Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm not an interior decorator, but I play one on my blog.

Annji sent us an email asking for some help decorating her bedroom. Since it's a rental, she has to work around the existing wall color, which is a pale green. She said she's willing to replace all of her decor. Her only request was to keep the brown leather sectional if possible since it's comfortable and functional (she mentioned rocking a baby to sleep at night in that chair). No problem, we can work with that. She also said she loves a particular bed from Pottery Barn but does NOT love that Pottery Barn price ($1400 on sale, ouch). Challenge accepted!

Before I go any farther, here are the pics Annji sent me of what the room looks like currently. It's impressively sized with a lovely fireplace and some nice built-in shelves:

Images courtesy of Annji

The first thing I do when I start working on a room design? Find an inspiration pic. Otherwise it's just too overwhelming to even start sorting through the millions of color, texture, and furniture combinations. I looked for an inspiration pic with a similarly colored green wall. Here's what I came up with:

This is from the 2010 HGTV Dream Home. I like that the room looks both stately and serene. I tend to believe that bedrooms should feel like a personal sanctuary, and this room has the perfect combination of comfortable-looking furniture and luxe accessories. The wall color is close to the green we're working with (though i do think Annji's green reads a little on the cooler side in her pics), and there are also some dark wood tones.

I also like this pic, a second inspiration image, because the green walls become another tranquil neutral tone when combined with the right shades.

From there, I came up with two different color schemes. One is directly drawn from the first image above with a muted light green, a tranquil slightly-slate blue, and tan shades:

The idea is to combine the greens with some light blues and tans in order to make the green appear more neutral and cohesive (rather than the accent).

Then just for fun, I added a pale yellow to add a little more color. It's totally up to Annji if she decides she wants more or less color in the room.

Next I started searching for a cheaper version of the Pottery Barn bed:

Image of Hudson bed from Pottery Barn

I didn't find an exact replica, but I did find many great options that are similar in style. Believe it or not, I found many affordable options at Walmart, of all places. Incidentally I recently tried out their free ship-to-store option, and it worked very well.

Complete source list with links below

Time to tackle the other furniture needs. From the pics, I can't tell if they already have two matching nightstands or not, but I always recommend having that symmetry if possible. I think the existing nightstand actually goes nicely with the design, so no need to buy anything new there. I would, however, go with some larger-scale lamps with a little more flair (yeah, I said it). I like these ones from Ikea. They are $59 each, which isn't as cheap as I usually like to be, but they are pretty stylish and timeless (in my opinion). The cool thing about having glass-based lamps is that you can fill the vase parts with random decor items when you want to change your look (like small bulbs or pinecones in the winter, etc).

This is a huge room, and even an impressive bed frame seems to get lost in the big open space. Therefore I'm recommending that they buy a statement rug to define the bed space. Even just having a rug partially under a bed makes the bed appear more grounded (and not just floating in the middle of a giant room). Some people don't see the point of putting a rug on carpet, but I've always done this in my apartments. It has more impact than you might expect. I just picked a couple rugs from for the designs shown here.

Annji mentioned that she already bought some oatmeal colored canvas curtains to replace the red ones in her pics. Based on her description, I think that will work perfectly with this design. She could also do a more tan shade, like in the design board below. The beige curtains shown here are from West Elm and surprisingly quite reasonable in price. If possible, I'd move the curtain rod higher (almost to the ceiling) and hang floor- length curtains. This is my biggest design tip as it makes any room feel bigger and more luxurious. Trust me!

Annji said she wasn't sure what to do with the walls. I usually love photo collections like the one shown in her pic above, but I think she could also do a large mirror in this space. The benefit of the mirror is that it bounces light back into the room, but it also looks simple and streamlined. Since it's such a big room, it can look unbalanced if there are many small items in one area and then sparse areas elsewhere. So instead I'd go for large scale accessories and oversized artwork. I know I often pick things from Ikea, but that's because they have affordable and versatile options. This Jondal mirror is huge and only $49:

Or you could look for a more natural-textured mirror like the one we put in our master bedroom.

