Sunday, May 21, 2017

Before and After: The Front Yard Gets a Makeover

As usual its been a minute since I've had time to post but things are busy with two kids under three! We've been trying to make small changes to the house where we can but one of the biggest changes has been our new front yard!

The most important step for us was installing a wrap around fence in the front yard for the safety of our kiddos.  I can now say I actually live in a house with a white picket fence.  I love that it mirrors the fence in the backyard and that they were able to make the fence enclose the front porch.  We have already spent HOURS of fun out front.  I can rock or swing and the kids can play and there is no stress that they are going to run off.

The yard itself has had a big makeover as well.  Sure, spring makes everything better but we had a jungle of bushes and a lot of dirt with a few sprigs of grass before.  Here's a before shot of one corner of the yard which will give you an idea of how little grass we had.

We hired a landscaping company to help out because a) the job was bigger than we felt we could handle and b) seed really only takes in the fall so if we wanted grass for the spring and summer we had to sod.  But things had to get worse before they got better...

The landscapers showed up and started out by removing the boxwoods in the front beds and started installing what was supposed to be a little path from the front gate.  But they put it in and it looked AWFUL.  I absolutely hated it, texted pictures to my husband who also hated it and so in the end, I asked them to take it out and decided to just plant grass.  Not only did I feel like the path was ugly, I thought it ate in to too much of the grassy space for the kids to play in and also it would have been a pain to try to mow around.

It looks insane, doesn't it?!

After they dug up the path, they had to bring in truckloads of dirt so that the sod would be able to take.  And right after they got all the dirt down a surprise storm rolled in and it started POURING.  The poor guys had to take cover under our porch for about 20 minutes until the storm passed.  And then it was way too wet for them to start working again.  So, at the end of the first day when I expected to see beautiful lush grass in my front yard, this is what I was left with:

Hard to imagine that the very next day it would look like this:

It took a couple of weeks for the grass to stop looking like rolled out sod and for the bushes to grow in some but it is starting to take shape now.  The azaleas bloomed, the hostas grew up and the hydrangeas just now have a couple of blooms on them that I can't wait for.  I think as the plants in the front continue to grow and mature, it will really start looking nice.

Having this new yard has really transformed life for us.  We spent all kinds of time outside swinging on the porch swing, splashing around in the kiddie pool, running through the sprinkler and playing ball in the grass.  Having this yard space was such a big deal to us after moving from our house near DC with such a tiny little yard.  Now on to the next big project...the back yard!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Antelope in our bedroom

I have had a long time love affair with Stark's Antelope Carpet.  You've seen it in all the design magazines especially on stairs and it is nothing short of stunning.  Seriously, years later I do not tire of it.

image via here

After a whole lot (and I mean a LOT) of convincing, I finally got it in my bedroom.  Not the Stark one, mind you, but Ballard Designs makes a pretty good copy cat version:

The price is still much better than the designer version but after I shared with you my new favorite rug resource a few weeks ago here, you can imagine that my husband pushed back at the price tag when I insisted we needed the largest one they made for our space.  In the end, it was a battle that was well worth fighting.  And, while I am not sure he would ever admit to me being right, I'm pretty sure deep down he agrees with me.  Really.  :)

It's a work in progress but it sure feels amazing to have a bedroom large enough to accommodate a king size bed and two full size side tables after coming from our tiny DC house.  Before we moved, my husband's bedside table was a tiny (and I mean TINY - like 6 inches x 6 inches) PLANT STAND as it was the only thing I could find to fit the space.  Baby steps...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Southwestern White Chicken Chili

This chicken chili is so easy and so tasty.  My husband is from New Mexico and so he is a huge fan of anything with green chiles in it.  I have really come to love the smoky, mild heat they give dishes and cook with them often now.  The weather has been in this wonky it is warm, wait - - just kidding, it's still winter phase and this dish fits the bill for even warmer weather because it is not too heavy.

What You'll Need:
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken (I used chicken breasts)
2 cans white beans (I used Great Northern but you can use any that you prefer)
1 can corn
large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 can (4 ounces) of green chiles
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp butter
1 and 1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Mozzarella cheese (plus more for topping if desired)
1 Tbsp cornstarch for thickening (optional)

What You'll Do:
Cook your chicken.  You can either dice it and cook it in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.  I actually took another short cut because my husband was grilling a steak the night before so I just threw the chicken seasoned with salt and pepper onto the grill the night before so it was already cooked.

