Tag Archives: easy

Cheap and Easy Halloween Costumes for Dogs

Dobby Dog Costume

Since this is our first Halloween with Bambi, I wanted to make it special. I had planned to make her three costumes for her first Halloween. I am an unstable dog-mamma, obviously. I didn’t have time to make her three costumes, because, well, mama has a job, but I did manage to make her one costume and find a bunch of super cheap and easy Halloween costumes for dogs.

Easy dog costume - Dobby from Harry Potter! Bambi as Dobby
This year I made a simple Dobby costume. Dobby is a house elf from Harry Potter, in case you aren’t a huge HP geek like me. With her ears, I think she looks just like him! I took an old t-shirt, dyed it with coffee, let it dry, then cut up the neck and sewed up the sides to fit her. Easy peasy.

Here’s my favorite cheap and easy dog costumes from the web-o-sphere! I picked them with the my fellow procrastinators in mind 🙂

It’s raining cats and dogs!

Dying over this one– it’s Lamb Chop!

A Hostess Cupcake! 

Cotton Candy!

A M&M! Make this one even easier by using hot glue instead of sewing.

This is too damn cute! A chia pet!

Clowns can be creepy or insanely cute.

There’s no bones about it, this dog is adorable (and warm!) as a skeleton! 

A bat! This one is great for those dogs who don’t like wearing something on their heads.

A lovely ladybug!

Are you dressing up your dog this Halloween? I’d love to hear your costume ideas in the comments!

love,
melanie

Mama’s Famous Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread2 So my mom’s famous chocolate chip banana bread is actually from a recipe! She does make a few tweaks to the recipe (like the addition of chocolate chips!!!) and she uses honey instead of brown sugar for a moist bread. I gotta give the woman some credit. She also has a secret trick–after she butters the loaf pan, she dusts a little sugar on pan so when baked, the outside of the bread has a sugary crunch. So good.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread This bread takes me back. Way back. I’ve been eating this bread since I was a wee thing. Home to me smells like freshly baked banana bread. Unfortunately, I don’t eat it now because of the wheat, but I love giving it as a gift. A small loaf of bread is such a good gift, don’t you agree? This is also a great recipe to use up those too brown bananas. It’s super versatile, ya’ll.

This recipe makes two small loafs or one large loaf.

Banana bread recipe Notes: Try honey instead of brown sugar, add 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of nuts and make sure to dust that pan with sugar! We don’t want to be too healthy 🙂

Do you have recipes that remind you of home? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

love,
melanie

 

 

Refrigerator Pickles and Banana Peppers

refrigerator pickles and banana peppers

For someone who has a black thumb, I sure can grow banana peppers. I have them coming out of my ears, as they say. In fact, I had so many I couldn’t eat them fast enough. And although I had a bumper crop, it still wasn’t enough to make the effort and learn how to properly can. I also had a couple of large cucumbers that were looking less than fresh. So refrigerator canning seemed like the perfect way to eat up those veggies! Here’s the how to:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of white vinegar
  • 6 or so banana peppers
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp of minced, peeled garlic
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 jars with lids

refrigerator pickles and peppers Wash veggies thoroughly. Slice. I used a pair of scissors to cut my banana peppers and that made it super easy. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer with a lid on for 20 minutes. Once brine has finished simmering, let cool. Ladle brine into jars, covering the cucumbers and peppers. Add the cloves. Brine for at least 24 hours in the fridge. Keep for up to a month.

How easy was that?! Have you ever made refrigerator pickles? Talk to me about it in the comments!

love,
melanie

Easy Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore

crock-pot chicken cacciatore I know, I know, it’s kind of too hot to break out that Crock-Pot, but sometimes a busy girl has to do what a busy girl has to do. And sometimes that means cranking up the Crock Pot to make Chicken Cacciatore as the thermometer climbs into the 100s. It’s just too easy to use the Crock-Pot on those days when you know that 5,000 things will need your attention and you still have to work out and sleep and be a person. This meal is great for those days because you can throw everything in the Crock-Pot at breakfast and it will be ready for dinner or throw it in the Crock-Pot the night before and take it for lunch. It’s just good planning, people.

easy chicken cacciatore (Stupid) Easy Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of chicken, cut up in pieces
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 6 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 -4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Throw everything in the Crock Pot and let cook for approximately 7 hours on low. Serve over pasta, rice or quinoa if you wish. I just eat it plain. No time for all that.