For artwork above the bed, I like the idea of doing 3 framed pieces in a row like in our inspiration pic. The important thing here is to go with large white mattes for whatever art pieces they choose. The chunky white mattes keep it from looking cluttered. They're magic, I tell ya. For this design board, I just picked some prints from that I liked. These are by Ray Henderson pieces from, and I would probably recommend ordering them in size 16x20 ($6.98 each). You wouldn't need a white matte for these since the print has its own thick border.

I'd swap out the green matte on the artwork above the fireplace as well. A white matte will make the print pop more and will also tie in with the white trim in the rest of the room. Personally I would move the artwork up off the mantle and instead hang it a few inches above the fireplace. We did this in our living room, and it was amazing how much of a difference it made. Mantles can look clutter-y with only a few items, but moving the artwork up creates a more streamlined focal point for the wall.

It looks like Annji already has some white bedding (my favorite), and what looks like a pale blue bedspread. This can still work with the new design, or she can pick up a tan throw blanket like the one in the inspiration pic. I'd also pick up some throw pillows. Target, Walmart, and Ikea have extremely affordable options.

I like the built-in bookshelves next to the fireplace, but I would do some re-arranging to make things look a bit cleaner. I'd pick up some storage baskets (to house the less neutrally colored books), and stack some books in piles rather than have them all upright, just to mix things up. They can also pick up a piece of pottery, seashell, vase, or a ceramic figurine to make the bookshelf area more eye-catching and appealing. My advice is to find something you love looking at, and put it front and center.

Here's an image that demonstrates what I mean by a more styled bookshelf:

Image source

And remember the brown leather recliner? Definitely throw a pillow and throw blanket (probably in blue) on that chair. It will add a bit more comfort but also pull the recliner into the design scheme more seamlessly. They also might want to play around with furniture placement. See all that space between the end of the bed and the fireplace? I think Annji could totally try moving the recliner to that corner to make a little reading nook/library area. It won't look cluttered if the space is clearly defined. Or they can leave it where it is but add a smaller slipper chair (Target has a lot of nice ones to choose from). Regardless of whether they use one chair or two, I also think Annji needs to pick up a round ottoman. Nothing screams, "Relax! Kick your feet up!" like an ottoman. This cream colored one is from Walmart or CSN stores, and only costs $63.

Enough explanation, here's the design boards I came up with::

Click the image for a larger view

Here's the complete source list:
Jonsbro lamps from Ikea, $59.
Ikea Jondal mirror, $49
Aina cushion cover, $6
West Elm curtains, $15-27
Wool rug from, $176
Cream ottoman, $63
Art prints from, $6-8
Bed from, $489
Walmart bed No. 1, $279
Walmart bed No. 2, $529
Walmart bed No. 3, $379
Target headboard, $169
Target Somerset bed, $469
(I can't find the link for the oriental rug, but I've seen almost identical ones at Home Goods for less than $200.)

Thanks for giving me a fun and inspirational project, Annji! I hope you like the design, and please send "after" photos of whatever you end up doing with this room.

More design boards:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's been a while since Murphy made an appearance

When Rob and I started this blog, I used to do something I called "The Daily Murph" which was basically a photo of our lovable beast doing something cute or getting into trouble. Or both. Then when I actually bought a nice camera, he suddenly became the most anti-photo creature in the world. It wasn't that he didn't like the camera. Rather, he liked it too much. I think it might be the auto focus assist light. Whenever I'd take the camera out, he'd immediately start jumping and running around like a maniac. Have you ever tried to photography a running dog? In a house? It's not easy. But I do have a nice collection of blurry blob photos.

Anyway recently we've taken to bribing him with food. Here he is in the new office/spare bedroom, watching Rob eat some soup.

Click the pic for a larger and even cuter view

We're trying to teach him to put his ears forward (as seen here) whenever we say "ears forward!" (We're pretty clever with our commands, huh?) We think it's cute. If you teach a dog a trick, I believe that trick should either be useful (like having him bring you a beer or pop from the fridge) or cute.

These photos are also the first ones I've posted with my new lens. I just picked it up on Thursday. It's a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8. It's a pretty big step for me because I shoot almost exclusively with fixed lenses. So far I'm really liking the convenience of the zoom lens.

The f2.8 lets me get targeted focus shots like this one. Murphy's only 3 years old, but he's already starting to get old-man-dog face.