Add olive oil and butter and cook onions and garlic with chicken until tender.  Add green chiles, corn and beans and cumin and cayenne.  Cook for about 1 minute before adding the broth.  Add the broth and let everything simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Mix in about 1 Tbsp of cornstarch or flour mixed with a little water to thicken, if desired.  Add mozzarella cheese and fresh cilantro (saving a little for garnish).  Stir and let simmer for another 5 minutes or so.  Serve and top with extra cheese and cilantro.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Playroom Situation

Our house has a little breakfast room off of the back of our kitchen.  It is clear that its original intended purpose was for dining because of the old build in corner cabinets that I ah-dore.  Because the house already has a spacious dining room and because this little nook was easy to be closed off, I decided to make it a playroom for the kids.  In theory, my plan was nothing short of brilliant.  It was an adorable little nook of a space that the kids could make a mess in and visitors didn't see it right when they walked in.  I pictured myself making homemade dinners from scratch, dressed in an apron, while the children played quietly in the room together.  (Yes, I recognize that image is nothing short of delusional).  Anyway, the room has worked pretty well for us for a little while.

The room is one of my favorite spaces in the house - it is filled with light, an adorable rug, and lots of fun toys for my little ones.  Problem is, now that we have put the theory into practice, we have discovered it is a really, really small space for a playroom.  My two year old loves to dump out all of his toys and now my 8 month old has started crawling.  In about two seconds flat, there is no room for either of them to move.  And I had to put an adult chair in there for me so that I had somewhere other than the floor to sit and that just clogs the space up more.  So, what happens is that after just a few minutes of playing, the kids become overwhelmed by all the toys around them and are (I'm projecting my feelings here) most likely clausterphobic, and they want out.  And that is just with me and the two kids in there.  Forget about having friends over to play!

Here's the playroom as it is right now:

And when the kids inevitably evacuate the small playroom, where do they go?  Straight for the living room with my brand new custom upholstered furniture.  YIKES!  But I don't blame them for wanting to get out of there.

In between the living room and the kitchen is a large dining room.  When we moved in, I toyed with the idea (pun intended) of making the dining room a second living area/playroom but then ultimately decided I really wanted a dining room.  Three main problems: 1) We just aren't entertaining as much as we used to.  We are exhausted from running after the kids or my husband is travelling for work. 2) The house is just too small to have large formal dinner gatherings because we only have one living room to accommodate 5 or so people max comfortably (in my opinion).  3) We moved from an even smaller house in DC and have only a dining room table.  To furnish a large dining room the way I want to would mean a pretty substantial investment.  I just don't know how long we will be in this house and so I don't want to buy furniture to fit this space when I'm not sure what the needs/set up of the next house will be.

Sooooo, my plan is to turn the now dining room into the new and improved playroom and move the dining table to the breakfast room.  Not only will that offer the kids more space to play but it will be much easier for us to entertain more people with another place to hang out.  I'm mentally wrestling with this plan since I can't imagine not having a proper dining room.  I also really didn't want to succumb to having my kids toys so prominently displayed in our house but after a lot of thought, I just think it will be more comfortable for everyone.  This isn't a forever plan...this is just what I think will work for us right now.  Stayed tuned for the big switch.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pineapple Slow Cooker Chicken

Whew.  What a week.  My husband travels for work now but this month he's had to be gone even more than usual so I've been single parenting 5-6 nights a week for the past five weeks.  With my husband gone a lot, I really don't enjoy cooking for one all that much.  Don't get me wrong, it was novel at first not having to worry about fixing dinner (cereal anyone? lean cuisine?).  But, after a while, that gets really old and you want something good and home cooked, not just out of the freezer, cold cereal or popcorn.  Problem is, by the time I get the kids to bed, I'm exhausted and don't have a lot of energy left for a full blown cooking session.  I've taken to doing some slow cooker meals that I put together when the kids are napping and then it is all cooked when I am ready to eat later in the evening.

Please tell me ya'll know about Damn Delicious?  Every recipe we have tried from there has been easy to follow and tastes phenomenal.  She's got a great archive that is super easy to search.  But warning - it WILL make you hungry.  And if her recipes weren't enough to get you to check out her site, her adorable corgi sure is!  I seriously want one.

Anyway, last night I tried her slow cooker Pineapple Chicken.  As usual, it didn't disappoint.  My pictures don't look anything like hers but whatevs, it still tasted good.  And the house smelled amazing as it simmered all afternoon.

Recipe here

If you hadn't already heard of Damn Delicious, you can thank me later.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Old Furniture, New Purpose

We bought these shelves for our old house in Virginia at Ikea.  They are one of the best purchases we've made from there.  First of all, they don't really scream Ikea which makes me happy.  And because the piece connects across the top with another shelf, they almost have the feel of a built in.  It was the perfect piece to house my husband's need for a ginormous television and I was able to style things around it that I liked to look at.  Also, when you do something simple like change out the hardware, people truly don't believe that you got the thing at Ikea.


