Wallpaper Specimen Art

This project has been over a year in the making. Remember how I’ve mentioned once or twice that Dan and I took down obscene amounts of wallpaper? You know, in the entryway, the master bath, the kitchen, and just a few more places? Well, even in my haste to tear all of it all the walls, I managed to save a few scraps of the wallpaper before it headed to the trash bin.

I kept it over the last year and a half or so and we finally got around to doing something with it. Behold – our wallpaper specimen art:

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Yep, that’s our wallpaper cut into the shapes of butterflies. Dan had the idea of looking at the wallpaper like a relic of the past to be preserved, and came up with the idea of displaying it like a taxonomy specimen.

Creating the art was really easy. Dan used a butterfly template he found online to cut butterflies out of the wallpaper remnants. Using glass head pins, he attached each butterfly to the pinboard inside a Pottery Barn shadowbox that I found at a garage sale, never used, for $1.

The final touch is the classification labels Dan made. He took the Latin name for each room where the wallpaper came from and used that to “name” each butterfly. So, old kitchen became vetus culina.

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I really like seeing our new DIY art up on our living room wall. It reminds me that even though our new family room renovation is stressful and feels never-ending, we’ve already come so far with this house. And it started with removing all that wallpaper.

 

When (Fireplace) Plans Change

It’s been over a month since any family room renovation updates. I wish I could tell you that in that time, we completed the entire project and are ready for the big reveal. But, I can’t. This past month has consisted of drawing up specific blueprints for the fireplace and bookcase wall, making some tile decisions, trying to decide on flooring, and figuring out what to do with our fireplace. Lots of smaller decisions, but no real changes to document here.

I promise – I’ll get to telling you all about those items, but today, I wanted to share our fireplace saga.

Our fireplace is a standard masonry fireplace. It’s basically a hole in the wall that connects to the chimney. There’s no gas hook up, fireplace doors, or anything fancy.

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With that basic fireplace came some issues:

  1. Starting fires is quite a process. With gas fireplaces, you can literally flip a switch and have your fireplace running. With ours, you have to get kindling going, then constantly feed the fire or it will go out.
  2. You have to leave the flue open until the fire is completely out, or you’ll have a room full of smoke. The biggest issue this creates is that we have to leave the flue open overnight, to ensure all the embers have burned out. When we do that, it allows the cold winter air to come down the flue and reside in our family room. As you can imagine, it is pretty chilly the next morning.
  3. The fire provides some heat, but only if you’re sitting in the family room with it. The rest of the house doesn’t really benefit from having the fireplace going.

Dan proposed that a fireplace insert would solve most of our problems. An insert is basically a big metal box that you put inside the existing fireplace. Basically, the fire would be in the insert and fans in the box efficiently push heat out into the room. The insert would allow the fireplace to be a main source of heat not just for the family room, but for the whole first floor of the house. Pretty crazy, right? An insert would also allow us to prevent having a crazy cold room the next morning, because the cold air would be trapped in the insert itself.

Sounds good right? It did to us. So, we visited a fireplace store. We met with a super helpful employee there, and she priced everything out for us. Any guesses as to what our estimate came to, including the price of the insert itself and installation? Friends, when a price tag of over $6,000 came out of her mouth, I didn’t believe it. How could it be so expensive? We thanked her and left to talk through our options.

After the sticker shock we experienced, Dan and I talked about our options. We both agreed the benefits of the insert were great, but they didn’t solve one of the three main issues we had – the work required to start up a fire. The insert would be wonderful for out heating bill and the coziness of the room, assuming we built a fire regularly. Since we’ve lived in our home, we’ve had exactly two fires going. As the first one home most nights, if we did try to have nightly fires, I knew I would be the one to get it started. I also knew this wasn’t super likely to happen in the rush of getting home, letting the dog out, and getting dinner started. Plus, I didn’t love the look of inserts, as they do affect the overall look of the fireplace due to their large metal fronts. After weighing all of this, we decided against the insert.

We still agreed that of all the issues, the biggest one was the cold room in the morning. We refocused on trying to solve that problem, and came to the idea of installing doors on the fireplace. With some research, we discovered that having doors will lower the cold air coming into the house by around 90%, which surprised us in a good way. It seemed like that would make the difference we were looking for, so we started pricing out doors. Our favorite, which coincidentally was the least expensive, are these simple nickel doors from Menards. And at around $270, this door option is definitely more budget friendly than an insert, and will give us the solution to our biggest gripe about our current fireplace. We will being installing the doors ourselves with the materials that come with them, so here’s to hoping it’s as easy as the product description says it is.

We’re on to step 5 of 1,038,206 in planning and executing this renovation. Yay!

Fancy Scallop and Risotto Dinner

We’ve been on a kick lately of making ourselves fancy dinners at home. Cooking together used to be something Dan and I both looked forward to as singletons, but with the hustle and bustle of our work/life balance, cooking for fun sort of went by the wayside. In the new year, we’re trying to make a few fancy dinners a month. You know, the ones that may take a bit of time and effort but more than pay off in the end. This brown butter scallop and Parmesan risotto dish absolutely fit the bill, and didn’t crush our wallets in the process.