Clyde still looks young and spry. I like this lens because it's easy to grab a photo of Clyde without getting in his face too much.

Unfortunately I've got a nasty cold and haven't been able to get outside and try this lens in natural light. But so far, I'm pretty impressed. Incidentally I am using flash for these photos. It's just too dark in this back room (with no overheard lighting and one measly table lamp). I've been embracing flash for the last couple weeks, and it's actually pretty empowering to not feel so limited by natural light.

I did NOT use flash on this photo of Embree. (It's nice that all the pets want to hang out with me in the office. Especially when I'm trying out a new lens. So many models at my fingertips.) So the photo colors are a little different. This is at ISO 6400, which is really high for me. (I usually keep it 200-400.) When using a high ISO, it's a little noisy (though I fixed some of that in Lightroom). The eyes are sharp enough, so I live with it.

I have to give a shout-out to the guy at the National Camera store in Maple Grove. He hooked me up with lens filters. I took home around $150 in filters for only $40. And they beat Amazon's price by $25 for the lens. Nice.

More pics with the new lens coming soon, I'm sure.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Home office... now with 200% more cats

This is pretty exciting. We finally have a true home office! After using our microwave cart as a temporary office for a few months (and many neckaches later), we decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and buy a real desk and chair. I wish we'd done this sooner. Check out my swanky new home office (aka one corner of the spare bedroom):

It's a tough room to photograph. I also tried to get photos without Embree and Clyde, but their catness wouldn't allow it.

Trying to act casual

They invaded my space and refused to leave. Cats do not understand boundaries. And they steal your chair when you aren't looking.

Anyway we went with the Liatorp desk from Ikea.

In case you haven't noticed, we are fans of inexpensive Swedish furniture. Actually, although Ikea doesn't have the greatest reputation in terms of quality, there are some rare gems to be found behind those massive blue walls. For example, our Leksvik bed is solid wood (and only $80 on clearance). It's a nice bed.

The Liatorp desk is not solid wood, but it is solid. And heavy. Just ask any wife who had to help carry it in from the truck. It also has some nice detailing with the paneled doors and finished back (so it doesn't have to be butted up against a wall unless you want it to). It actually reminds me a lot of the Pottery Barn Bedford collection (at about 1/3 of the cost).

Best of all, the sides of the desk provide some nice storage. I can actually fit both of my camera bags and all of my gear in the desk. And the chair is also from Ikea, and was pretty reasonably priced ($59) for all of the back support it provides.

Everything else in the room was already there.

"Oh hi!"

Jute rug: Craiglist find ($25)
Curtains: Target ($5)
Bedding set: free (from my sister)
Lamp: Ikea Basisk ($20)
Large mirrors: Ikea clearance 5 or 6 years ago ($10 each)
Bed: Another Craigslist find from a few years ago, don't remember price

Future plans for this room:

  • Paint the walls (and spackle over some ugly drywall holes)
  • Make and hang some new artwork
And that's it.

I love my home office. The end.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sometimes I get it right

Last summer, I took some engagement photos for my friends Thor and Allie (you can see them here, if you'd like). Afterward Thor asked me if I wanted an old film camera he had, and I immediately said yes. I think old cameras are cool, and I had actually been looking for one for a while, to use as a decoration on my bookshelf. Thor said he used this camera for a photography class in high school, but now he's gone digital. (Kinda like "Dylan goes electric." Thor goes digital.)

Here's the old camera Thor gave me. We estimate it's from the '60s (after spending about 2 minutes googling it).

Thanks, Thor.

Notice all my geek books on the right-hand side

Then while browsing Pottery Barn's website, I noticed they are selling "found" cameras for $149. They look very similar to the one I have.

Mine had the leather case too, but I took it off.

I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned here. Namely, I can predict home decor trends six months in advance!

... Just kidding. I think I'm far from trendy. But sometimes I get it right.

And my old camera is much cooler than the ones at Pottery Barn. It was free, and it came from a friend. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trivia answer and the news of the day

I have a few unrelated points to touch on today, before I start watching the NFL playoffs and assembling office furniture. But first, here are the responses to the trivia photo round about sitcom dads.