super easy, crock-pot chicken cacciatore

love,
melanie

 

Protein-Packed Pancakes

protein packed pancakes I’ve yet to find a protein powder that doesn’t taste like chalky chemicals or dirt. I’ve tried the organic, pea proteins, the body builder proteins, I’ve tried the ones that taste like “cake” (aka toilet bowl water) and the ones that taste like “cappuccino” (aka toilet bowl cleaner). I’ve yet to try a protein powder that I can drink just mixed with water. But not wanting to be wasteful and knowing I couldn’t gag down another smoothie (there’s only so much berries will cover up), I started making protein pancakes. God knows what Pinterest/blog/Internet hole I fell down to find my original recipe. But here’s the one I usually use. It’s not quite your usual fluffy pancake, but it gives you almost 30 grams of protein and doesn’t taste like dirt, so that’s an improvement!

protein packed pancakes with peaches! Ingredients
1.5 scoops of vanilla protein powder
1 tbsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of cinnamon
2 tbsp of all-purpose gluten-free flour
2 eggs
A splash of milk

2 tbsp butter
Cinnamon and honey or maple syrup for topping

Melt 1 heaping tbsp of the butter in a pan over the stove top on low. Mix the 1st 6 ingredients together in a bowl. Put about 1/3 of the batter in the hot pan. When batter begins to bubble, flip over the pancake. Repeat until batter is gone. To finish, top with butter, cinnamon and honey or maple syrup.

Easy right?

Is there a protein powder that you love? Let me know about it in the comments!

love,
melanie

How to Make Beeswax Candles

beeswax candle DIY Did you know that beeswax candles are honey hole full of benefits? Ok, that pun was forced. But seriously, beeswax candles can help with allergies, have calming benefits and burn slower and cleaner than paraffin candles. I’ve even heard that beeswax candles give off negative ions that actually purify the air. I also love the scent of beeswax candles.

In elementary school we went to visit the town of Old Salem, a living history town that depict Moravian life in the 18th and 19th century. Well, one guy, dressed in his period-correct finery, was pouring candles. Even as an elementary schooler, I thought that was pretty cool and I bought one. My parents didn’t let me play with matches, so I ended up just smelling the unlit candle like a weirdo. But I’m still obsessed with the natural scent of beeswax candles.

Anyway, I know that beeswax candles are one of those things that I can make cheaper than I can buy. So I did just that. It took me a couple of tries to perfect the process, but here’s how to make beeswax candles.

Supplies

glue wicks Glue your wicks to the bottom of the jars. The glue helps the wick to stay in place during the pouring process. Let dry, then trim the wicks to slightly longer than the desired length. (I didn’t do that and regretted it later.) Pour your pellets and coconut oil into the pitcher. 1/2 pound of pellets makes about a 1 pint jar candle. Fill large pot of water 1/4 of the way full of water.

candle making pitcher Put the candle making pitcher in the water. It might float a bit. That’s ok. Stir until the wax is melted.

candle cooling As the wax is melting either heat up your oven on low or prepare a bowl of warm water and put your jars in it to cool the candles. I did both and both methods worked. The addition of coconut oil and the intricate cooling process ensures that the candles don’t crack. The coconut oil also gives the candles a lovely baby yellow hue.

beeswax candles cooling When wax is fully melted pour carefully into jars to not disturb the wick.

candles covered in tinfoil If using the water cooling method, cover in candles in tinfoil. If using the oven method, turn the oven off and let the candles cool inside.

We just made beeswax candles! All my childhood dreams are coming true! Also, wouldn’t these make great gifts?!

Have you ever tried candle making? Let me know in the comments!

love,
melanie

12 Habits to Save Money, Be Happier and Make Life Easier

12 habits to save money, be happier and make life easier Automating my life through habits is my big secret to staying sane. During the summer, I work 10 hour days, have two hour commute and with my lunch hour, I’m gone from my house for at least 13 hours a day. I also write for this blog and And Then We Saved, have some semblance of a social and family life and maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle. But to fit everything in, that doesn’t leave much time to do anything other than sleep. Automating my life has made things so much easier and it’s given me a bit of time back each day. It’s the only reason my brain hasn’t completely gone haywire.

