplane grater for zesting citrus and getting fluffy grated parmesan.
    Also, tahini in a squeeze bottle! Much easier to shake it up and squeeze than to stir up nd pour from a glass bottle

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  19. Keilexandra says:

    If you bake a lot: silicone bowl scraper. I don’t remember where I got mine, but this one comes in cute colors:

    If you cook with vegetables or other things that need chopping: bench scraper, preferably one with a curve in it like . It’s sold as a baking tool but I use mine primarily for transferring chopped vegetables to a prep bowl or even directly to the pan. Way more efficient than trying to do the same thing with the side of a knife.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  20. Colleen says:

    Rao’s Marinara sauce. It’s good on everything and can be doctored any way you like.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
    • Kris says:

      Also Rao’s spaghetti! I thought all spaghetti was the same until I tried Rao’s and I’m now a total convert.

      November 12, 2020/Reply
  21. Shannon says:

    Burts Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream! It smells like lemon cake and makes my dry cuticles look and feel so much better.

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  22. Kelsey says:

    Two fun food gifts under $20 combined:
    Maldon salt flakes- makes all your food taste better and feel fancy!

    And Mike’s Hot Honey- SO good on pizza, avocado toast, roasted veggies, basically anything (and EVEN better with a tiny sprinkle of Maldon salt)

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  23. Angela says:

    How fun!
    Cooking Item:
    Magnetic Measuring Spoons Set –

    Beauty Item:
    Neutrogena Hand Cream

    Weleda Skin Food Light

    November 10, 2020/Reply
  24. Bridget says:

    I think the best thing I ever bought under $20 would have to be my microfiber hair wrap towel. My hair is very long and thick and takes forever to dry. And a microfiber hair towel is one of those things you’re always kind of like “meh do I really need this? I could just use my regular towel.,,” but it is, in fact, a game changer. Even my 9 and 6 year old boys love it when I wrap their head in it after a shower so their hair doesn’t make them cold!

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  25. Fan from boston says:

    Small melamine spoons in fun colors – at about $3 per spoon, get a few and tie a ribbon around or put in a cute jar like a bouquet. I find the “mini” size most versatile but there’s a big selection and its very fun to mix and match.

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  26. katie says:

    If you like citrus, a lemon squeezer is a surprising game changer – I use mine at least once a week for water, or any recipe that calls for lemon/lime/orange. Just the $10 one off Amazon – getting one for my parents for Christmas because they just commented on mine!
    I am also about to order that bench scraper – no more garlic on my fingers sounds pretty great!!

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  27. Lisa says:

    Love it so much I even clean my own and my daughters’ make-up brushes! When I bought it , it was <$20. But, lots of other brands with similar product under $20 now. Check it out:

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  28. Chelsea T says:

    So many great ideas here! A few of my favorites (all under $10!):

    Exfoliating wash cloths (aka “Italy towels”) – makes my skin feel so much softer than any other exfoliant has (

    Fabric Shaver – this has extended the life of my favorite sweaters and is especially great for cashmere (

    Turmeric Spot Treatment – only product I’ve ever used that’s made my breakouts disappear overnight! (

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  29. Lily says:

    Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp — this has become a pandemic favorite. Bowl of sticky rice, soft boiled egg, some of this on top.

    November 11, 2020/Reply
    • care N says:

      i LOVE THIS STUFF but my husband made me throw it out b/c of the trans fat. that was a rough day.

      apparently david chang of momofuku just came out with a version. hopefully it’s less deadly.

      after the loss, i’ve been using a lot of Jacobsen black garlic salt, which is also mindblowing. More flavors here:

      November 11, 2020/Reply
      • Lily says:

        Oh, good grief, it’s like half a teaspoon for delicious. I would have been tempted to throw the husband out. is going on my list for the next project cooking day.

        November 11, 2020/Reply
        • ana says:

          That’s funny Lily! I have to agree!

          November 12, 2020/Reply
      • ANNA says:

        It’s got plenty of fat, but I don’t see anything in the ingredients or the nutrition facts about trans fats.

        November 12, 2020/Reply
  30. RosaD says:

    re: tension between workers with and without kids. I agree with the person saying artificial deadlines and productivity expectations are the problem, and I would go even further – management often pits employees against each other so they fight over scraps instead of just changing unrealistic goals. If everyone in the workplace put their feet down on these issues the problem would go away – which is why we all need unions, so we can advocate for ourselves collectively instead of pushing back on unfair workloads piecemeal. It’s simply not realistic to expect anyone to be as productive as they were pre pandemic, regardless of their personal life.

    November 11, 2020/Reply
    • E says:

      That’s a really great point and an angle I haven’t seen previously. Thanks for pointing that out!

      November 11, 2020/Reply
  31. EM says:

    I love this idea! I would probably choose one of these:

    – colorful, stackable rings:

    I have a few rings from this shop. Great for some sparkle/color when I’m running errands in basics.

    – the best! jams:

    This are great on toast but I mostly use them in overnight oats and cocktails.

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  32. AbbyGrace says:

    My friends and I did one of these parties pre-pandemic. SO MUCH FUN! Here are some ideas from that party:
    1. Trader Joe’s seasonal scent shaving cream and seasonal candles
    2. Lobe Wonders (seriously a must-have!)
    3. Eylure Pre-Glued Lashes
    4. Bert’s Bees Hydrating & Brightening Face Masks
    5. The Happy Olive balsamic vinegars
    6. Dr. Teal’s Foaming Bath Relax & Relief

    November 11, 2020/Reply
  33. Michelle says:

    Maldon salt. I resisted (who needs special salt?) forever, but it makes such a difference. So good.

    November 12, 2020/Reply
  34. SC says:

    Yesss, what a cool idea! My picks:

    1 – handheld fan (mine is VersionTech, from Amazon). I use it every day, to “dry” my face after setting spray, to help mascara dry faster, to help moisturizer sink in, to cool off after a workout. It is a godsend and it recharges with USB!
    2 – Dionis hand creams, moisturizing and NOT greasy at all. $5 for mini tubes, perfect for purse or desk. The Honey & Milk scent is lovely.
    3 – Real Techniques setting brush. I cannot live without this brush.
    4 – Loose leaf tea from Tea Source, with a little mesh dipper thingie.

    November 12, 2020/Reply
  35. Michelle says:

    I know most people have tried it- but Everything but the Bagel Seasoning. The target one is the exact same as TJ if TJ has too long of a line or isn’t close by.

    For a bit more indulgence I absolutely love my Copper Cow pourover coffees. I do wish they started selling them in one big resealable bag to reduce waste though. But these are amazing for traveling. As long as I can get hot/boiling water I can have an excellent strong cup of coffee. I give away the creamers/keep them on hand for guests.

    November 12, 2020/Reply
  36. Jenny says:

    Caveat: when it comes to taking notes at work, I’m still pretty analog. I retain things better when I physically write them down. My favorite notebook lately has been the Staples Tru Red Meeting Notebook. I like the flexible cover, the page feel, and that it calls out the action items on the bottom so I can easily remember what needs to get done by the next meeting.

    November 12, 2020/Reply
  37. strin012 says:

    Other than things Abra has recommended over the years (O’Keefe’s Working Hands, the accupressure mat, etc.), I love:

    – This microplane footfile: It gets rids of calluses and gross heel build-up better than anything else. I do use a foot file afterward to smooth the skin.

    – This little tweezer/snip tool: I get the worst hangnails and so I keep a set at work and at home.

    November 12, 2020/Reply