That Front Porch Life by Brooke Courtney

I have always wanted a front porch to live on - to sip iced coffees, and read books, and have long afternoon conversations on. A porch to hand out Halloween candy from, decorate for Christmas and dry pool towels on in the heat of summer. I mean, technically we've always had a front porch. When we moved in to our little 1929 house seven years ago, the front porch was sufficient, but missing a railing. It left you feeling very open and exposed if you sat out there in your morning pajamas, or jammie-jams as we call them in our house, which wasn't very enjoyable. Years went by and we basically never used our front porch.

BUT NOT ANYMORE! Last fall, our talented friend Josh built us a porch railing and I'm so in love with it. I'm obsessed with the way it looks and the design he came up with. My only instructions to him were "something horizontal and stripe-y", while waving my hands side to side real fast, trying to picture what it would look like completed. 😂 Not only did we need a railing period, I also wanted it to look more modern and "us" than something we could have picked out at a local hardware store. Again, I'm so thrilled with how it turned out!

I'd been in the market for a baby gate for awhile when Munchkin reached out to partner up and promote their Vibe Baby Gate. It couldn't have been more perfect timing. June adores being outside and playing on our porch, I however, do not adore the idea of her falling down the porch steps, or climbing down them and half way across the block while I pop back inside for an iced coffee refill. I really didn't want to put a gate out there that was, for lack of a better word, ugly. Ha ha! Enter: the Vibe.

The weather has been beautiful lately. Yesterday we were out on the front porch for almost two hours playing with toys, reading books, eating snacks, pointing at airplanes, and all of it made my Momma heart so happy. Note June's dirty little feet in the photo below... I just... I can't even... 😍

One of my favorite things about the Vibe gate, besides how sturdy it is, is the mesh panel in the middle. Hello privacy. Not only does the color of the gate happen to match our front porch perfectly - like, weirdly perfectly - the clean and modern design fits seamlessly with our new railing. Amazing. Knowing the front porch is safe for June has quite literally added a whole new room to our house during the warmer months.

If you're in the market for a baby gate, I'd highly suggest Munchkin's Vibe Gate. It's baller. (Register for it if you're expecting, too!)

June's neighbor and bestie, Clara, came over yesterday to play. June was pumped up when she saw Kim and Clara coming across the street. I love watching her get so excited about things!

Now that kids are back in school, June loves watching the school buses drive by our house every afternoon. I picked up a toy school bus at a thrift store this week for $2.75 and she loves it. When they drive by she claps and yells "YAY!" for them, like it's a parade.

Clara has started giving kisses and leans in with this face when she wants to give you one. 😂 It's so cute. I can't imagine not having awesome neighbors like we do. You have no idea how often Kim and I text each other with "Can my kid come over and stare at yours?" when we're trying to keep them awake, busy or are just looking for an excuse to eat cookies together.

I'm already thinking about how I want to decorate the porch for fall. And Halloween. And Christmas. And next spring...  And then I get thinking about our back deck and all the possibilities that holds if we get that redone! (It's currently really ugly and sinking into the ground. For reals. 😂) Dinner parties and sandboxes and comfy chairs and all. the. plants. Next year!

This post was sponsored by Munchkin. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting my blog and the awesome people who sponsor it.

Soft, Not-Too-Sweet Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies by Brooke Courtney

I have always loved baking chocolate chip cookies. It was the first recipe I ever memorized, which was simply because I made them so often growing up. My Mom and I had this deal where if I was willing to mix up the dough, she'd bake them, every time. By the time the dough was done, all I wanted to do was eat them - not bake them! And the thought of mixing up the dough would often keep my Mom from making them at all. So, clearly it was a win win system we came up with!

Since I've had the basic Nestle Tollhouse recipe memorized since 7th grade, I often try changing different things here and there. Different chocolate, less sugar, added oatmeal, mixed nuts, etc. But my recent switch-up to the recipe has been my favorite so far - bread flour. It makes the cookies extra soft, but not undercooked. In my personal opinion, they're freakin' amazing. But don't take my word for it. I guessssss you'll just have to make an entire batch for yourself and find out.  Bummer... 😉 So here you have it - my bread flour, less sugar, dark chocolate chip cookie recipe!