I almost didn't bother moving them to the new house because I wasn't sure where I was going to put them.  You see, the layout of our living room is a little hard to work with.  There is no foyer so you walk directly into the living room and the front door is over to the side of the room.  The only wall without windows is the wall beside the front door and so it would be really weird to put the tv on that wall because when you walked in the door, you'd be in the middle of the seating/tv area.  And the tv is just too big to put in front of the windows because a) I wouldn't want to block all the great natural light; b) um, major eyesore and c) the glare would be so bad it'd be hard to watch tv.  That left us with one option...mount the tv over the fireplace.  And that, my friends, is a saga for another day.  Suffice to say, our marriage was a little rocky for a while until we got that crazy ass situation sorted out.

So, because we mounted the tv over the fireplace, and situated the seating accordingly, we were left with this big long empty wall over by the front door which posed two problems.  First, the wall is so big that it required something SUBSTANTIAL.  A dinky piece of furniture would look dwarfed and out of place.  Second, remember how I said there is no foyer in our new house?  That means no hall coat closet either.  That in and of itself is annoying for adults but try having two little kids who constantly need coats, hats, gloves, etc.  So I got creative.

I decided that the height of the lower shelf would be just about right for a bench seat and that I could utilize the interior blank wall space as a spot for hooks to hang jackets, scarves, bags, etc.  Plus, I still got to have a place for my pretties to jazz it up a little so that it still looked nice in our living room.  The fabric I chose for the bench seat is upholstery grade and I chose neutral colored ikat that gave enough texture to make it interesting but was neutral enough that I wouldn't tire of it.  I had the bench cushion made with 3 inch foam and it ran me a couple hundred bucks for the fabric and labor.  I found the antler hooks at Anthropologie.  Originally I wanted to have one of each of these but they were sold out of the duck ones I two wouldn't have been enough hooks or looked right on that big of a space.  In the end I think the fact that they were sold out of them turned out in my favor because I think having the hooks match ultimately looks better than it would have to have three different kinds.


So, there you have it.  For around $300 I have a new entryway piece that is pretty to look at and serves an important purpose in our new house.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My New Go To Rug Resource

Our new house has gorgeous hardwoods.  I absolutely love them but with two small kids, we have to have rugs.  Plus, I think it really warms up the space - both literally and visually - to have some great rugs.  Problem is, rugs ain't cheap.  I have purchased several rugs from RugsUSA for the new house and couldn't be happier.  The quality is excellent and the selections are great.  Best of all?  It won't break the bank.

I got this rug for our playroom:

And this rug for my daughter's room:

The pictures don't actually do either of these rugs justice.  The colors are so much more vibrant in real life!  You wouldn't believe the compliments I've gotten.  And I paid less than $300 each!

A couple of tips when shopping for rugs at RugsUSA:

1. If you see a rug that the pattern interests you, make sure you click on it to see what other colors are available.  Sometimes they have a great rug but it is featured in a not so great color - or a color that won't work for your space.  For example, this rug is pictured in a citrine color and is not my cup of tea but the pattern and textures are great:

The very same rug in a dark pink or orange hues looks great:

2. Shopping for a rug on the site can be overwhelming because there are so many options.  Narrow down your search by your style.  My two go-to style searches on the site are contemporary and traditional (funny that those styles seem so opposite but both have options right up my alley).  You'd be amazed at how many of their rugs could easily fall into both of those categories.  Take the one I selected for my daughter's room.  It is pretty traditional but the bold colors and print can certainly seem very contemporary as well and mixed with the right furniture it is!

3. If you want a thick rug for a bedroom that is comfy underfoot, my preference is 100% wool and read the reviews as buyers will give you a hint about the quality and thickness most of the time.  The downside to a wool rug?  You'll pay more.  Plus, you have to put up with shedding for a few weeks but after several vacuums, it gets considerably less with time.  In my opinion, both of the downsides are well worth it for the quality of the rug you get.

4. For high traffic areas, an indoor/outdoor rug can work great and be very forgiving.  Obviously with the durability of one of those rugs, you are sacrificing softness underfoot which may not matter for a living room or dining room.

5. If you're not in a hurry and can take your time searching for a rug, RugsUSA has great sales.  Just sign up for their email updates and they'll keep you posted when one of their fairly regular sales occurs.  Frequently you can get good discounts and free shipping if you keep your eyes out.

