You guys, we have exterior lights! This is huge, this means we’re back in business and this project may actually finish sometime soon. (Knock on wood!) I’m so excited to share the front porch light with you since it’s something that’s been sitting in its box in my office for months.

Lamps Plus contacted me a few months ago and asked if we’d like to choose one of their lamps for our home. It was right at the time when the carpenters were building the barrel roll feature on our front porch and we were searching for the perfect hanging light. The timing couldn’t have been better – or so we thought! We took measurements and stood on a ladder under the bare wire hanging from the ceiling and decided on their Nautington 14” Outdoor Hanging Lantern.

And then snow started to fly. Weekly. No one was working outside and the temporary bulb the electrician put in so we’d have light for trick-or-treaters became our de-facto porch light. Fast forward to this week when it was, you guessed it, snowing, and the electrician showed up to install the exterior lights and fans. Woohoo!

We would have done this whole install ourselves, but it requires stringing new wires from the switches at the front door to the outside. That’s no small feat when you consider that there’s an exterior brick will and a big area of concrete block above the front door. The electrician had hoped to string his wires when the front door was replaced, but discovered he’d need to cut holes in the walls and ceiling in the living room to get everything though. We did not want to mess with what he’d started. So as much as we wanted this light in back in November when Lamps Plus sent it to us, we had to wait for the pros to do it.

And it was worth the wait!

I love the seeded glass shade, which is something we’ve used several places inside. You can really only see it when you’re up close, but I like the detail.

We decided on ORB, which matches the two fans that went up yesterday too. We’d used satin in the past for exterior fixtures, but with the new dark doors and the dark decking, we decided ORB was the way to go.

I’m loving the way our new light pulls the exterior together. Thank you Lamps Plus!

Disclaimer: Lamps Plus provided us with the exterior light. All opinions and reviews are our own.

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Quinoa, Squash, Sausage & Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Tonight's dinner was all about using what was in the fridge. I cooked three squashes last week that had been fall decorations. FALL decorations. They were from our CSA but were so cool looking that they sat on our mantle for a month and then in the fridge for several more. Squash last forever uncooked, but the cooked squash in the fridge needed to be used today or tossed. We had squash and black bean burritos last week that were really good, so I decided to try a different rice and squash recipe tonight. But when I opened the pantry and saw a big, new bag of quinoa in front of me, I decided to whip up a risotto with quinoa instead of rice. It was delicious!
This "risotto" isn't really risotto at all since it isn't made with rice, but the quinoa is cooked like a risotto, adding just a bit of broth at a time and letting it absorb before adding a bit more. The sausage can be omitted and vegetable broth used in place of the chicken broth, if you'd prefer a vegetarian option. Husbands can pick out mushrooms.

Quinoa, Squash, Sausage & Porcini Mushroom Risotto
~3 generous servings 

3 sweet Italian turkey sausages (approx. 1/2 pound)
1 c. chopped porcini mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1t. olive oil
2 c. squash, cooked and mashed (I used a variety of three squashes including butternut - any squash except spaghetti squash will do)
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 c. quinoa, rinsed
1 t. dried, rubbed sage
1/4 t. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

 1. In a medium saucepan, cook sausage, onions and garlic in the olive oil. Crumble the sausage with a fork as it cooks

2. Add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes

3. Stir in quinoa, sage and pepper flakes, cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly

4. Add just enough broth to cover quinoa. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the broth is absorbed, then add more to just cover quinoa again. Repeat until all broth has been added

5. When all of the broth is absorbed and quinoa is tender, stir in squash and cook until warmed through

6. Remove from heat, add parmesan, mix to combine

Serve warm with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top

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Favorite Belgian Waffles

I didn't discover Belgian waffles until college - and it was in the later years at that. We didn't have a waffle maker in my house growing up and I don't think I ever ordered one at a restaurant. In my college dining hall on Saturday mornings they rolled out the Belgian waffle makers for breakfast. I went to Saturday breakfast exactly once in four years. And I had a waffle.

It was good.

I've tried different waffle recipes here and there. My brother and sister-in-law claim to have the best yeast recipe for waffles, but it requires sitting overnight. I've never tried it. However, this recipe is my favorite non-yeast waffle recipe. It has the perfect amount of crisp on the outside and it's soft inside. It freezes really well - just a quick zap to defrost and a few minutes in the toaster and it's ready for syrup.

Maple syrup season is just around the corner, so I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of these in our mornings in the near future. Mmmmmm

This recipe makes about a dozen squares in my waffle maker. I double it to have plenty of leftovers for the freezer.