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I’ll admit – I love scallops.* Yes, there’s an asterisk. I love scallops, but *only when they are cooked correctly. Cooked too long, they get rubbery and gross. It’s a fine line.

We used this recipe as our starting point because the ingredients seemed pretty basic, and we had most of them in our fridge and cupboard already. Of course, we made a few changes.

First of all, we used smaller bay scallops instead of jumbo scallops. The only reason for the swap was a price difference. Bay scallops were $10/lb while jumbo scallops came in around the $20/lb range. By choosing the smaller scallops, we saved ourselves $10.

We also didn’t have grapeseed oil, so we used good old olive oil. It worked fine.

And, if you know me, you already know we chose to wilt spinach instead of kale. No offense kale, but you’re just not my jam.

Finally, the brown butter sauce. I think it was a good addition to the simple dish, but I don’t think the whole 3 tablespoons worth of butter was needed. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time putting a bunch of butter in anything – baked goods included. So browning up this much butter and pouring it on top of a dish seemed a bit much to me. I think you could get by with 1.5 tablespoons or maybe even omit the butter entirely. The oil in the wilted spinach does a lot for the dish, and the risotto is pretty rich as it is.

We talked about this dish for days after we made it, and we even contemplated making this again for a homemade Valentine’s Day dinner. We ended up trying something new, but this dish will definitely make it into our “fancy dinner” rotation.

 

Mod Stenciled Bentwood Chair

Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, Dan and I got to a project we’d been meaning to do for months – stenciling the desk chair in the guest room.

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We started with this plain old bentwood chair we purchased years ago at a garage sale. It’s been hanging out in the guest room as the desk chair since we moved into our house. Don’t get me wrong, the chair looked fine. It was just kind of boring.

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Since this was a low risk update, we decided to tackle in one afternoon we found ourselves without plans. I had previously purchased a stencil set from Target, on sale for just over $2. The prints were kind of mod, which we both liked.

After a bit of debate, we decided to only stencil the middle portion of the back of the chair, using the bentwood “neck” part of the chair as our guide. I thought we would use a paint brush or dabbing sponge, but Dan thought it would be easier to use spray paint. Spray paint ultimately won out, so Dan carefully taped off the rest of the chair, secured the stencil, and sprayed.

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He did two coats, waited for the second coat to dry, then moved the stencil down the chair to cover the entire chair back. Another two coats plus dry time and the chair was finished!

We had to do some touch up near the curve because the stencil wasn’t completely flush to the chair, which resulted in a kind of blurring effect. Dan smoothed out the edges with just a bit of mineral spirits.

Not a huge change to the room, but I was happy to finish a project I’d been wanting to do for so long.

 

 

Cotton Candy Valentine

I just finished these Valentines for the kiddos and I had to share them. Behold – cotton candy Valentines!

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Easy to put together and super cute.

I saw these individual-sized buckets of cotton candy while out shopping one day and thought they would make such a neat Valentine gift. The containers already had conversation hearts on it, but I wanted to up the Valentine factor.

I searched around for some circle-shaped Valentine’s Day printables, and stumbled across these from Magnolia Creative Co. The circles were a little big for the lid, so I cut them down a bit. I used simple double sided tape to stick the label to the top, but using washi tape would be great as well.

To finish off the little treat, I printed and cut out the matching labels from the same set and attached each one to the cotton candy with some red ribbon.

Now I just need to resist the temptation to eat these all myself before Valentine’s Day arrives!

Braised Short Ribs with Polenta

Dan and I were lucky enough to get a new dutch oven for Christmas. I was eager to try it out with a hearty meat dish, so I decided to make braised short ribs, to be served with cheddar polenta.

Dan found this recipe, which we used as our base. It came out amazing – the perfect dinner on a cold winter day.

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We looked at many recipes that didn’t have gremolata (parsley, lemon, and garlic), but I think it really helped make the dish. Don’t skip it.

Even though this dish took a lot of time to cook, it didn’t take a lot of time to prep. After cooking the ribs on each side, sauteeing the onion, and bringing the wine to a boil, the dish goes in the over for 1.5 hours, so it’s completely hands off.

I will caution you when the meat has been removed, and you’re boiling down the liquid into the sauce. It’s slow going to boil away, but then once it boils, it boils quickly. I almost boiled away too much of the liquid during that phase of cooking.

The polenta doesn’t take long to make, so make it right before serving. Watch out – it gets cold quickly. Growing up, we never put cheese in our polenta. I was missing out! We used cheddar in the polenta, even though the recipe calls for Parmesan. Use whatever you have on hand. I could even see goat cheese working really well.

This recipe will certainly make it into the rotation for our Sunday dinners, when we have a little more time than a typical weeknight to make a really delicious  gourmet-y meal.

We’re hoping to keep up our fancy weekend dinner on a semi-regular basis, so I just may have more recipes for you soon.