Alan Thicke- Jason Seaver - Growing Pains
Mike Brady- Robert Reed- The Brady Bunch
Archie Bunker- Carrol O'Connor- All in the Family
Danny Tanner - Bob Saget - Full House
Heathcliff Huxtable- Bill Cosby- The Cosby Show
Uncle Phil- James Avery - Fresh Prince
Steven Keaton- Michael Gross- Family Ties
Peter Griffin-Seth McFarland- Family Guy
Carl Winslow- Reginald VelJohnson- Family Matters
Hal (No Last Name for the Character)- Bryan Cranston- Malcom In the Middle

How well did you do? When we hosted trivia, some groups really impressed with the photo round, although one person thought Michael Keaton was Charles Manson. That was kind of funny. There was another eventful occurrence at trivia as well. I had to disqualify some cheaters! We had a group get every single question right, and it seems suspicious. It turns out they had been using their cell phones to look up the answers. They claimed they didn't know that wasn't allowed. Honestly, who doesn't know that? That's trivia 101.

Anyhow here's the rest of the news of the day (and week).
  • Auto repairs - Here's an anecdote with a happy ending. When driving home from trivia last week, our truck started to lurch and shake. Very unsettling. Then we smelled a terrible burning smell. Then the "check engine" light came on. We got it home (barely), and Rob feared it may be a transmission problem. The transmission is one of the most expensive things that can break on a car, and I doubt it's an easy thing to fix (disclaimer: I'm not a mechanic). Lesson 1 in auto repair - don't panic until you have reason to. If you're not familiar with car repair, there's a little device that you can plug into your vehicle, and it tells you what error triggered the "check engine" light to come on. You can go to a local parts store like Napa or Auto Zone, and they will usually check the code for you free of charge. Our code said something along the lines of "cylinder 8 misfiring." We didn't know what that meant, so we hit the Interwebs. It turns out that we could eliminate certain things right away since only one cylinder was misfiring (other problems can cause ALL cylinders to misfire). The most common culprit for our problem is usually something having to do with the distributor cap and spark plugs and wires. So Rob picked up these parts ($80 for everything) and spent some cold time on Saturday replacing said parts. The truck is now running happily again! It actually drives better than it ever has. The old plugs and wires looked pretty bad, so we're glad we were able to replace them. We plan to do the same in the car once the weather warms up a bit.

    Incidentally, if you do have a "check engine" light come on, you usually have to manually reset the code in the vehicle for the light to turn off. The guys at the car parts store said they couldn't do this (though I think it really depends on who is working at the time), so Rob and his buddy decided to spend a little cash and buy their own reader device. Now we can always check our own problems, and we can reset the light ourselves. Rob and TJ split the cost, and they bought their at Harbor Freight. It was less than $100. I think it was a smart purchase.

  • Home office - I spend a lot of weekend time processing and editing photos. I also work from home sometimes. So we're starting to pull together a real home office. Yesterday we picked up a nice desk and chair, and hopefully we'll get it built today. Pictures on the way. Here's a teaser though - check out my fancy new chair! It's called the Verner, and it's from Ikea ($59).

  • Thank you - Even though this whole blog is about our lives, Rob and I are usually pretty careful about sharing things that we think are too personal. I won't write about my family. I don't write about my job. I don't talk about the town we live in. I usually don't post about our relationship unless I'm feeling overly sappy. So it was a bit out of character when I wrote the long essay about the death of my 16-year-old cat Milo. But writing it made me feel better, in some odd way. Fifteen people (mostly strangers/people I don't know in real life) left me thoughtful and comforting comments. A few more sent messages. Thank you. It's a 100% human quality to crave personal connections with others, and I found it reassuring that so many of you could relate to the way I was feeling. For all its dangers and perceived negative outcomes, the Internet can be given credit for one very positive thing. It helps brings people together.

