Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scenes from my grandma's garden

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some of my favorite home design blogs

If you read our blog regularly (and all of my friends *claim* they do), then you might like some of the other blogs that I follow. What can I say? I'm an advocate of wasting time online. (AFTER work, of course) Here's a quick run down of some of my favs.

  • Young House Love (formerly This Young House) -I discovered this one shortly after Rob and I started our blog. We were so proud of our great idea to start a blog detailing our home renovations and various shenanigans, and then I found Young House Love. I was instantly in awe of their impressive before and after pics. Bonus points that they have similar style to us so we've found a lot of great ideas that we could adapt to work in our home. Believe me, there were a lot of "Oh wow - they thought of that too!" moments as I eagerly soaked in their archives. This is one of my favorite blogs for inspiration, and I'm completely jealous of their gorgeous house and all their completed projects. I check this blog almost every day. They are very talented designers with many great ideas. I've also emailed them for advice on specific issues, like best way to paint trim, for example. They are always very helpful and informative.
    Blog examples: 'Design Dilemmas,' 'Reader Redesigns,' 'Fab Freebies,' before & afters, and practical tips on green living.

  • All Bower Power - I found this blog linked from Young House Love, and I'm glad I did! Katie Bower is a very talented home designer, and also one of the funniest people around. It's definitely fun to be reading helpful how-tos and home project tutorials that are laced with her signature potty humor and pop culture references. I was also lucky enough to land some of her design help with our upstairs bedroom (you can read about it here).
    Blog examples: 'Photoshopping Fun,' recipes, crafts, photos, and decorating projects.

  • Pure Style Home - This was actually the first home design blog I found, and it all started with this photo:

    I've posted it before, but that photo practically gives me chills, it's such a beautiful and serene space. Pure Style Home's author, Lauren, had posted it as a representative of her style, and I knew right away I would like reading what she has to say. Lauren is an interior designer by trade who also happens to be working on her own newly-purchased house. I love her style, and she has some great insight to share.
    Blog examples: How tos and tips, home projects, interior design.

  • Desire to Inspire - Eye candy, eye candy, eye candy. This is a really popular blog with frequent updates usually filled with stunning photos of modernly designed spaces. Great for inspiration.
    Blog examples: Designer portfolios, reader makeovers, lots and lots of beautiful home photos.

  • A Thousand Words - My most recent blog discovery, quickly becoming one of my favorites. On her main blog, Jen shares some fantastic photography as well as truly creative DIY projects (like making a headboard from some old cabinet doors, for example). She's already done a beautiful job decorating three houses (more info and photos here) and is also the blogger behind another one of my favorite eye candy sites, Inspiration for Decoration. Bonus points because she seemingly shops at Ikea as much as I do. :)
    Blog examples: Beautiful photos, DIY projects, furniture makeovers, art ideas.

There are many, many more home design blogs that I enjoy reading (you can see a long list in my profile - link in the upper right hand column of this site), but these are some good ones to start with if you are interested in home design. And if you know of any great sites that you think I would like, please comment or send email to In case you haven't figured it out, I'm going to keep asking for reader submissions. I know you guys are sick of me; even I'm sick of me. So just do it, ok?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Have dog, will travel

We recently completed our first long car ride with Murphy. Even without a young, energetic 100+ pound dog in the back seat, being in the car for 7 hours is enough to drive me crazy (I dislike long drives). I was a bit nervous, but everything worked out just fine. In fact, Murphy did a great job! He laid in the back seat and slept for most of whole trip, not making a sound.

We brought along a couple of chew toys that would keep the Murph occupied when he started to get bored.

We also limited his water intake the day of the trip so that he wouldn't have any accidents in the car. We tried to stop every 2 hours so that he could take a bathroom break, stretch his legs out a bit, and get a quick drink.

We picked up a 30 foot long lead, which worked great for exercising Murph at various rest areas.

Ready, set.... go!

I'm so proud of how well our dog did on this trip. For such a young dog, his good behavior was very impressive. I'm feeling very optimistic about taking him on future trips. And I think Murphy liked North Dakota.