SOFT, NOT-TOO-SWEET DARK CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

  • 2 sticks of butter (room temperature -- soft)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 c. bread flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2-3 cups good quality dark chocolate chips
  • chopped walnuts, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°

In a large mixing bowl, combine soft (not melted) butter, sugars and vanilla well. Scrape down the edges of your bowl and add one of the eggs. Beat well. Repeat with second egg.

Mix 2 cups of the bread flour into the dough. Place the remaining 1/4 cup of flour in a small bowl, or larger measuring cup, and add your baking soda and salt to the flour. Mix together. Then mix this flour-salt-baking soda mixture into your dough!

Add chocolate chips (and nuts, if you want) to your dough and mix well.

I love using a cookie scoop. You can find them at most stores, or you could totally get one on Amazon. I highly suggest you get one!

Using your scoop, fill a parchment lined baking sheet with dough. I am able to fit a perfect dozen on my cookie sheet, which I love.

Place sheet into preheated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. For my oven, its 9 minutes on the dot. Yours may differ. Also, set your timer. You don't want to burn these!

As you wait the 8-10 long minutes for the cookies to be done, go do something productive. Otherwise you'll just stand in the kitchen and eat the dough. Not that I know that from experience or anything.

DING! Your timer is done. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on an elevated baking rack. Bake the remaining dough until you've scraped the mixing bowl clean!

Then grab a few while they're still warm and dig in. Share with your neighbors. Freeze some (once totally cooled) to eat another day. Take some to work. Or eat them all yourself.  😂 I mean, you do you. Enjoy!

DIY Floating Plexiglass Frame by Brooke Courtney

I am so excited to share this DIY Floating Plexiglass Frame tutorial with you all this evening! To be totally honest, I didn't event this - my cousin taught me how to do this when I was in 5th grade. She's a wonderful art teacher and used this method back in the 90's to cheaply frame students artwork and it's just as cool today as it was back then. Just like my glitter scrunchies. 

I've mentioned before on my Instagram how much I love the products from Artifact Uprising. Clean, simple, excellent quality. If you aren't familiar with their stuff, you should be! (There is a handy link for you in my sidebar ----->.) I printed this iPhone photo of June from our trip to Hawaii, for our bedroom makeover. I just love how cute and chunky she looks, playing under the sheets in our hotel room, and wanted to wake up to that image every day! I also ordered an iPad drawing she did, which is just so dang precious I can't even handle it.

So, anyway, when my prints arrived a few weeks ago from AU, I knew I didn't want to put them in heavy wooden frames. And that's when I remembered my childhood artwork! I went down into the dungeon - I mean - our basement, and dug out my melted crayon garden collage ( 😂 ) and took note of how the simple frame was made. With one easy trip to our local hardware store, and $28 later, I had four pieces of plexiglass (measured for my prints), 16 sets of screws/nuts and picture hanging wire.

It really is super easy to make! You could even use gold hardware if you'd like - kinda wishing I'd thought of that for myself. 😂 Next time! 

Here's what you'll need for (1) ONE frame:

  • 2 pieces of plexiglass - cut to custom size
  • 8 sets of screws/nuts - the screws I used were 1/4" long
  • Clear tape
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Drill + bit
  • Picture hanging wire
  • Wire cutters

INSTRUCTIONS:

First of all, when you buy the plexiglass, it will be given to you with a protective film on it. LEAVE IT ON! Plexiglass scratches super easily. Don't pull it off until the very end (I'll tell you when below.)

Start by taping together your two pieces of plexiglass on all four sides. You don't want the pieces you move around when you mark them, or drill your holes. Using a rule or tape measure, mark the 8 spots for the screws. While did use a ruler, I also kinda eye-balled it. It was a little bit of both. Don't get to hung up on everything being exact. I placed the photo I was going to frame on top of the plexiglass, just so I could see roughly where it would go when the project was finished.

Using your drill and a drill bit, drill through the 8 spots you've marked with your sharpie. It might smell like melting plastic a bit, which is fine, don't panic. I really had to put my weight into the drill to make sure I was going through both layers of plexiglass in one clean motion. Also, be sure you're drilling on a surface that you don'd mind scratching up or drilling into. I used an old piece of plywood when drilling my holes.