    Milo, 2007

  • Ebay justice - Here's another somewhat funny anecdote from the past week. I don't wear a lot of makeup, but I am a huge fan of eyeshadow. Always have been. It's fun to play with. I like the higher-end brands you can buy at Sephora, but they are usually much too expensive for my frugal spending habits. So instead I often will order them online from discount cosmetics stores or ebay. You can easily get things for 25% of the retail cost, sometimes less. Recently I ordered two things I'd been coveting from Sephora from an ebay seller. When I received my items, they didn't seem at all like the ones at the store. I snapped a couple pics and uploaded them to a forum site where beauty product experts quickly told me that they were not real products. The shades were not right, and the packaging had errors. I'd been sold "high end" makeup that was actually fake. Isn't it weird that people do this? It's like the trivia cheaters. I honestly don't know what's wrong with people sometimes. I contacted the ebay seller about it, and he immediately refunded me, no questions asked. Pretty shady seller, huh? So lesson learned - be careful if you buy things from ebay. And incidentally here are two legit and reputable places to buy discount makeup: Beauty Crunch and All Cosmetics Wholesale. Score one for ebay justice!

  • So many projects, so little time - I need to figure out a way to stretch each day. My evenings and weekends are packed with "to do" items that I want to tackle sooner rather than later. I have a few photo projects I'd like to do, some ideas for new artwork for a few rooms in our house, and I'm itching to get into the spare bedroom (currently morphing into a home office) and paint the walls. I also have a list of things I want to do in the bathroom (scrape wall texture, paint, re-caulk, clean and seal grout, replace mirror). Oh, and I have a growing list of books I'd like to read. Need more time!

Ok, so that's the ongoing texture of the drift. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All dressed up

Here's a photo of Rob and I before my company's holiday party last night.

My husband looks pretty darn handsome.

Dress is from Target (link).
Charcoal boots from DSW (link).

Friday, January 21, 2011

To our readers in Miami:

Just thought you might like to see this.

Sometimes I honestly wonder why my ancestors decided to settle in the Midwest.

Anyhow our truck is currently not operable and has been out of commission since Wednesday (we've had some bad luck this winter, seriously), so I faced the daunting task of walking the 3/4 mile distance to the bus stop and then waiting 5-20 minutes (depending on how I time it so I don't miss mine). You know I like to cheekily brag about how tough I am (see here, mid page), but I chickened out on this one. I decided I am not interested in exploring the world of frostbite. Not today. So thank you so much to Laura, my friend who is on her way right now (coming out of her way, in fact) to pick me up. I truly sincerely appreciate it. One of my favorite quotations states, "Kindness is never wasted." Just know that your generosity is not lost on me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trivia challenge - sitcom dads

Yesterday Rob and I hosted a trivia competition at the restaurant in my work building. It was quite fun. Since I already spent the time compiling these photos for the picture round, I figured I'd post it here as well. You can play along by writing your answers in the comments. I'll post the answers in a day or two.

The theme is "sitcom dads" and there are three potential points for each photo (character, actor, and TV show). No cheating and using google!

Click photo for a larger view

Monday, January 17, 2011

Photographer at work

Rob took the first two photos with the back-up camera. It's unusual for me to be on the receiving end of the lens.



And here's the shot I was taking.

click for a larger view

Jason and Rachel - I couldn't be happier for you. More photos coming soon to my photography site.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Milo's story

When I was 12 years old, a sickly scrawny cat found her way into my parents' storage shed and had kittens. This wasn't too unusual because we lived in the country. Feral stray cats came around frequently, and my dad was always instructing us to stay far away so that our yard wouldn't become a wild cat haven. We already had a house cat, and our house had a strict "one cat only" rule. Plus wild cats were somewhat dangerous. Trying to catch one of these wild ones would result in brutal scratches and bites, so my sister and I usually did as we were told. (Truthfully my mom is the one most guilty of breaking the rules.)

However one day in the spring of 1995, I went in the backyard to find a bunch of tiny little kittens frolicking around in front of the storage shed. They saw me and immediately ran back into to their hiding place, except one who came bouncing toward me. He was a little brown tabby with huge ears and eyes, his tiny body about the length of my hand. I scooped him up, and he immediately started to purr. Over the next couple of weeks, I started to spend hours each day outside with this kitten I called Milo (after the movie "Milo and Otis" which was a childhood favorite). His mother was disappearing for longer stretches of time, so many days I would find Milo with his eyes sealed shut from thick runny goop that kittens (and especially wild ones) often have in their first few weeks. Since Milo's mother was not around to clean his eyes, the fluid would sometimes harden and he couldn't open his eyes. No matter - I started cleaning his eyes several times a day, with a soft rag and some warm water. I started to feed him too, along with his siblings (none of whom I was ever able to touch or catch).