Related information:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Two truly natural products that everyone should have

In my Clorox Greenworks review, I talked a bit about greenwashing and the popularity of green/natural/organic products. With so many products claiming to be green, it's hard to know which ones truly have organic ingredients. Personally, I don't get too carried away with the green living stuff (yet) since I think a lot of it is still marketing misconceptions. But it is great when you find a product that actually works and just happens to be nice to the environment too. Therefore I wanted to share two of my favorite products, jojoba oil and aloe vera gel.

Jojoba oil

What is it?
Jojoba oil isn't technically an oil, per se, but rather a liquid wax found in seeds of jojoba plants (so it's not just clever name). According to wikipedia, each molecule is made up of a fatty acid and a fatty alcohol*. If you are a geek who studies ingredients (like me), you know that both of those things are very moisturizing for skin and hair. Jojoba oil is also very similar to human sebum, which is the oil that your scalp and skin produce. Many believe that's why it's such an effective and gentle ingredient for our bodies. It's also odorless.

(*Side note: Contrary to popular belief, not all alcohols are drying. In fact, you only have to worry about the ones that have been denatured like SD alcohol and alcohol denat. Alcohols like cetyl alcohol, which contain a fat, are moisturizing ingredients.)

How can you use it?
I consider jojoba oil to be a miracle product due to its many uses.
Some popular ways to use jojoba oil:

  • As a body moisturizer (can be used alone or mixed with lotion)
  • As a facial moisturizer (I use just a drop or two after washing, can also be mixed with lotion. I was initially nervous to put something so oily on my face, but trust me, it really works.)
  • As makeup remover (since it desolves cosmetic material, it's a very gentle and effective makeup remover)
  • As a hair treatment (can be massaged into hair before washing or a few drops can be left on ends as a leave-in conditioner)
  • On cuticles (to prevent hangnails, dry skin, and promote strong nail growth)
  • Moisturizer for eyelashes (I haven't tried this, but some people swear that rubbing some jojoba oils into your eyelashes each night, or just removing eye makeup with jojoba, will result in long, strong, glossy lashes)
  • Facial cleanser (some have very good luck with using jojoba oil all over face before washing, to help lift dirt and clean pores)
  • As a lip balm (in place of chapstick or other moisturizing balms)
  • As a bath oil (just add a few drops to a running bath and you'll be surprised at how soft your skin feels)
See what I mean? Miracle product!

Where can you buy it?
It's available at many online stores as well as natural food stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. I like Desert Essence Organic Jojoba Oil, which you can purchase for only $3 on Amazon.

Aloe Vera Gel

What is it?
Aloe is a type of succulent plant. The fleshy stems of this plant are filled with a thick liquid that is known for its medicinal purposes. The liquid is commonly sold as a gel product.

How can you use it?
Like jojoba oil, aloe vera gel has many uses.
  • As relief for sunburns or other burns (has a cooling and healing effect)
  • To treat blisters, rashes, or skin inflammation
  • As a body moisturizer (can be used alone or mixed with lotion)
  • As a hair moisturizer or conditioner (can use it alone or mix it with your regular conditioner)
  • As hair gel (I used it as a styling product in the winter when the super dry air conditions made regular hair products too drying)
  • As relief on insect bites (prevents itching and shrinks redness and irritation)
  • As an astringent (it works similarly to astringents so using aloe vera gel on your face can help shrink large pores)
  • For scars (putting aloe vera gel on wounds help prevent scarring, sort of like Neosporin and it's also supposed to be quite good for stretch marks)
  • As a brow gel (if you have unruly eyebrows that need to be tamed)
Where can you buy it?
Here's the tricky part. A lot of companies put aloe vera gel into products and call it aloe vera gel, but you aren't just buying aloe vera gel. For example, I have a bottle from Target (found it in the sunscreen area) that also contains (among other things) glycerin and (a necessary evil) preservatives. Since glycerin is a humectant, the Target brand aloe vera gel will work great for certain purposes and less great for others.

My favorite brand of aloe vera gel is Fruit of the Earth, which you can purchase for around $5 on Amazon,, or in many stores like Walmart and Walgreens.