I’ve learned that we humans can only make so many decisions per day and if we waste those precious decision-making skills on something like the lunch menu, we have fewer skills available for something actually important. I’m no psychologist or even an expert, but The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg explains the science (and power!) of habits way better than I ever can. I’d really recommend it.

Even our president knows about the power of habits. Ina 2012 interview for Vanity Fair President Obama was quoted saying, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” I’m not making the important decisions that our president is, but even piddly decisions are exhausting. So to deal with those decisions, I make habits. It’s helped me to save money, be happier and make my life easier. Here’s my best habits:

1. Meal Prep
There’s all kinds of articles out there about how to meal prep. Most of them I find overwhelming and boring. Here’s how I meal prep: On Sunday night I make all my breakfast and lunches for the work week, and then I have a loose idea of the dinner choices. I chose to not make my dinner in advance, because I like variety—it’s the spice of life! But I may do some dinner prep– like cutting up vegetables.

For breakfast I’ll have my crustless quiche. This helps to use up the leftover veggies in the fridge—ensuring that I don’t waste food or money and I start the day with protein and veggies.

For lunch, during the summer, I’ll usually have a large spinach salad with pre-cooked chicken. It doesn’t take long to throw together and it doesn’t get old because I can mix it up with different dressings and toppings. During the winter, I’ll usually have soup or stew made from my trusty crock-pot.

For snacks, I rely on packs of nuts and apples with nutbutters that I keep in my desk at work. I also keep tea and coffee at work for those times when I need a little extra jolt. It keeps me from dropping $5 at my school’s coffee shop.

For dinner I rely on easy staples. I don’t plan in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. there’s no Taco Tuesday) because George and I might be in the mood for tacos on Monday or every other day, we love tacos. Instead, I’ll have a loose idea of what we’ll eat that week. One night will usually be stir fry, the next night will be tacos, another will be fish or chicken and a veggie. We’ll usually have hamburgers and we’ll almost always finish the week with a homemade pizza. Pizza is a treat and it’s our favorite.

One of my favorite tips for these easy dinners is to buy a grocery store roasted chicken. They are tasty, cheap and you can make so many quick, easy meals with them.

2. Lay out your clothes for the week (even gym clothes!)
In the morning, I’m a grump. I admit it. You’ll never see me spring out of bed to greet cartoon bluebirds at my window. I just won’t ever be a morning person and that’s ok. But to make my mornings a little easier, I’ll look at the weather forecast on Sunday; then I lay out my work clothes for the entire work week—including my socks and underwear. When I don’t do this, I end up dressing a lot sloppier than I should. It’s really helped me to up my wardrobe game and I don’t have that panicky “I have nothing to wear” moment in the morning.

I also put all of my gym clothes for the week in my gym bag along with my shoes. When I get home, I take the dirty clothes out of the car and leave the clean clothes and the bag in the car. This means I go to the gym right after work (or during lunch at work) and I don’t have the chance to go home to change. If I have the chance to go home and change clothes it’s a million times harder to go to the gym because my bed just looks too comfortable.

Sidenote: To make this process even easier, I’ve been on the lookout for clothes that can double as work and gym wear. I haven’t come up with much, yoga pants aren’t acceptable at my job, but I’m hopeful! If you have links to (preferably inexpensive) gym clothes that can double as work clothes, link me in comments!

3. Put things in their place
To make things a habit, I’ve found that placing things in a visible or convenient place makes the habit stick faster. To help me to drink more water and kick my vending machine bottled water addiction, I bought a refillable water bottle and I keep it on my work desk at all times. That simple step has helped me to drink more water and has saved me a couple hundred dollars.

Here’s a weird example: I could never remember to pluck my eyebrows and I’d always find weird stray ones when I was sitting in the car before I went in to work in the morning. So I started keeping tweezers in the car and now my eyebrows don’t look like Helga Pataki’s.

I also constantly found myself out-and-about without medicines or Band-Aids, so I made myself an Ouch! Bag to keep in my purse and it’s saved me so much money. By putting things in a convenient place (even if that place is a little unconventional) it’s so much easier to trick your brain into making a habit.

4. Make a list of tomorrow’s to-dos before you leave work
I love a to-do list. But on the days that I forget to make one, I totally notice. I won’t have direction and I’ll spend most of the day putting out fires. (Usually not literally. Although the HVAC system in the library did catch on fire one night. But I left that up to the professionals.)