When the kittens were maybe two months old, Milo's mother moved them to another location. But Milo stayed. I guess he liked his new home in the yard with affectionate kids and fun cat treats. I begged my parents to let me bring him inside, but they always said no, adhering to the one-cat rule we'd had for most of my life. I was terrified that my much-loved kitten would fall victim to the same fate as many other country/farm cats -- either getting hit by a car, killed by a coyote or dog, or stuck in some sort of animal trap. I recall having a lot of anxiety about Milo and whether or not he was safe at night. So I hatched a new plan, which I proposed to my grandparents. They were open to having cats at their home, and we decided that Milo would go live with them.

Shortly after clearing this plan with my grandparents, something happened. We were at the dinner table eating when we heard growling, snarling, and then a loud painful-sounding yelp. Apparently young Milo had wandered onto the back deck and gone too close to our large dog Brandy's food dish. The dog snapped quickly, and in a flash, Milo was laying on his side. Not moving. Eyes closed. Just like that - my kitten was gone. My dad took me into my room and explained that it was an accident and that he didn't believe Brandy intended to hurt my kitten. He snapped, as dogs sometimes do, and Milo was just too little. My adolescent mind could not comprehend. I sobbed and sobbed and couldn't understand why this had happened. I went outside to say goodbye to my already very loved kitten.

My mom was crouched next to him. She said he was breathing! We couldn't believe it. I gently lifted him up and took him into my room, and my parents didn't oppose since they felt this little kitten was near the end of his life.

I tried to take care of Milo, but I had no idea what to do. I filled a syringe and squirted some water into his mouth so that he'd stay hydrated (it's funny how 12-year-old minds work). I petted him for hours, saying comforting things. At the end of the day, I said goodbye and went to bed.

In the morning, Milo was sitting up and didn't appear to be in pain. He moved around, though somewhat gingerly, and so I fed him some cheese that I found in the kitchen. Years later, we joked about the cheese that saved our cat's life. Over the next few days, he grew stronger and it became clear that he was going to pull through. My parents were amazed that he was still alive and also touched by the time I spent caring for the little cat, and so they decided he could stay in our house after all. We were now a two-cat home, and I couldn't have been happier.

This new pet came with additional responsibility. His first vet bill was $300, which I paid for entirely on my own using money I'd made mowing lawns. For those keeping track at home, $300 is an incredible amount of money for a 12-year-old. I also decided that I'd pay for any other supplies he needed, including a special cat food intended to prevent urinary tract disorders. A friend's cat had died of that condition, and I was petrified that the same thing would happen to Milo. In many ways, having my own cat was a turning point in my life. It's the first time when I can remember putting another thing ahead of myself. I was gentle, patient, and fiercely protective of this kitty. In the summer, I hated leaving him at home so I started taking Milo everywhere with me. I leash-trained him, which was actually pretty easy since I started him off young. He was great in the car, and he often seemed more dog-like than cat-like. He was quiet and happy and just liked to be near me. I took him everywhere I went that summer, and both strangers and friends alike were always surprised when they'd encounter this young girl with a cat on a leash (or in a carrier, depending on the environment). Many people asked if they could have him; some even offered to buy him. I'd always reply sternly that he was not for sale.

The next summer, I decided to enter one-year-old Milo in the county fair's cat competition. This is laughable in hindsight, but I thought it made sense at the time since he was such a lovable guy. Our county fair was mostly farm kids showing cows, horses, goats, and even rabbits. There were usually only a handful of cats, and they were always pure breeds like Himalayan and Siamese. When it was my turn with the judges, I proudly showed them my cat and his leash skills, and also walked them through a picture book I'd made about Milo's life so far. They were impressed that he survived a dog attack at such a young age and also that he'd seemingly been tame from the first time I met him. I returned to the animal arena later to find Milo relaxing in his cage with a large purple "Grand Champion" ribbon on his cage and a "What's the big deal?" expression on his face.

