DIY bean bag chair: Meet the Rollie Pollie

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Remember how I mentioned I’ve been on a DIY kick lately, brought on by my illness-induced antsy-ness and disinterest in food?  Well, one night recently it drove me to the internet, where I got stuck for hours on a single website.  (I fell way down that rabbit hole!)  I bookmarked tons of projects, but the one that compelled me to actually make something right away, was a pattern for a bean bag chair.  (Do you ever find that while the internet is a great resource, you often have time to either do a project or read about one, but not both?  I hate that.  I wish we could buy an iTunes gift card for our own time.)

It's a great spot to read
It’s a great spot to read

Anyway, the pattern was designed by a sewing blogger.  You can find it here.  She calls it a Rollie Pollie, and it’s marvelous.  It does cost $8, which gave me pause.  I have grown accustomed to getting things for free on the internet, but I eventually realized that I wouldn’t bat an eye at a corporation charging for a pattern, and I was actually much happier to support an entrepreneur instead.  So I ponied up the money and am so glad I did.

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Continue reading DIY bean bag chair: Meet the Rollie Pollie

1 chicken, 4 ways

Eating well without breaking the bank or cooking every minute of the day requires strategies to economize on time and money.  One way I like to do that is to start with one dish and transform it into another (and another and another).  With a turkey or ham, that’s not too hard because there is usually lots of leftover meat.  But even a simple roasted chicken can be given new life several times over.  My most ambitious feat yet has been to cook one chicken, four ways.  Check it out: slow-cooker roasted chicken becomes chicken pot pie, fried rice and chicken broth.  Three out of these four recipes I have shared already on the blog, but now I’m putting it altogether for you to show you how to save time, and throwing in a simple description of how I make fried rice.

Here we go… Continue reading 1 chicken, 4 ways

Make-ahead breakfast: Pumpkin pie baked oatmeal

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We eat a lot of oatmeal around here.  Rolled and steel-cut.  Simmered and microwaved.  Baked in muffin tins and in slabs.  So when I came across a recipe for pumpkin oatmeal, you knew I had to try it.  (It is pumpkin season here at Economist at Home, after all!)  The prep for this version is quick and easy, but it requires a long lead time – 24 hours to soak the oats before cooking and 40 minutes to bake before serving.

So, pick a day you could realistically pop this in the oven 40 minutes before breakfast and not have your whole day thrown off (a weekend perhaps?).  Working backwards, set aside 5 minutes two nights prior to your baking day to soak the oats and another 10 minutes the next night to mix in the other ingredients. Continue reading Make-ahead breakfast: Pumpkin pie baked oatmeal

DIY bulletin board

I’m back!  I’ve had a cold for four weeks now (remember the one that took me down and required homemade soup?).  Two and a half weeks in I got stomach flu, too.  Needless to say, I wasn’t up for much blogging.  Nor cooking.  My sense of taste and smell have been seriously diminished.  So even after I regained the ability to eat normally again, I haven’t had much interest in cooking or eating.  (Gasp!)

However, I have a new (old) love.  A lovely morning spent perusing a DIY magazine generated a spark that lit a crafty fire.  I have been on a roll, my friends.  I’ve got numerous projects to tell you about, but I’ll start with a brilliant DIY bulletin board.  It’s quick, easy, inexpensive and really beautiful.  It requires no special skills or tools to assemble (although it does require a power drill to mount), and it is completely customizable to your taste.

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DIY bulletin board (before pinning papers up)

I’ve been wanting a giant bulletin board for my office for a long time.  You see, I’m a visual person.  Out of site, out of mind.  So if I can’t see my notes, bills, project materials, inspirational and educational what-nots, I tend to forget about them.  No bueno.  To avoid that, I keep all those papers spread around my desk. Also no bueno.  A huge board is a perfect way to convert empty wall space into an organizational system that works for me.

Initially I thought I wanted to make a cork board.  But the raw materials cost a fortune.  And I worried about hanging such a heavy board given that our walls don’t take kindly to screws.  A quick internet search yielded an ideal solution. Continue reading DIY bulletin board

Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part V – Childcare, pets & living it up

This post is part of a series called “The margin”.  If you missed the introduction, you can go back and read it here.  In this part of the series, I’m talking about building in a financial margin when you consider your budget for expenses.  This is the fifth installment on the financial margin.  If you missed the first four you can read them here, here, here, and here

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Part V: Childcare, pets & living it up

Childcare

If you get sick, have to work late or travel for your job, you may need to increase the amount of help you get with childcare.  If that help is paid, it’s going to cost extra.  Add a margin for childcare on top of what you budget for your regular coverage needs to prepare for overages like these.  (If only we could expense them!)

