Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Creating the perfect place to kick your shoes off

I feel inspired to start a new project. Well.. you know, as soon as we get some extra cash. And some extra time. But it doesn't hurt to plan ahead, right?

I saw this photo on one of my fave blogs, A Thousand Words:



I love that Jen turned a normal hallway into an inviting and organized entryway. (Check out Jen's blog for other beautiful room transformations.) I've always wanted a mudroom, but our house sadly is not equipped with this luxury. We don't really have an entryway hallway either. But we do have a front door that opens into a large dining room with a walkway into the kitchen and living room. One side looks like this:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dining room design remix

I almost missed the deadline for a design/mood board contest! The wonderful people over at pewter + sage are hosting a West-Elm inspired contest. When I heard about it, I couldn't resist tweaking our dining room design to include some of the new West Elm Patch NYC collection. At first, I thought this collection seemed way too modern for our more traditional and rustic dining room. But the gold color in these awesome botanical prints really spoke to me. I love that the prints bring something light and relaxing to the rest of the room. It was a nice challenge to try and bring the two different design styles together. I changed a few other things, like the dining room chairs, just for fun. Here's the new design and a complete source list. What do you think?



We already have the rug and the dining table. The buffet will go on the opposite wall, with the art work above it. The curtains add some nice texture to an otherwise large and sort of cold room. The red accent chair and the little side table will make a reading nook in the corner.

Source list

Artwork - West Elm
Curtains - JCPenney
Rug - Menards
Chandelier - Pottery Barn
Side table - Pottery Barn
Accent chair - Target
Table, chairs, and buffet - Ikea Stornas
Chair covers - Target

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You can check out the rest of the entries here:

Thoughts on a Monday lunch break

This is my makeshift office, where I've researched and written 75 pages of my thesis so far.



Nope, still not done. But getting close.

Yesterday, I turned in one of my last two assignments for my regular classes. I have one more that needs to be done by Thursday. Then I'll tweak and revise my thesis with my advisor from now until mid June. At that point, I'll complete a month-long final seminar where I work with a writing partner to revise and strengthen the paper even more, have it bound and printed into an actual book, before finally presenting it to the board and hoping that it gets accepted. And then this adventure.. more like a dual life of employee by day and grad student by night (and weekends) ... will be over. Whew.

I can't wait for things to go back to normal. I know a lot of people balance full time work and school and even other big things as well (like kids), which is a great motivator for me. I just gotta keep pushing through until the end, even when feelings of discouragement and burn-out are tempting. I can do this.

I'm prone to reflection whenever I complete (or near completion of) any milestone in life. And this time is no different. While driving to work this morning, I was thinking back to when I started my current academic program. I made the choice on impulse, which is how I make a lot of important life decisions (like for instance, packing up and moving to Minnesota the day after I graduated college, without a job or apartment lined up). So far, it's worked out alright for me. Three years ago, I decided to go back to school after talking to a coworker and learning that she was enrolled in a program that didn't require taking the GRE and allowed her to choose her area of study, mixed and matched from various disciplines. I was also eligible for a 100% tuition scholarship through our place of employment. "That sounds pretty good," I thought to myself. Before the day was over, I had signed up for my first class and was an official graduate student. I think my first night class was the very next day. I liked it at first. It felt good to exercise my brain and think critically about different issues after becoming absorbed in my fulltime work for a few years previously. I had night class for three hours once or twice a week and sometimes a full day on Saturdays. It was totally manageable. And luckily, I was accepted into an official program within a few months, so my credits earned were not in vain. Things were going pretty well. I was even able to pick up occasional freelance design jobs without feeling too much strain.

Then Rob and I got engaged, and we entered a new and ultra exciting phase of life - planning our future together. Wedding planning for us actually wasn't too bad. I didn't have any family in this state, and most of my friends from high school and college live in other states as well. So it was up to Rob and I to make it happen, and not having many people involved kept things simple and drama-free. We decided the few things that were important to us, and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. We didn't realize it until later, but being a laid back bride and groom really allowed us to save a ton of money since we didn't have strong preferences about... well, anything. Some of my memories of this time are quite comical. Like, did you know that I ordered my wedding dress for $130 off the Internet? I liked the photo, so I just went for it. I ended up loving it, and it fit perfectly, no alterations needed!

Sometimes it pays to just leap in and rely on faith that everything will work out. To this day, one of the things I'm most proud of is that we hosted a beautiful and simple ceremony...