There you have it. Two of my favorite truly natural products, and they just happen to have about a million uses. I hope you enjoy exploring these two products and their uses as much as I have. And if you have discovered a great use for a natural product, please let me know. Just comment below or send email to Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A North Dakota before and after

Hi everyone. I wanted to post a quick before and after that Rob completed last year when we visited my parents in ND. They wanted to replace their kitchen flooring (worn out carpet over outdated 70s linoleum) with laminate flooring.



Didn't Rob do an awesome job? It's amazing how one minor update can really transform a space.

Send your before and after pics to We'd love to feature your projects on our blog!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hello from North Dakota

The blog is on (sorta) hiatus for a few days since Rob and I are visiting my family in North Dakota. I'm writing this before we leave (thanks to Blogger's feature that allows me to schedule post times in the future). One of my favorite cousins is getting married, which is the main reason for this trip. But we are also bringing Murphy to meet my family for the first time. At seven hours, this is the longest car ride he's been on, so we have our fingers crossed that the trip will go off without a hitch.

If we get a few spare minutes and Internet access, we'll try to post something here. Otherwise we'll be back in a few days with updates on our trip, the wedding, details on how Murphy did in the car, and no doubt tons of new photos. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

R.I.P. pineapple tree. We hardly knew you.

At my last trip to Ikea, I was super excited to discover they now sell small pineapple trees for the totally reasonable price of $14.99. I'm slightly obsessed (or at least preoccupied) with the idea of growing my own fruit. I already grow my own herbs and vegetables. And let's not forget the avocado tree (if you can call it that) that we started two years ago in a little cup.

The problem? We live in Minnesota (also known as Minnesnowta), the land of snow and purple rain (that's an Atmosphere reference that references Prince, shameless local music plug No. 1 and 2). Drifts bigger than buildings and running on treadmills (that's a Kid Dakota reference, shameless local plug No. 3). Like much of the Midwest region, our winters are long and hard... even brutal. Twenty below temps, wind... Not a whole lot of the high temps and intense sun that fruit trees rely on.

So everyone seemed skeptical when I brought home my little pineapple tree last month. "It's not going to survive,"my husband said. Isn't he optimistic? I planted it anyway, with care.

I was feeling confident. I've kept the avocado tree alive for two years, and I also managed to grow some plants in my completely window-less basement office (they're actually thriving!). Sometimes it just takes a little love, steroids fertilizer, and plant lights.

Then yesterday morning I walked outside to this distressing site:

The guilty party:

More doggy damage:

I should have known. I've been documenting Murphy's path of destruction from the beginning:

Rob said I can get another pineapple tree, but I probably won't. It just doesn't seem like a good idea. I guess some things just weren't meant to be.

R.I.P. little pineapple tree.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Today's word: Gingivectomy

Warning: Gross post-dental surgery photos below. Updates added in March 2010! See below.

Yesterday I had dental surgery. I went in for a fairly routine procedure called a gingivectomy, in which the surgeon removes part of the patient's gum tissue in order to properly expose the full tooth. Sometimes this is done for pure aesthetic reasons, but in my case, I had to do it in order to prevent future problems with my front teeth and to be able to clean and maintain them properly (so it was covered by insurance). I'd like to keep my teeth (especially the front ones), so I took a deep breath and nervously went in for the surgery.

Here's a photo of what my teeth looked like before the surgery. You can see that my two front teeth are really asymmetrical, and the gum line of the tooth on the right side of the photo is a lot lower.

Like many others, I have a lot of anxiety about dental work and especially injections in my mouth...not to mention someone cutting away at my gums. In the weeks before my surgery, I madly googled for more information (which is how I deal with unknown situations), but I was disappointed in the first-person experiences I found online. Frankly, there wasn't much to read. And medical sites offered little details about my future procedure. They said that recovery could be a few days or a few weeks. That's not too helpful.

Even though this will probably be gross to a lot of people (it makes me squeemish too), I wanted to write my account of the gingivectomy and what it's like for all the future Internet searchers out there.