By making a to-do list before you leave, you also leave that responsibility at work and you’re less likely to worry about forgetting to do something. I’d recommend keeping the to-do list short. I’ve found that three “to-dos” is the perfect number for me. More than that and I’m overwhelmed. Less than that and I’m bored.

5. Do the hard stuff first
I have way more willpower and concentration at 8:00 am than I do at 4:00 pm, that’s why I start my day with the hard stuff. It’s usually the stuff that I really don’t want to do, but as soon as I finish it, I feel better and the rest of the day is a breeze. Some people call this habit, “Eating the Frog.”

I also have a rule that I don’t buy anything after lunch. After lunch I have a lot less willpower. It’s too easy to buy things!

6. Reward yourself
You will never create those hard habits without a reward system. Our bodies crave a reward and when we don’t get that reward we become depressed. Seriously! Give yourself a small reward after you complete a new habit, like a small piece of chocolate after working out. Once you establish the habit (it may take a couple of months) you’ll no longer need the reward because the habit has become, well, a habit!

Even after my habit is established, I also like to give myself healthy rewards. If I finish a project at work, I’ll take a short walk around campus. That way, I get my daily supply of Vitamin D, a little exercise and a reward!

7. Automate your bills and savings
Automating your bills and savings is like a habit that is done for you! There’s no reason to waste time on paying bills if your income is stable. (If your income is unstable, you may want to try the envelope system.) Automate your bill pay through the billing provider or through your bank. It makes life so much easier. It saves paper and stress.

Automating my savings has been one of my best life hacks. The bank automatically pulls a bit of cash from my checking account out each month into another bank account. I have the cash in a separate bank account to take away some of the temptation of spending the money. I don’t even have an ATM card for that bank. I love my Capital One 360 Savings account for this because you can designate pots of money within a savings account. (They didn’t pay me to say this!) For example, I have a little bit of money pulled into a travel fund each month and a house fund. I even had a savings designation for my laser eye surgery!

8. Learn from people who already have it figured out
We’ve all got that friend or relative that has it all figured out. They have their habits down pat. Ask them how they established their habits. The same habit-reward system won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s fascinating to find out how my dad does so much laundry or my mother-in-law manages to hand wash all the dishes after she just made dinner. (Dishes are my kryptonite!)

There’s also some really great literature out there about habits. I can’t recommend Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit more. I’d also recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen. His system to-do system is a little complex, but he offers some great insight into the power of list-making.

9. Keep a journal
One of the best habits I’ve established is keeping a gratitude journal. Each night I write down three things that I’m grateful for. It’s helped me to be happier and more grateful for my life. Even on the bad days, I’ll find something to be happy about and many times on the good days, I’ll write down more than three things. It’s also a habit that has helped me to establish other habits because I can see the positive effects that my habits have on my life. For example, going to yoga made me feel clarity or sweeping the floor made me feel accomplished.

10. Start habits one at a time
I get so excited about starting habits that I want to do all the good habits all at once. But I have so much more success when I start habits one at a time, establish the habit for about a month, then try to incorporate the next habit. We aren’t robots and trying to start five habits is overwhelming. We may do good for a week or so, but then we’ll resort back to our old bad ways because it is too hard. I know. I’ve been there. Take your time establishing a habit before moving on to the next one. You’ll have much more success. Promise.

11.  Delegate
Some tasks aren’t worth your time. They really aren’t. Creating habits and automation will only take you so far when you have a busy life. (And we all have a busy life.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it or even hire someone to do it for you. I know it cost money and we’re all trying to save money, but consider if your time would be better spent on other tasks. Figure out what your time is worth with this handy calculator from Learn Vest.

There’s some great services out there to help out busy professionals. Fiverr will help you to do everything from writing a professional bio to creating a logo for, you guessed it, five dollars. To the point where you need an assistant? Virtual Gal Friday can help! For more errand-like tasks, TaskRabbit will help you to outsource household tasks.

12. Forgive yourself and start again
Creating new, positive habits is hard. I still struggle with habits every.single.day. We all have days that just don’t go as planned and we don’t have time to meal prep. Or we fall asleep before we have time to lay out our clothes. (Ahem, me.) But don’t beat yourself up about it. Simply forgive yourself and start again. That’s the great thing about habits. You have the control to pick that habit back up and start again.

How have you established a habit? How have habits bettered your life? Let me know in the comments!

love,
melanie