... and a reception for 75 people that was both nice and fun... for under two grand. Score one for the Whitmans.





But then we started shopping for a house. And that was pretty stressful, I have to admit. It added enough extra things on my mental plate that I had to start saying no to freelance jobs that came my way. We wanted to be informed buyers, and it meant a lot of research, which I'm glad we did. We started touring homes pretty heavily as soon as we got back from our honeymoon. We found a lot of craptastic places in our budget. It was a learning experience as we discovered what was important to each of us, and what the other's expectations were for the home we would get, the work we would do, and the way our budget would be set up. We eventually made an offer at a foreclosed place over in NE Minneapolis. That deal ended up falling through after we discovered huge amounts of mold in the basement, as well as some broken windows and a leaking ceiling. There's no way we could have fixed those things in time to secure an FHA loan, plus our loan officer had made some mistakes with our loan program. Balancing work and school and newlywed-ness and house shopping was starting to stress me out.


We almost bought this house.

We straightened things out with our loan and finally found a house that we loved and could afford. It hadn't been on the market long, so we moved quickly and negotiated a deal before they could have an open house. We had to deal with some small house-buying drama in the form of inspectors and negotiating required repairs with the sellers before we could move in. I think there were a lot of mis-communication. And urgency. When you've already given your move-out notice at your apartment, having the possibility of a changing closing date is really a stressful prospect. I was just praying that we wouldn't wind up homeless for a few days or weeks while we sorted out the last-minute details and repairs. But luckily (as always), things worked out. We moved in mid December, which had its own set of challenges. Like finals week, for instance (throughout it all, I was still taking classes). It was also below zero when we moved. Most of our plants died in the process. We weren't able to make it to ND to see my family for Christmas. And we later found out that we missed out on an $8000 first time home buyer credit by two weeks. Darn. We had no way of knowing at the time, so we aren't bitter about the timing. I like to think that the money went to people who needed it more than us.

We were ecstatic to be in our home. I love owning a home. But I never imagined how much work a house would be. Cleaning duties and household chores have no doubt quadrupled from what was required in our old one-bedroom apartment. Plus yard work, and training a 100+ pound dog that we decided to adopt (again, on an impulsive whim). Not that I'm complaining, but the whole situation has taught me a few things. I've reluctantly learned to accept that the house doesn't have to be clean at all times, especially if there are higher priorities. I was practically killing myself trying to maintain my own standards. Now I can let the laundry pile up and the floors get messy without beating myself up about it.

We also started a bunch of projects, like the basement renovation, and were plugging away. Then everything came to a halt when Rob had to have surgery. I started getting more and more homework now that I was deeper into my specific area of research and doing a directed study with my advisor. The whole work/school/life balance (or lack thereof) was really starting to take its toll - especially physically. I think I was sick more times in the last year than the previous 10 years combined. I started seeing friends less. Even the thought of making plans was enough to induce anxiety because I was constantly worried about all the tasks I needed to fit in to my busy days. With a neck injury for Rob and the new school commitments for me, we decided to temporarily table most of our house projects.



That ended up being a good decision, but it is an exercise in patience as well. There are so many things that I want to do. My brain is wired in a way that creates a need to see progress and results. That's a big reason why I like to plan and re-plan and design and re-design things on this blog. It helps to satisfy my house project urges and need for progress while I wait until we have the time and money to complete them. And money is sadly a big issue right now, and also a source of additional stress. We're doing alright, but we've had some unexpected financial set-backs (broken furnace, new computer, losing part of my scholarship, having to pay in for taxes after we messed up our withholding, etc.) this year... which will require even more patience and saving before we can make our house just right. I believe that a home should be a calming sanctuary for the individuals who live there. We'll get there, eventually.

And that brings me back to this whole school thing. The biggest things I've learned:

  • Stress control is a necessary skill. And I suck at it.
  • Patience and acceptance are the best defense for most situations.
  • Rob is my rock, and I can get through anything with him by my side.
So you see, a lot has happened since I went back to school. When it comes down to it, I'd have to say that I'm pretty happy. I have a good great amazing life, and I'm very grateful for the good fortune and opportunities that I've been given. Don't think for a minute that the stressors of the past few years have affected my optimistic nature. There's so much to look forward to. Right now, I am just dreaming about all the fun things I used to do before I started school. I used to paint and draw. I used to exercise a lot more. I used to see my friends. I used to walk around Como Lake with my husband. I used to sit on the couch and watch football on Sundays. I took a lot more photos.