Years went by, and my bond with this plain-looking tabby grew stronger. He slept on my bed every night, and I didn't even care that he hogged the bed, forcing me to sleep with my body contorted in an uncomfortable way so as not to disturb the sleeping kitty. I diligently cared for him. When I turned 18, I decided to move away to attend college. I was very sad to leave my cat (and family), but my university required that all freshmen live in the dorms (which had a strict "no pets" policy). I said a temporary goodbye, fully intending to come back for my cat after my first year of school. But, as they say, things don't always go as planned. When I left for my college, our family dog Brandy started to act differently. He was only 10 years old roughly, but he was a large dog and had slowed down considerably in his last couple years. One night my mom was sitting on our back porch, and Brandy slowly walked over, put his head in her lap, sighed loudly, and died. It was very unexpected. Even worse, our other family cat (Kirby) had reached the end of her life and my parents made the tough situation to put her down after she could no longer move without obvious pain. My poor mother not only had to deal with the recent empty nest resulting after her youngest daughter moved away for college, but she'd also lost her two oldest pets. She bonded a lot with Milo as she adjusted to this new situation and because, well, Milo was just so good at providing comfort.

I was 24 years old by the time I moved into an apartment that allowed cats, and it was clear by then that Milo was not going anywhere. He and my mom were great friends, and he was now 12 years old. He slept on my mom's bed now.

When I was 25, Rob proposed and we started planning our wedding. Shortly after, Milo became sick. My mom took him to the vet, who told her that he had diabetes. This was devastating news, but the vet told us that Milo was otherwise healthy and could still live many years with this condition. It meant that he would need a daily shot of insulin after he ate, and my mom would need to administer it. My mom was terrified. She was so afraid that she'd mess up and accidentally kill our beloved pet (too much insulin, not enough insulin, not enough food beforehand, etc.). But she bravely forced herself through it. Milo never protested when he received his daily shot. He seemed to understand that it was meant to help him. It became a part of their morning routine. Each day, my mom would wake up and feed Milo, give him his shot, and then take him outside on his leash. Our vet volunteered to take care of Milo, and so my parents were able to come to Minnesota for my wedding that September. I saw Milo again that year at Christmas and could not believe how much weight he had lost. I didn't think he had much time left, but he didn't act as though he was in pain or discomfort.

He surprised me. Milo mostly breezed through his first year with diabetes. Then he had a few scary episodes where he would seem dizzy and would walk in circles before falling over. The vet adjusted his insulin, and he always seemed to bounce back, impressing us over and over with his resilience. He passed the two-year mark, still going strong. And then a third year.

Yesterday, my mother called me to tell me that Milo wasn't doing very well. She said he's stopped eating a few days ago. Since he refused to eat, she couldn't give him insulin. He was down in my old room sleeping under the bed. I had the sinking feeling that you get sometimes when you know something is true but don't want to believe it. I told my mom that she should keep him at home as long as he looks comfortable. And then.. when she starts to notice, she should take him in. It's times like these I hate the fact that I live 7 hours away.

This is hard to write. It's hard to describe how much an animal can mean to a person... and a family. I know I will fail terribly if I even attempt to articulate it. All I can say is that I'm going to miss him so very much, and that I'm so grateful he survived that accident when he was a kitten. This cat brought me comfort so many times throughout my life, as I dealt with the sickness and death of my mom's brother, my dad's mother, and my great grandmother. My childhood and transition into young adulthood. So many associations with "home" and growing up. When it seemed everything in life was different, I could come home and find that with Milo, at least one thing never changed. This cat was my constant. I cared for him, and he needed me. I needed him. When I left, he filled that role for my mom.

This is Milo, the cat who captured and held my heart for more than half my life. He died today. And I wish more than anything that I could just see him one last time.

December 2009, at 15 years old

Sunday morning before and after

I like to edit my sister's photos because she gets awesome wildlife shots on the farm. Here's a Sunday morning before and after.

What I did:

  • I first warmed it up with a curve adjustment. You can also try Pioneer Woman's "warmer" action from her free action set.
  • I painted on color pop on the deer. You can do this using a layer adjustment with a dramatic curve adjustment (here's how to do that here). Then apply a layer mask while holding down the alt key. This will make the layer adjustment invisible until you paint it on with a brush.
  • Next I painted on some faux shallow depth of field. You can do this by using the layer adjustment/masking technique above and running a lens blur filter.
  • Finally I sharpened it up. Try the free MCP Action for high-definition sharpening.