Favorite Belgian Waffles

1 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. milk
6 T butter, melted
1 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
2 T sugar

Heat waffle iron
Warm oven to 200 degrees

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda

2. In a small bowl combine buttermilk, milk, melted butter, vanilla and egg yolks

3. In a small bow beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form

4. In a small bowl, beat the egg white almost to soft peaks. Sprinkle in the sugar and continue to beat until the peaks are firm and glossy

5. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in egg whites until incorporated

6. Scoop batter into the hot waffle iron and cook until the waffle is crispy and golden, don't overcook. Repeat

7. Arranged waffles in the warm oven in a single layer (do not stack) to keep warm until serving

To freeze, cool waffles completely, freeze in a single layer then transfer to freezer bags. To thaw, defrost in microwave for 20 seconds, then toast for a few minutes until crispy again.


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My Mud Room Dream

Over a year ago this whole project began with my wish for a mudroom. I just didn't want shoes and coats in the dining room anymore. That totally ballooned into the awesome two story space we have now after we met with a few contractors who told us the big cost is in the foundation and to just go as big as we could for the best return on our investment (and I definitely eked a few more feet out since S initially wanted to go 10 feet wide and we got 16!) While the cost comparison may hold true in this market, but I'm not sure how true that rings in other parts of the country.

Today, while we're struggling to get the project as a whole finished, our dream mudroom is complete. And dare I say, it's worth the struggle?! At least it has been so far.

The front ~10 feet of the addition is dedicated to the mudroom, powder room and pantry. It's essentially all of the space that sticks out from the front of the original house, plus a few feet.
When we designed the space I asked the architect to make the hallways in the entry as narrow as possible, while still being within the normal range. I wanted to make the coat closet as wide as possible - it's eight feet wide - and jam as much storage into the space as possible. Now that we're in here, the open area and hallways feel very spacious and all the doors swing open very wide.

I began drawing sketches of mudroom cubby storage areas on the architect's plans. But I didn't really have a solid idea of how I wanted it to work until the drywall went up a few months ago. I knew I wanted hanging space below with cubbies for bins above. Initially I thought three cubbies to the left of the window would work best, but once we got in there I saw that doing so would leave a lot of wasted space to the right of the window. So we changed gears and decided to sketch out two sets of two cubbies facing each other. Since the window isn't centered in the mudroom area I added a deep bench with storage underneath to the left cubbies. Since having at 32" wide bench on the left gave us plenty of seating, we decided to make the right hand cubby unit shorter, sitting on the floor instead of on a bench. So the right side is essentially the "little guy" side and the left is the adult side.

When I finally had our ideas on paper, I handed them over to my father in law, who set to work bringing my vision to life. He and S were supposed to work on them together, but a scheduling issue and a snow storm left him doing everything except final assembly himself. Including all the painting! We owe him. Big time.

Everything is secured directly to the wall and the unit on the left is attached to the base bench too. The bottom of the bench is the wood floor, but the backs of the units are plywood so that we'd have solid wood to attach our hooks anywhere without worrying about finding studs.

We went back and forth on hook options, bought at least 50 and returned them all. We didn't want to spend more than $5 per hook and S wanted a double hook so he could hang a coat and a hat on each. We found a bent railroad nail hook that I loved, but it was out of stock until April. There was a similar hook on etsy but they were nearly $10 per hook. I searched etsy and the rainbow of colors available in different hooks caught my eye...and started a rainbow hook obsession. One seller had dock cleats available in a rainbow of colors, but they were right around $6 each. Plus, when hung vertically they only provided space to hang either a coat or a hat.

I was completely sold on rainbow hooks. All eight hooks - two for each cubby - had to be a different, bright color. So we priced out traditional coat hooks and eight cans of spray paint. But I kept going back to the chunky dock cleat look. Plus, I thought the paint would adhere better to their rough surface than to the smooth surface of a traditional hook. Then S suggested we use the cleats and do three hooks in the two taller cubbies - one on each side and one in the back - but stick with two in the shorter units just to keep costs down. So ten boat cleats it was. We ordered 4" cleats from West Marine and bought ten different cans of spray paint, plus one can of self-etching primer from the hardware store. The total cost for each hook was just over $5 after factoring in coupons and other discounts. Adding two hooks means we went just about $10 over budget. Can we call that close enough? Plus now we have 10 cans of brightly colored spray paint for other fun projects down the road. Like more hooks.

S devised a painting board for me so I could paint all the hooks and screws at once and quickly bring them back inside so they could dry in the warm air. On the first warm day when it was in the 40's, I took my boat cleat board out to the yard and go to work. The first day was just a priming day, but on day 2 I managed to get three coats of spray paint on the hooks throughout the day. All with plenty of drying time in between and without getting spray paint on myself, a curious little boy, or a dog. I did manage to give the grass quite a festive touch though.

