Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ten Things I Learned from Building a Dollhouse with My Daughter

In 2019 my wife and I got our daughter a dollhouse for her ninth birthday. Initially I wanted to completely build a dollhouse from scratch with her, but my wife helped talk me down from that ledge. (She typically only has to ask, "When will you find time to do that?" So much wisdom!) So we opted for a Victorian wooden dollhouse kit (available at Hobby Lobby) -- still pretty DIY in the true Renaissance Dad style, but with pieces already cut out. 

When Big A opened the dollhouse, her face lit up. She asked when we could start building it, which we did right away. Started. And it took us one year to build, from start to finish. 

One. Year.

I thought I was prepared for this. My friend Stan built a dollhouse with his daughter, and they worked on it for something like 18 years. He and I often talked about the process, so I had mentally prepared for a building project that would be something akin to building an actual house. I wasn't sure if my nine-year-old would feel the same way.

I was pleasantly surprised. My daughter not only loves building things (check out her inspiring project here), but she also loves just spending time with me (Daddy Daughter Date here). The dollhouse is the perfect combination of these two things.

And here are some things that I have learned in the year that it took us to build the doll house.

1. This project was my daughter's, and it went the speed that she wanted. If I had done the dollhouse on my own, I would have laser-beamed on each task, working on it evening and weekend until it was done. But it wasn't my own, and the goal was not a completed house. The goal was to spend time with my daughter on a common task.

2. I was a consultant. The house was my daughter's. She picked the colors, the wallpaper, the style. I got to make recommendations, but she could completely ignore me whenever she chose. And she did. But that's okay, since I wanted the house to be hers. Again, I was along for the enjoyable ride, so "fancy" ruled the day no matter how much I preferred "practical" or "classy". 

3. This project needed a space. Initially we were working in our guest bedroom. But then guests happened, and the dollhouse moved to the garage. Then summer happened, and it moved inside during some stages. I finally cleared off some table space in the garage, and that is where our "workspace" was. When it was moving around every couple of days, it was a pain. So the dollhouse space was a very necessary component of the project.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Renaissance Dad's Top Ten Products the Year

Let's start 2021 by getting a little philosophical. Think about the number of products that you come into contact with every day. From the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed, you encounter thousands of products. This morning, as I was making coffee, I thought about this. Just to make coffee, I made decisions about the type and brand of the coffee maker, the coffee, the filters, the r/o system that provides the water, the faucet, the container for compost for the old grounds, and the mug that I use. When I look around my house, my yard, and my office, the number of products is staggering. 

So imagine the glorious honor of making it onto Renaissance Dad's Top Ten Products of the Year list! Yes, here for the second year in a row, is my Top Ten list, with ten of my favorite products from last year. Note: These are glowing endorsements from me with no compensation or free product (unless noted). These are just products that I used and loved in 2020. In no particular order, here they are: 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

DIY Window Seat Built-In Bookcase

 I like built-in furniture. There is just something about a built-in that makes a home feel less cookie-cutter—whether it's a built-in china cabinet, some built-in bookshelves, or some ledges that give a homeowner some extra space. And sometimes I look at a nook, or an odd wall, or some other space, and I think, "Boy, that would be a great space for a (fill in the built-in)."

For years I've been eyeballing the window ledge in my girls' room. My wife and I have had several ideas that we've talked about, from a reading nook to a fort of some sort to a bookshelf. As the years have gone by, and other house projects have taken precedent, I have continued to ruminate on that space. Then, in a brief window of time when I needed a quick weekend project, I seized the opportunity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Light-as-Air Semolina Rolls

A year ago, when I was desperately wanting to make some homemade pasta, I searched all over for a large bag of semolina flour. I found some. It just happened to come in a bag with 49 pounds of friends. The look on my wife's face was precious when I came into the house with a 50 pound bag of flour. 

One year later, we still have semolina in our deep freeze. And our pantry. I continually look for ways to use it up. So I came across this recipe for semolina rolls. After tweaking it, adding to it, changing it, and modifying, modifying, modifying, hundreds of rolls later I am happy to present to you a wonderful, easy recipe for Light-as-Air Semolina Rolls


1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 Tablespoon yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups semolina flour


1. Combine warm water, yeast, sugar and honey. Leave for 10 minutes until bubbly and foamy (if it is not bubbly and foamy your yeast is not good and your bread will not be happy). 

2. In a separate bowl, mix flours and salt. 

3. Add oil to foamy yeast mixture. Then, stirring with a dough hook, add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until mixture is smooth. Continue to knead with dough hook (or your hands if you're trying to impress Paul Hollywood) for 10 minutes. 

4. Allow to rise for one hour. 

5. Shape into small rolls or bread sticks and place on parchment paper covered cookie sheet. If shaping into rolls, tuck the outside into the bottom inside to make a mushroom-esque shape. 

6. Allow to rise for 30 minutes more. While rising, heat oven to 400. 

7. Bake 6-8 minutes or until top just turns brown. 

8. Take plate of warm rolls, along with some butter and jam, and hide in the bathroom to eat them so your kids don't know you're having something delicious. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Eight Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination

Originally published in November, 2018. Updated in 2020. 

When my wife and I bought our first house, I was so excited to decorate the outside for Christmas. In reality, my lights probably didn't amount to much, but I was proud of my little house and the decorations we had. That first year, I bedazzled the house with about 750 lights. In my mind, I blinded my neighbors and caused the nuclear power station to flip the switch to the backup generator a la Christmas Vacation.

In the years following, I have shopped after-Christmas sales and added to my stockpile of decorations. From 12,000 lights in 2018 to 18,000 lights in 2020, it has gotten to the point that I need to begin putting lights up at the end of October in order to have the job completed by Thanksgiving Day--the day of the big reveal.

Over the past 20 years, I've not only accumulated a lot of tiny lights, but also learned a few things that I can share with you. So here are the Renaissance Dad Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination.

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