More before-and-after editing with my sister Steph's nice animal photography:

Want me to edit one of your photos? Send it to chateauwhitman [at] . Note that by submitting a photo, you are giving me permission to use it on this blog.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Doomtree videos

My friend Scott told me I need to update this blog more because he needs reading material when he's bored. Since I always do my best to aid others in their time-wasting, here are some videos I shot at the Doomtree concert last month. We ventured intrepidly into the beginning of a blizzard (it happened to be the storm that brought us 20+ inches of snow) for the show. I think these videos are pretty entertaining (and contain a lot of previously unreleased songs, which is awesome). But I will admit that they are lower quality since I shot them using my faithful pocket Canon shown here:

You should watch them anyway. Oh, and I have to show you this before I get to the videos. Before the show, I saw the most famous Doomtree MC, Stef Alexander (aka P.O.S.) walking around near the bar at First Ave. Club. I waved him over, and we snapped a quick pic.

I love Minneapolis hip hop.

Enjoy the videos - experience Minneapolis hip hop for yourself.

This is how they started the show. Notice the Christmas tree. It was in mid December.

Unreleased song by Cecil Otter. He was losing his voice, but it's still awesome. Check out the emotion at 2:41.

Sims and POS singing a new song for the first time:

Unreleased song by Sims:

"Purexed" by POS:

Sims - "Keygrip" plus part of a new song. Check out how his friends help him out when he can't hear the beat at the beginning. I love it.

"Rebel Yellow" by Cecil Otter:

POS - "Let it Rattle"

Doomtree - "Traveling Dunk Tank"

Doomtree - "Gander Back" featuring some awesome and funny dancing at the beginning.

POS - "Drumroll"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ringing in the new year with home organization

I am a total geek about many things. These activities bring me genuine joy, and I don't know if that is normal. Let's make a list, shall we?

  • Photo editing and photography
  • Web scripting
  • Doing math relating to my daily life (finances, spending, cost-to-value ratios, etc.)
  • Making lists on blogs
  • Designing house plans and decor in Photoshop
  • Organization
The last item, as you can see, is organization. It's a topic that I enjoy covering, but I try not to go overboard with it. However it's the beginning of the new year, and all of the magazines are running their "de-clutter in 2011" and "get organized and tidy for the new year" type articles. I love it.

It's a new year, and I want to organize and de-clutter. The problem is, all of my areas are already pretty good.

My night-stand:

My art supplies, books, etc:

My closet:

I like keeping things neat and tidy, but I've thus far avoided the color-coded closet.

Cleaning closet:

Hall closet:

So now what?

Oh. This is embarrassing. Now you all know my dirty secret. This is what our upstairs attic looks like right now. It's become a catch-all storage area for everything will will eventually live in the basement (furniture, workout equipment, tools/work bench area).

At one time, that room looked like this:

I also think we can do some work here. Our bookshelf runneth over with books and misc. debris.

All of the storage baskets are at full capacity. I like a cleaner bookshelf display.

And... I guess some of the random storage ottomans and trunks scattered throughout the house need some work too.

Hey, I'm not perfect! Organizing these things is on the top of my goals list for this year. Hopefully I will have some before-and-after pics to show you soon. I share these things on the blog because it's a good motivator and keeps me accountable.

In the meantime, here is a re-post from last year. I don't think I've ever re-posted anything prior to this, but I think this is good information. Enjoy!

De-cluttering 101
Originally posted Jan. 27, 2010

Check this out. This is our donation pile after some spring mid-winter cleaning.

All that stuff* was just sitting in our house taking up space and not being used. It felt really good to pack it all up and donate it to Good Will. I really do believe that having an organized and simplified home contributes to a healthier mindset. Plus it's easier to find stuff and keep track of the things you do have. Having less things means less to clean and keep organized and less to move if you decide to leave your current place. Sometimes you can even sell your unwanted items too. There are a lot of advantages, but sometimes it's hard to know what you should get rid of and what to keep. Here's my general rules for de-cluttering.

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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