With your drilling complete, gently remove the protective film from all four sides of your plexiglass. If any plastic formed a crust around the areas you just drilled, push or snap it off with your fingers, leaving the 8 holes nice and clean! If you feel your pieces need cleaning before you assemble them together, wash them with any window/glass cleaner and a soft rag - being careful not to scratch anything.

Decide which piece will be your bottom layer and place a small tape-donut in the center. Using a ruler, or just eye-balling it like I did, press your photograph down on the tape to lightly secure it in place.

With your photograph in place, start to push the screws through the top and attach them on the back side with the nuts. Some of my screws slid right through, while others required me to use a screwdriver.. either way, it's super easy.

Tighten the screw sets all the way around, minus the top two corners, where you'll attach your picture hanging wire. Cut a piece of wire several inches longer than needed and wrap the wire around the back of the screw, underneath the nut. Then tighten the nut and screw, pressing the wire in place between the two. Trim off any excess wire with wire cutters.

And there you have it! Your very own frame plexiglass frame. I just love how flexible and customizable this type of framing can be. Whether your image is large or small, horizontal or vertical, textured or flat - this'll work - and look super awesome in the end. I hope you'll give it a try! You can see the two frames I made here in my Bedroom Makeover post

Our Bedroom Makeover with method | #fearnomess by Brooke Courtney

I want to start off by letting you all know that I am partnering with method on this post, and although this content is sponsored, all opinions are my own. With that in mind, let me tell you that I freakin' love method. Just come over and dig through my closets (or my shopping cart at Target) and that'll be confirmed. Soaps and cleaners and dishwasher pods, each smelling better than the last. So, naturally, I was honored when method reached out and challenged me to #fearnomess. It's also not a surprise that when I thought about a mess, I instantly thought about our bedroom. 😬

Our bedroom has long been the forgotten room in our home. Over time, every other piece of dark/black furniture in our house has been replaced, except our bed frame -- which left our bedroom feeling darker than I'd like and heavy. Our room gets beautiful morning light, but I just felt like nothing was pulled together, the room was boring, and it was always messy... which I'm sure you can see for yourself in the "before" images below.

Insert the #fearnomess challenge and I was READY. TO. GO. Get a fresh looking bedroom and have it smell like magical clementine in the process? Win, win.

We started by taking almost everything out of the room, stripping the linens off our bed, and taking apart the old bed frame. Behind the bed, which probably hadn't been cleaned in yearrrrrs, was so gross. Under our bed was more mess - bobby pins, books, toys, wrappers. 😂

Once the old bed frame was out of the way, I got to work cleaning. And I washed everything. Even the walls, which were so dusty and gross. Our house was built in 1929 and most of the walls are plaster.... giving them just enough texture to hold onto dust and dirt over time. After about an hour of cleaning, the room looked and smelled amazing, we were ready to start bringing the fun projects into the room!

Note: Penny looking down in judgement at the floor while I clean. June smacking T.J. on the head for comedic value, saying "boinggggg". And T.J. cassssually posing with the all-purpose cleaner while I'm trying to take my "before" photos.

Years ago we replaced a heavy and dated looking built in bookshelf in our room with this mantle that I found at a yard sale down the block for only $12! And ever since, I've wanted to add the faux brick inside the mantle. So, T.J. took out the boring piece of plywood that had been there, and we replaced it the brick! I love it. It adds so much more character to the mantle!

While I put two coats of white paint on the new mantle insert, T.J. started building our new bed from Ikea. Once that was complete, we unboxed our amazing new mattress from Tuft & Needle (more on this to come!).

I knew I wanted our room to feel lighter and brighter, but I also wanted it to have more personality. For being a photographer, I barely have any photos printed and hanging in our home. (Womp, womp.) I printed one of my favorite photos of June, from our trip to Hawaii, along with one of her iPad drawings and made plexi glass frames for them. (Tutorial to come +)

Then I gathered a handful of terra cotta pots from our yard/garage, washed them off and drew on them with a sharpie paint pen. Seriously, there isn't anything you can't make cooler with a sharpie paint pen.