I can't wait to take back those things.

2010 is going to be a good year. 2011 is going to be even better. But first things first. I have to will finish grad school. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A couple recipes to try

Thanks to a wealth of information and online recipes, I'm getting better at this cooking thing. Here's a couple that we've tried recently, and what we thought of them.

Slow-cooked tuna steak with tomato relish by Jacques Pepin (featured in his book "Fast Food My Way" and on the website Food & Wine)
Verdict: If you already like tuna steak, then this is a really nice way to prepare it. Rob thought it was delicious, which is why I'm including it. But if you are not really a fan of tuna (like me), this dish won't win you over. Sorry, Jacques. Sorry, tuna. Sorry, Rob.

Spicy Szechuan noodles from the Joy of Cooking
Verdict: This one rocked. It was good enough that I would pay to eat this at a restaurant. Next time, we might throw in more ginger and go a little easy on the black bean sauce. It's spicy enough to make your lips tingle. You could also make this dish with chicken.

Have you recently discovered a delicious recipe online? You know I wanna hear about it. Send me the link. Please? Pretty please?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dirt. Bringing bloggers together since 2010.

I have to tell you about the highlight of my week. On Wednesday Rob and I actually got to meet another Twin Cities blogging couple! Yes, very exciting. We met Cindy and Nick, the Flipping Couple! Check out their home renovation progress on their blog here



Our new blogger friends offered to generously give us some of their back yard dirt. Our back yard has some crazy holes, and we needed a bit of dirt to fill them in and even it out. I have never met anyone from Internet-land before, so I was slightly nervous. But Cindy and Nick were so nice and sweet! I really wanted to stay and talk some more, but we all had work to do. Hopefully we'll get together with them again sometime soon when everyone is less busy (I really think our dogs would have good time together too).

Here's Nick loading dirt into the back of Rob's pick-up:



We took home a decent amount:



And here's the four of us, giving the thumbs up for free dirt:



Of course, everything Rob and I do is typically peppered with follies. Like, for instance, Rob backing his truck into the rock pile that you can see in the picture above. Or how we brought both of our shovels over and then left them leaning against the Germanns' garage. Whitmans are known for having terrible short term memory. At least we noticed the missing shovels before we got all the way home.

Thanks again to Cindy and Nick, and it was great meeting you both!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Photos from the first camp of the year



Last weekend, Rob and I took our dog on his first camping trip. We went to Lake Maria, which is about an hour away from the Twin Cities.



We reserved a great campsite. It was a primitive (meaning no water hook-up or bathrooms), and we had to hike about a mile in from the parking lot. The beauty of this site is that it was right on the lake, and we were at least 3/4 of a mile away from any other campers.



Secluded, relaxing, and beautiful scenery.












Here's Rob and I with our packs:



Our dog is not a free-loader. We made him pull his weight by carrying his own food and our camping stove fuel:



I spent a lot of the trip taking photos. Rob just relaxed.





... and ate camp food.









For the record, the Dinty Moore was gross.

I like camping because the pace of life slows down. You can actually sit around and do nothing, for hours.





I amuse myself by making Pringles duck face.



Before we had the dog, we had a "serious" camping tent. Serious campers have really small and lightweight tents for carrying on long hikes. Our tent was so small that we couldn't even keep our packs inside. With a big dog like Murph, we decided to upgrade to something a little more accommodating.



And more photo taking:














Wildlife report

Seen:

  • Two large deer
  • Two beavers (they swam right up to the shore near our tent and kept making an insanely loud slapping sound with their tails on the water)
  • Many geese
  • Trumpeter swan
  • 21wood ticks (yuck)
Heard:
  • Several coyotes
  • Some crazy flock of screeching birds that sounded like something out of Jurassic Park


I think camping is good for my soul. And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Living rooms that I want to live in

I'm going to post some eye candy. Why? Because I don't want to do homework.

Today's theme = beautiful living rooms.

Some things I'm noticing:

  • Wood ceilings or exposed beams (I love it)
  • Interesting wood tones (in furniture and floors)
  • Natural textured rugs (my alltime favorite)
  • A pop of color, whether it's cool toned like a blue or green or warm toned like a bold red

Images from MyHomeIdeas (there are hundreds more if you care to look)





























someone else's words

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



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