We gave the hooks 48 hours to fully cure and then set to work choosing which hook would go where. I let Little M choose his hooks first: boo and rrrrred. S wanted blue and gold and I wanted the hot pink. The rest we arranged to equally space out the pink hooks, just in case the next family in this house has a bunch of boys or girls - we don't need any fights over who gets the "girl" cubby and we certainly don't want renters moving the hooks. So S got blue, gold and light pink. I got periwinkle, hot pink and bright green. Feeney got purple and orange. To figure out a hanging height we just took one of S's frequently worn jackets, adjusted it so it looked right and used that as the height for all the hooks.

I'm so in love with the cubbies. M loves hanging his coat on his "hoo" and points out all the other "hoo" every time he does so. They're a great way to work on colors!

I have several woven felt baskets to use above the taller, wider cubbies, but they don't fit as well on the right. So for now on the right I'm using inexpensive folding baskets that I got from Target years ago. I'm planning to either sew new cloth baskets to fit or make covers for the Target baskets. But first I need to finish sewing the rest of the nursery gift for my friend, Suz!

On the wall opposite the cubbies we have our eight foot long coat closet. Eight feet! We used to have two!

I knew I wanted to use this closet for coats and for out-of-rotation toys, so we had to make sure to use the space as efficiently as possible. I have several long coats, but not enough to fill eight feet of closet. So we decided to add a second hanging rod on the right at a height that would be high enough off the floor for my shorter jackets and low enough so S's jackets could still hang above it. After hanging all our coats and jackets we had plenty of room up top for all of S's and my coats so we're just using the lower rod for M's coats. We added a shelf above the rod and stuck a few small, lesser used things like M's car DVD player on there under our coats.

Over on the left S and I made shelves from leftover cabinet grade plywood from the dumpster that we cut to fit Little M's 3 Sprout animal toy bins.

They're over-sized shelves and we figure that they're are a good size for sports equipment later on, so they're not just useful for these specific toy bins. I love that all his toys that aren't in his little play area in the family room are stored in one, out-of-sight spot. On the top shelf I have his box of art supplies and under the lower shelf is just enough space to tuck his shoes, which he's outgrowing way too quickly! I love having a place for everything; it's such a treat. This mud room makes me feel so fortunate :)

We bought a new waterhog entry mat from LLBean to cover more of the floor space and preserve the wood floors. It's six feet long, which is just about the minimum length we need to swing the door in, let the dog in and swing the door shut without dog paws touching floors. Our old mat that used to cover the entire space in front of the side door when it entered into the kitchen is smaller than the footprint between the two cubby units! That mat used to seem so big, but it's dwarfed by the new six foot long mat. 

This area is quickly becoming my favorite spot in the house. There's a place for everything and it's totally out of sight. I love not having anything but place mats on the dining room table - even Feeney's puppy dog tail hook has a new home that's not our dining room anymore. The only thing that will make it better is having the powder room so I can take a quick peek in the mirror before heading out or wash my hands quickly after walking the dog, but that will get finished eventually. And it will be like Christmas all over again.

What elements would you have in your dream mud room? 

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Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Happy Valentine's Day! We're all home for snow day #2 this week, but our snowfamily from yesterday is melting fast on this sunny, 45 degree day.
Sledding this morning was done without hats and jackets, just snowpants and mittens! And all that exercise was definitely needed after this morning's special Valentine's breakfast: dark chocolate, chocolate chip pancakes. Whole wheat and dark chocolate means they're healthy, right? Next time you're looking for a special breakfast, I highly recommend trying these pancakes out. No syrup needed; they were so good.

This recipe makes a big batch of pancakes, which I love because they freeze so well. A couple of these pancakes from the freezer would make any old Monday a special day. However, if you're freezer is stocked chock-full already, the recipe can easily be halved.

Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Pancakes
makes ~24 pancakes

2 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
1/3 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 T. butter, melted
2 1/2 c. milk
1 c. mini chocolate chips, plus more for serving
powdered sugar for serving

Heat a griddle pan while you prepare the batter

1. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients

2. In a small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients

3. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well to remove any lumps

4. Stir in chocolate chips

5. Cook pancakes on a hot griddle, flipping when bubbles form

To serve sprinkle with powdered sugar and extra mini chocolate chips, enjoy!

Did you serve up anything special for Valentine's Day this morning?

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Tutorial: Add Custom Trim to a Breathable Crib Bumpers

Back when I sewed everything for Little M's nursery, I added custom trim to the breathable bumpers for his cradle to match his sheets.