They started with 6 shots to the front of my mouth, which were admittedly quite painful. The shots were given on both sides of my teeth and upward, toward my nose. Then the periodontist started cutting and shaping the gums, using a scalpel and something called an electrosurge. At first, I thought it was going to be an easy procedure since I couldn't feel a thing. But as time went on, the novacaine (or whatever they use now) started to wear off and there was still a lot left to do. They gave me another shot and proceeded. After a couple more periodical flinches, they gave me another shot. And another. I ended up with 12 total, which seemed to do the trick.

As the periodontist worked, he determined that my gum shape wasn't the issue. The issue was with the bone underneath. Undeterred, he grabbed the electrosurge and started carving away at the bone too. An hour and a half later, I left with many stitches, an extremely swollen face, and three prescriptions. I wish someone had warned me about the amount of blood there would be, because there was a lot and it made me nervous. I later learned that this is very common, as is facial swelling. I was lucky to not have any (or much) bruising.

Once home, I awkwardly tried to take one of the Vicodin that I was given for pain. With the massive swelling and still numbness, it was really hard to eat or drink anything. The Vicodin did help with the pain, but did nothing for the swelling. So I took two ibuprofen, which helped almost immediately. It took a few hours for the novacaine to wear off completely, and then I did have quite a bit more pain. I've had to take the Vicodin ever 6 hours or so, which is a bummer because it means I can't drive or go anywhere.

Long story short, here's what you need to know if you get a gingivectomy:

  • The novacaine shots are the worst part
  • Lots of bleeding
  • Take ibuprofen for swelling
  • You will get stitches
  • It's really not that bad
And here's a pretty gross photo of me leaving the dental office right after my surgery.

As you can see, my teeth are looking pretty gross right now. I won't post ones from later in the day when I had a lot of bleeding and oozing (gross!). But once they heal, it will be very nice to be able to floss without pain, avoid tooth decay, and have a more uniform smile. Stay tuned for a future "after" photo once I'm all healed.

In the meantime, here's a Photoshopped image of what my smile will probably look like once the stitches are gone and the swelling goes away. Hooray for modern dentistry!


Some people have found this post through a Google search, which seriously makes my day. I'm so happy I can help someone! I wanted to post a quick update on the gingivectomy. I was completely fine within a week of the procedure. There was minimal soreness after the first day or two, although it looked REALLY ugly. Please don't be alarmed if you look like a scary monster for the first week. I did get bruising on the inside of my mouth. Another thing I wished they had warned me about - the prescription mouth wash that they gave me stains teeth. It was pretty nasty looking, but they did polish them up at the two-week check-up. So don't be discouraged. It does take time to heal completely and your gums may "fall" a bit back to the normal place as they settle and heal. Mine are a little lower than in the after picture above, but my teeth are still exposed. I'm very happy I had this procedure. I can floss easily and without pain, and my gums are a lot less sensitive. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blowin' in the wind

Out of nowhere, I have become obsessed with wind chimes. Actually, I think it started in California. Our lovely host had a few hanging outside in her garden patio. After a week of falling asleep and waking up to the gentle sounds, I decided we must have some chime magic for our home as well.

After some Internet searching for a good deal, I discovered that I'm not the only one who appreciates the sweet sounds and the delicate aesthetic of this most musical of decorations. There's an old wive's tale that suggests hanging wind chimes in a doorway to ward off evil spirits or negative energy. And if you're familiar with the concept and practice of feng shui, you probably already know that perfectly tuned wind chimes have a reputation for encouraging the flow of positive energy by blocking (or at least neutralizing) un-peaceful or unnatural sounds (cars, neighborhood children, fireworks, etc.) that can be disruptive and distracting to your relaxation. Whether or not you buy into the concept of feng shui, I still think they are a peaceful and calming item to have around your home. And look at all the options!