Pets

As I said in the intro post, unless your pet dies young, it’s probably going to cost more than you anticipate.  Consider the cost of occasional pet sitters for when you’re away, vet bills when Sparky’s ill, and special care and food when he’s old (or ill).  Then build a margin on top of your regular budget for food, annual vet visits, toys, treats, pedicures, and outfits (if you’re one of those people).

Living it up

In the midst of all this talk of doom and gloom, it may seem odd to suggest building in a margin for living it up.  However, during a week when your dishwasher breaks and your car gets dinged in the parking lot, you’re really gonna want to be able to say yes when a friend invites you for a spontaneous night out.  Things come up.  Even good things. Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part V – Childcare, pets & living it up

Mashed-potato topped chicken pot pie

Have you got any leftover chicken?  Maybe you roasted a whole bird in your slow cooker or bought a rotisserie chicken at the store? Pot pie is a great way to use up any meat that remains after a big chicken dinner.  If you really deepen the flavors in the sauce and replace that bland (and non-nutritious) pastry on top with delicious mashed potatoes, you can’t lose.

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I love to make a version of this after Thanksgiving, incorporating leftover turkey, gravy, peas and mashed potatoes.  But even without all the leftovers from the holiday, this still comes together in about an hour.  Probably not a great option for a busy weeknight, but perfect for a Saturday or Sunday dinner.  In fact, you can even cook the filling and topping separately in advance, and bring it all together just before dinner.

One trick that really takes chicken pot pie over the top (besides the upgrade from crust to potatoes) is the addition of Continue reading Mashed-potato topped chicken pot pie

Rustic pumpkin custard

I’m a simple girl.  I love desserts as much as the next person, probably more, but I prefer to focus my culinary energy on getting the family fed.  If I have time and energy left over after ensuring our three squares are taken care of, I might consider making a dessert, but not often.  When I do go the extra mile, it’s usually in fall or winter, as the siren call of pumpkins and apples beckons me.

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Sure, I love to peruse beautiful recipes as much as the next foodie.  The gorgeous photography, sumptuous description of the flavors…  but they lose me after that.  I rarely have the heart to make a dessert that requires copious amount of rich ingredients.  I think my limit is about a half a stick of butter.

And while I don’t have an objection to a little cream, I don’t routinely buy it, so I rarely have some on hand.  Probably my number one (scrooge-like) rule about making desserts is that I won’t shop expressly for their ingredients.  I’m only willing to consider a recipe if I already have all of the components (or reasonable substitutes) at my fingertips.

And don’t get me started on the directions for fancy recipes.  I read one the other day that was as long as a chapter of my dissertation.  I’m tired from just reading the thing.  No longer interested in making it.  Moving on… Continue reading Rustic pumpkin custard

Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part IV – Medical expenses

This post is part of a series called “The margin”.  If you missed the introduction, you can go back and read it here.  In this part of the series, I’m talking about building in a financial margin when you consider your budget for expenses.  This is the fourth installment on the financial margin.  If you missed the first three you can read them here, here, and here

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Part IV: Medical expenses

This is another big (and unpleasant) one.  If you don’t have health insurance, look into getting it.  With the Affordable Care Act it is more accessible than ever.  Get acquainted with the options (and potential subsidies) available you at www.healthcare.gov.  There is information on calculating the cost of insurance, determining eligibility for public insurance and subsidies, and applying for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Enrollment began October 1st and if you enroll by December 15th you can be covered as early as January 1, 2014.

Even if you do have insurance, illness, injury or pregnancy and childbirth can drive up your spending on medical care.  If you’re subject to a deductible, it’s a really good idea to open a Health Savings Account (HSA) to set aside pre-tax dollars to cover the expenses you incur before the deductible is reached. Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part IV – Medical expenses

Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part III – Auto expenses

This post is part of a series called “The margin”.  If you missed the introduction, you can go back and read it here.  In this part of the series, I’m talking about building in a financial margin when you consider your budget for expenses.  This is the third installment on the financial margin.  If you missed the first two you can read them here and here

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Part III: Automobile-related expenses

Let’s be honest.  Car ownership rarely costs less than we expect.  Consider the following ways in which you might incur overages in this area of your budget.

1. Auto maintenance, repair and insurance

It’s very hard to estimate how much money your car will need to keep running.  I think that’s part of the reason maintenance plans are such popular up-sells with new car sales.  Repair bills are one thing, but never knowing when they’re coming or how bad they’re going to be really makes them sting.  There are some rules of thumb about this. Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part III – Auto expenses