I'm working on a nursery set for a good friend who is having her second baby. Her first daughter's nursery is very pink, including pink breathable bumpers. Because they're not finding out the sex of the baby I decided to surprise her with a set of white breathable bumpers, customized to match the red and aqua nursery set, just in case #2 is a boy. (Surprise, Suzanne)

This tutorial will show you how to add custom trim to breathable bumpers without requiring any time consuming seam ripping.

How to Add Custom Trim to Breathable Crib Bumpers

Step 1: Make Bias Tape
For the standard breathable bumpers, which have 1" wide satin trim, you'll need strips that are 4.5" wide.  

I've tried several bias tape methods and find them all a little tedious, but there are several out there. Dana's at Dana Made It is a good one - just follow the steps through making a continuous strip, but no farther for this project.

Once you have your continuous 4.5" wide strip, fold it in half lengthwise and press.

Starting at the edge of the velcro on the inside of the bumper, pin the side of the strip with the two raw edges so they just overlap the stitching on the satin trim. The strip of trim should be facing down, away from the top of the satin. At the edge of the velcro, fold the end of the strip under to create a finished edge. Make sure you keep the bumper's ties out of the way of your sewing machine.

With a very narrow seam allowance, a little less than 1/4" - I just eyeballed it, went very slowly, and used a seam allowance just shy of 1/4" - stitch the raw edges to the bumper trying to stitch directly on top of the stitching on the stain trim as best you can. Leave room to fold the end under when you near the other edge of the velcro.

Fold the trim up, concealing the raw edge you just stitched down, and press.

Continue to fold, covering the stain trim entirely and press to the front of the bumper. The bottom edge of the trim in the front should be ever so slightly longer than the back at this point.

Using a very narrow seam, stitch as close to the edge of the trim as possible down the entire length of the bumper. If you can move your needle over, move it to the far edge so you can get the seam close to the edge. I have a blindstitch foot for my sewing machine that I use for projects like this.

Repeat for the bottom trim and on the second bumper piece.

For this project I only trimmed the tops of the bumpers. On the cradle project I trimmed all the edges. Either way it's an easy way to add a super cute, custom touch to your nursery!

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A New Facade

Last month, month seven of our four month project, we saw three solid work days. And on those three days we got a porch with crisp white railings. What a difference a porch makes!

We chose Trex decking in Lava Rock, which is one their colors that has some shading that makes it look a bit more natural. I love it.

One one of those three work days the front and side doors were stained (handles and knobs are still just temporary.) We chose Minwax's gel stain in hickory. The first coat went on very light and I was a little concerned it wasn't going to "go" as well with the decking as our sample had (we did a sample on pine and the doors are Therma-Tru Classic Craft fiberglass doors.) But coat #2 darkened up a bit and on our own we did a third coat last weekend. Rookie tip - wear gloves when using stain. I think I may do a fourth if we get another warm day before the painters come to seal them. But they're looking closer to what I envisioned now.

I'd love to use the same stain for the beadboard ceiling, but the gel stain doesn't get into the grooves very well and Minwax doesn't have "hickory" in their regular stain. We'll probably do a few tests in the spring on scrap beadboard. There's no rush on the ceiling since I agreed to stain it myself if the contractor upgraded from paint-grade to stain-grade beadboard wood.

The oh-so welcoming bare bulb above the front door is just waiting for the lantern-style entry light that lamps.com so generously gave us a few months ago. I can't believe it has taken so long for the electrician to come back! I cannot wait to show you guys the light we chose. It's easy enough for us to hang on our own, but we're trying not to step on toes unless we really have to. So we wait.

At the back entry, which is really our main entry since it leads to the new mudroom, we have a new stoop with steps to the entry walk, patio, and out onto the lawn. It's exactly as I envisioned it when we were working with the architect last year.

Disregard the ropes and stakes - we were trying to grow grass in the late fall and the ropes are our feeble attempt to keep the dog and boy off the new grass.

The side and front doors are the same door and the same color, but they look different. From what I can gather, one had stain applied with a rag and the other with a brush (applied by two different people at the same time.) I think the brush must have put more stain on so the front door is darker. I found that the gel stain was easier to work with when using a rag when I did my coat though, so I think it's just a preference thing. Hopefully we can get the back door a little darker.

I think the porch and especially the railings tie the addition together with the sunroom well. I was a little concerned that the brick portion of the house wasn't blending well with the addition, but I think all that white on the porch breaks up the brick nicely. I feel like it's coming together and I'm hoping the shutters on the addition will bring it all together even more. I'm glad we went with the four window option and not the two.

So that's where things stand today. No one has been inside in a long time, but things are coming together really nicely as we slowly unpack and spread out. I can't wait to show you our new mudroom and all the work that's gone on in there!

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