Back to my quest to find some chimes for the Chateau Whitman... As you all know by now, I'm sort of picky and extremely cheap. After nearly two months of looking around, I finally found a set of lovely chimes with a justifiable price ($14) ... at the zoo of all places. I chose some wooden chimes since I love their soothing low tones and the natural look of the material. My husband was kind enough to hang them on our back porch for me:

What do you think? I think our porch just got a little more soothing and musical. Truth be told, I couldn't be happier with my new set of wind chimes. Who knows, maybe some day I'll stumble across a great deal on some of the huge metal chimes I pined over in Stillwater. A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Worth reading: Love life, not stuff

Here's an article from one of my favorite blogs ( that I just had to re-post. This is exactly the reminder I needed today, when I found myself mindlessly shopping on Pottery Barn and West Elm's websites, wishing I had more spending cash to blow on home decor. Thanks for the reminder about what's important, Leo.

Love Life, Not Stuff

A teaser:
"Our obsession with stuff has become unhealthy. When we have a void in our lives, we buy things. When we have problems, we buy things. And these things are becoming more and more expensive, bigger, shinier … more wasteful. This obsession with stuff leads to owning a lot, having a lot of clutter … and yet this stuff doesn’t fill our lives with meaning."

Read the rest of the article here >>

Friday, July 10, 2009

First time shooting with the Olympus TCON lens

Last week, I promised to update the blog with some new photos after my Olympus TCON telephoto converter lens arrived. I'm a girl of my word. I didn't get a chance to take my new lens out on a real field trip yet, so I don't have anything overly impressive to share. But I did spend some time on my porch playing with this new feature.

This thing is way too much fun. I can't wait to take photos outside of my yard.

If you are thinking about getting a telephoto lens for your camera, I found some additional information that you may find helpful.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Save money by working out at home

As someone who is genuinely interested in fitness and being active, I have to make a confession. I am anti-gym. That's right. I hate the gym. Why? In my situation, going to the gym requires me to get in my car, drive there, find parking (which is a big issue at my campus gym), and change clothes. Before I even start exercising, I've spent at least a half hour of my life getting there and getting ready (not to mention the equal requirements of time and travel for the way home). My workouts at home usually last around 30 minutes. Look, we're all busy. Why should a 30 minute workout take 1.5-2 hours? That leads to too many popular excuses ("I don't have time today" and "I just don't feel motivated enough to go anywhere.")

Plus you have to deal with various, unpleasant things at the gym like waiting for equipment, having to clean other people's sweat off said equipment (yuck), and of course other people. I'd rather work it and feel the burn in the privacy of my own home and with unlimited access to cold water (or snacks), my own towels, and my own bathroom/shower. What can I say? I'm an anti-social exerciser.

And who can forget the obvious reason to work out at home? Expensive gym memberships and contracts.

The main benefit of the gym is clear. There's all kinds of equipment for you to use, and it's all in one place. By not going to the gym, I forfeit that. But what a lot of people don't realize is that there are loads of effective strengthening techniques and cardio routines you can do at home, without any expensive equipment.

When I started working out about two years ago, I picked up a few basic, inexpensive, and effective pieces. For cardio, I bought a jump rope. It's one of the best cardio exercises you can do, and there are some fun free videos online if you need a routine. I also occasionally ran outside (admittedly not my favorite thing to do), and did short Sparkpeople videos on Youtube (also free).

After doing the free online videos for a few months, I decided to buy a couple dvds to make my own fitness collection (useful in case our Internet is ever down, and I need to get my workout in - I really don't like excuses). Here are my favorites:

  • Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred - An awesome 20-minute workout that combines cardio with strength training (like circuit training - extremely effective). There are 3 workouts on the dvd, each more advanced than the prior. Love this one.
  • Jillian Michaels Maximize series - I guess my love for Jillian Michaels is obvous, but these are simply great workouts. They are not dancy and bouncy like those annoying choreographed 80s cardio videos. These are more gritty, with hard strength moves and no-holds-barred cardio intervals. You can get good deals on the set on Amazon or Ebay. I got a five-dvd set (four circuit-type dvds and one cardio kickboxing) for $24.
  • Billy Blanks Ultimate Tae Bo - Not for beginners! This is an intense workout that requires you to pay attention and keep up.
  • Winsor Pilates - While not a cardio dvd (like the rest of my dvds above), these videos are great for beginner and advanced pilates.
  • Shape Your Abs - Also not cardio, but this is a great dvd by Shape Magazine for working your core muscles. There are a few different workouts that you can mix and match, depending on how long you'd like your workout to be. After doing these routines, you will definitely feel it.
For strength training, I picked up a resistance band and a stability ball. You would be amazed to know how many different strengthening moves are possible with just these two items. I also bought a set of hand weights, and when that weight became too easy, I bought a larger set that are adjustable from 3-20 pounds.