Other than our mantle, there really wasn't any furniture in our room that could hold plants, photos, books, etc. So I decided to make a table! Well, I decided to screw together a few pieces of wood and attach them to these awesome hairpin legs we already had lying around. Since I already had the legs, the whole project only cost me $4.34! Yasssssss.

Once the table was in place, I placed the gallery wall frames into a design on my bed, and then transferred that layout to the wall above said table. Finally! Some personality in our room! I also framed two polaroids of T.J. and myself that we took of one another on our 2nd date. 😍

With the frames in place, I added the final artwork, and the remainder of finishing touches on the room! And before we knew it - voila! - a brand new bedroom. TAKE THAT MESS!

I have always loved that method is animal friendly. Their products are formulated to put the hurt on dirty without harming furry friends - which, in our case, is four cats. I am in full support of no animal testing or animal bi-products. Yay method!

And of course I had to have lots of thrifted items in the new room. So, here's a quick list of those items: night stands, peacock chair, velvet pillows, terra cotta pots, basket for cactus, horse book ends, basket for our shoes (below table), vintage bed spread and the pineapple dish on my nightstand!

I found a free image of horses online and fell in love with the idea of printing it really big, in black and white, to frame above the mantle! I took the file to Office Max and had them print it on their blueprint printer and it only cost me $2.08. That's my kinda art!

I love waking up every morning to see the gallery wall with June's art and picture, along with some of my favorite pieces from friends, in our ever-growing art collection.

Well, there you have it! I hope this makeover inspires you to tackle whatever it is in your home that you think is a total mess. You can do it! I believe in you! Just drink lots of iced coffee and spray everything in sight with that magical smelling method cleaner and it'll all turn out awesome. 😃

I'd love to know what part of the bedroom makeover was your favorite, too! The table? The art? Leo hanging out on the bed like a king? Yeah, that's my favorite thing too.

A Salty Snack You Can Make In 20 Minutes | Kale Chips by Brooke Courtney

Kale chips are my go-to salty snack. I do like potato chips and all, but they're not really "my thing." My thing is handfuls of chocolate chips and almonds at 11pm, but that is neither here nor there.

I remember the first time I ever heard about kale. I can picture myself sitting in my parent's living room, probably wearing butterfly clips or something equally as cool in my hair, watching The Oprah Winfrey Show. And all she could talk about was kale. Kale smoothies, kale chips, kale salads, kale face masks. Apparently kale is the cooler, and much chewier, cousin of lettuce. Or at least that was my take away from the episode.

The first time I ate kale chips was at an outdoor party and they were not impressive seeing that being left outside on the picnic table they'd become limp and chewy. Mmm, no thank you. However, sometime last year I stopped in at my sister-in-law's house to borrow baby clothes, and she had just pulled a tray of kale chips out of her oven. All three of her kids were waiting, wide-eyed in anticipation, for the tray to cool down and the go-ahead to dig in. And I figured, if these three kids are that excited about baked lettuce, I should give it another try. They were delicious!!

Turns out there is a trick or two in order for them to bake into crispy, salty, perfection. So grab a bunch of kale the next time you're at market, and in 20 minutes or less you can be chowing down on your guilt-free handfuls of "chips", even at 11 pm. 

SEA SALTED KALE CHIPS

  • Medium sized bunch of Kale

  • Olive Oil

  • Sea Salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cut, or tear, away the kale from the stem. Do your best to tear the kale into similar sized pieces, so they will bake more evenly! Place all pieces into a large mixing bowl, drizzle with oil, and toss.

Before you place the "chips" onto your baking sheet, be sure to rub the oil into each piece, front and back, with your fingers. It really doesn't take that long, and will make such a difference in the crispness of your chips.

Salt lightly. (You can always add more later!) Place tray into a preheated 300° oven. Bake for 10 (+/-) minutes. The edges of the kale will start to look brown and cripsy, and since it's only a 300° oven, I'll often (carrrrrefully!!) reach in to touch one of the pieces and see if it feels crisp, before removing the tray from the heat.

If needed, fill up another tray and repeat the process until you've roasted all of your kale. Store in an airtight container, or bag, for a few days - that is if you don't eat them all immediately. When they're slightly cooled out of the oven is when they're the best!