Just a few more pretty rugs that I've been eyeing from their site for either dining room or living room possibilities:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bacon, Gruyere and Butternut Squash Risotto

When we lived in DC we subscribed to this food delivery service called ScratchDC.  It was like a Blue Apron but the food was local, pre-chopped and you could order one meal at a time.  They'd leave it in a cooler outside your door.  And the food was DELISH.  They closed down business recently in pursuit of their Test Kitchen endeavor and we were so disappointed.  I kind of took it as a sign that moving to NC was the right decision for us given that Scratch was leaving us high and dry.  Kind of not kidding.

But, before they closed up shop, they created a cookbook of their top recipes (although, guys, if you are reading this - really?  You left out Banh Mi Tacos?!?!).  Anyway, this risotto dish was one of our faves (although I'll have to share our number one Scratch risotto recipe with you at a later date).   We always tweak things a little so here's our take on their recipe.  Also, this recipe serves two people (although if you weren't piggies like us you may be able to stretch it to three) so double if you invite friends to join you (and you'll want to - it's that good).

What You Need:
3-4 slices of bacon
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
1 small onion, diced
2 cups butternut squash (diced)*
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 box vegetable stock (or get fancy and make yo own)

What You Do:
Cook bacon and remove from pan.  In the same pan (soak up that bacon grease!), add 2 Tbsp of olive oil, butternut squash, thyme and cinnamon and cook until browned and tender.  Meanwhile, heat up the vegetable stock in a separate pot so that when you add the liquid, it'll be warm.  Chop up your bacon.

Remove the squash mixture from pan and put into a bowl for later.  To the same pot, add butter and onion and cook until translucent.  Add the rice and toast it with the onion for about a minute.  Once toasted, add white wine and cook until absorbed.  Once the rice has absorbed the wine, add the stock, about 1/2 a cup at a time until the rice is cooked.  Add the cooked squash, bacon and cheese and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A New Year...A New Start

It's been so long since I've logged in that I barely remember how to use Blogger!  A LOT has changed with me since the last time I posted here on my trusty blog (can you believe it has been since December 2014?!).  The highlights: After nearly 15 years, we relocated from the Washington, DC area to Raleigh, North Carolina in October, my husband started a new job, and I am now officially a stay at home mom (for the minute anyway) of TWO little ones.  Yep, our little guy Forrest is now two and a half and our daughter Margaret "Gray" was born in June.

My little munchkins earlier this month in their playroom

Moving to Raleigh was a major decision for us.  I am originally from Raleigh but have been living in DC for most of my adult life, met my husband there, had a job I loved and had my two precious babies there.  Not to mention some seriously great friends.  But, cost of living was killing us.  Traffic was driving us nuts (my husband's commute was 45 minutes each way on a GOOD day).  Our house was just too small for our growing family, childcare for two kids in DC exorbitantly expensive and ultimately we decided that being closer to family was extremely important to us in raising our kids. My husband was offered a job at a company he's wanted to work for for years and they covered our relocation to NC.  So, we packed up and headed down South.  Yep, it was just that easy.  Not.  As if an out of state house hunt/move with a toddler, a newborn, a sleep deprived and hormonal mother and a father who was on the road travelling and trying to start a new job.  Oh, and did I mention I was working remotely as well?  I was a wreck.

My aunt came to help for a week which was a godsend.  I seriously don't know what I would have done without her.  Slowly we are getting settled in and more adjusted to life in Raleigh.  One of the best parts about relocating from DC was being able to afford a little bigger house.  It is nothing fancy but it feels like a mansion compared to our little townhouse in DC.  Gray and I aren't sharing a room anymore - everybody gets their own!! THANK GOODNESS.  Gray and I can be friends again now that everyone is (almost) sleeping through the night.

The new house has motivated me and inspired me in so many ways.  It was built in the 20's and has great character (original hardwoods, built-ins, extremely high ceilings, and loads of windows) but has an updated kitchen and all new electrical and plumbing because it was actually moved from down the street to its current location in the 90's.  Coming from a small two bedroom house has meant I have gotten to shop lots more than usual for furniture, decor, etc.  It's still very much a work in progress but I have lots of ideas that I hope to share with you as often as I get some time to blog.

Our new house in Raleigh in the January snow (please ignore the vast array of toddler paraphernalia on the porch)

The house is on a busier street and so one of the first things we did was to install the fence in the front yard.  A white picket fence, how perfect right?!  It's great because it wraps all the way up onto the front porch so I'm picturing myself rocking or swinging on the front porch when the weather is nice, sipping lemonade (or something stronger depending on how the kids are behaving), and watching the kiddos run free.  The yard needs an overhaul next.  We just had several large trees and bushes taken down and are planning to put in a walkway from the front gate to the porch.  Hopefully I'll have new pictures to show the progress on that front soon.

Okay, I'm signing off for today.  Hope to make it back here again soon.  Happy New Year to all!
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