I've added a couple of other fun things like a medicine ball, cardio step, and yoga mat, but your basic home gym would really only need the following:
  • A stability ball ($11 at Target)
  • A set of adjustable dumbbells (up to 20 pounds each, as low as 3 pounds each, $20 for the set at Walmart)
  • A resistance band (came free with stability ball)
  • Jump rope ($4 at Sports Authority)
Total cost = $35

And if you don't have a lot of space, the benefit of the items above is that they can easily be stored in an ottoman (which is what I did when we lived in a one-bedroom apartment) or box in the closet.

We have since added a Total Gym and treadmill to the mix (great deals on used equipment on craigslist), but I want to stress that for the past couple years, we only had the items above.

You might be thinking, "Yeah, but that stuff doesn't work as well as the gym equipment." Actually, I find it to be very effective. In fact, I challenge you all to give it a try and see for yourself. A well-developed and well-rounded routine at home can yield some impressive results. Another thing: When I have visited gyms, I've seen a lot of people using strength equipment incorrectly. All the equipment in the world won't give you results if you don't know how to utilize it effectively. And the same goes for the home gym routine.

In case you need guidance getting started, I scoured the Internet for some resources to help you out. As you can see from the list, there are a ton of great at-home workouts. So if one particular workout doesn't float your boat, I encourage to peruse some others on the list. There's bound to be something that's up your alley, and liking your routine means you're more likely to stick with it.

Some bonus encouragement: In today's ultra busy and fast-paced world, I know how hard it is to make time to exercise. Working out at home makes it easy to fit these sessions in; for instance, you can set your alarm to wake up 15-20 minutes earlier or skip a half hour of TV or web surfing. It takes a couple weeks to adjust, but you'll be glad you did. Honestly, it's the best thing you can do for yourself, and I can't describe how great it makes me feel when I'm healthy and active.

So be selfish and make exercise a priority. Do it for yourself. Do it to motivate others and set a good example for those around you (your friends, family, kids). You can even start out with smaller workouts, like 15 minutes here and there. Two years ago, I was the laziest couch potato in the world. If I can do it, you can do it. Just try!

Related links - get started working out from home:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Design help from blogger Katie Bower

Without knowing how long it will be before we get to our upstairs remodel project (wood floors, adding a bathroom, built-in closets), I was thinking of some inexpensive ways to spruce up our attic bedroom in the meantime.

This is what it looked like after we took down the wallpaper, spackled, and painted:

It was a definite improvement (click here for the before and after), but still a little bare.

After getting some lighter bedding for summer (above), I moved the bedding set and curtains downstairs to the guest bedroom (I move stuff around a lot). Then Rob picked out some sagey green black-out curtains for our room, and I was struggling to find some accessories to bring it all together.

Lucky for me, one of my favorite bloggers, Katie Bower from All Bower Power, was willing to help me out with a little Photoshop action. This was super exciting for me because I love reading Katie's blog (the girl is hilarious), and I trust her opinion since we seem to share a similar design style (check out some pics of her house here).

Here's some Photoshop fun from Katie:

Option 1 -

Source list for option 1:

Option 2 -

Source list for option 2:
shelf blocks

Option 3 -

Source list for option 3:

Which is your favorite? I actually like parts of all three designs. I love the pillows in Option No. 1, the chair in No. 2, and the painted bed in all three. I can't decide if I like the bed better painted white or stained a dark wood tone. Oh, decisions.

Thanks again, Katie, for the awesome design mock-ups.

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someone else's words

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." - Buddha

  © Thanks to for providing a great Blogger framework to remix. Hope you don't mind the changes I made.

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