Saturday, July 23, 2011

News of the world (or at least, news of OUR world)


I went kayaking for the first time last weekend! It was quite an adventure.

We drove to a place a few hours away in Wisconsin (near Lake Superior) and did a 10-mile river rapids course. Rob has gone a few times before, so he was a lot more confident than I was (this is probably why he selected their most difficult route, which has level 3 rapids). Once in the kayak, I got off to a somewhat rocky start (pun intended). I ended up tipping myself on some large rocks. If you've never been kayaking, let me tell that it's very scary when you tip and can't get out of your kayak right away. I tipped in pretty shallow water filled with deep rocks, so I couldn't just swing myself back upright; I had to pull the elastic kayak skirt and swim out. Luckily I made it with just a few scratches and some new-found determination to make the rest of the journey without tipping. I'm proud to say I did it, but it was quite a workout. We spent around 4 and a half hours muscling the river. It was one of the most physically intense things I've done in my entire life.

I'm really fortunate that we were able to get some fun pics to document the adventure. We actually decided to take our changes and buy an inexpensive plastic case for our travel camera. You know, this one:

I've shown that camera so many times on the blog. It's because we use it a lot!Despite being a Sony d-slr advocate, I highly recommend Canon's Powershot compact cameras. We're thinking about upgrading since we've had this once since 2007, but it's still going strong. So why not keep using it?

The case we bought was $25, and it's called a DicaPac.

It doesn't fit perfectly, but it works just fine for our purposes. And it truly is water proof (not just water resistant). We figured that out when I tipped, and it was completely submerged for several minutes, hanging from a tie cord from inside the kayak. Note to beginners, always secure all of your things to the kayak in case you do tip. The river current is way too strong to go chasing after your belongings. Trust me.

Anyway here's a few pics from the trip:

A calm section of the river:

Stopping for a break on a sand bar:

Then Rob decided it would be fun to try and film some short videos. Here's one of our favorites. Note how serious I am about keeping my kayak going straight forward (I'm in the red kayak). That's the sure-fire way to avoid tipping! Rob kept getting turned around because he was holding the camera and therefore not paddling or steering. It makes for a pretty funny clip. I apologize in advance for the quality of this video, but you gotta give him a break - he was kayaking at the time. It's entertaining, nonetheless.

Other highlights of the trip:

  • Having a bear stumble into our campsite at night (no joke!)
  • 100 degree weather
  • Testing out our new tent
  • First road trip with our new vehicle
That leads me to my next bit of news:

Big purchase

Rob and I made the 2nd largest purchase of our lives. No. 1 would be the house, obviously, and now we finally sprang for what I'm calling our first "grown up car."

It's a silver 2008 Ford Escape with around 30k miles on it:

I seriously love this thing. Rob had to remind me that it's "just a piece of machinery" because he thought my emotions were too strong for a material object. Ok, ok. Point taken. But this is such an awesome vehicle. We traded in our Nissan Versa (which I really didn't like) and were lucky to get a good trade-in value. Couple that with a great deal on the Escape plus low interest rate on the loan (due to many years of hard work developing good credit), and we came out pretty well in the whole deal.

I love that the car is a smooth ride and isn't gigantic (for an SUV), but it has enough room for all our camping gear as well as our 125-pound dog. It gets decent gas mileage for an SUV, but to be honest, we don't drive very much at all. I take the bus to work, and Rob works less than 10 miles away. So when it came to car shopping, the gas mileage was important, but it's wasn't the highest priority. On the topic of priorities, here were mine:
  • Must have 4wd (we live in Minnesota, enough said)
  • Must be large enough to support our outdoor activities, dog, and a possible future family
  • Must have under 100k miles logged

That's it. I'm not too picky, as you can see. I could care less about bells and whistles or newness or leather seats. In fact, we PREFER cloth seats on account of our dog. Anyway we were able to find something with much lower mileage (but still in our budget) that also has some really nice features. There's a moon roof, a code pad for keyless entry (awesome for when we go canoeing and don't want to carry keys with us), and a direct output for our iPods. I couldn't be happier.

Since this is the most expensive car we've ever owned, I feel a few disclaimers are needed. You may know that we're notoriously frugal when it comes to cars (we've been known to pay cash for older cars we find on Craigslist). In fact, Rob has never visited a mechanic in his life. He does all of the car work himself. Thanks to free resources like the Internet, he's able to troubleshoot and fix most problems. (Knock on wood - I don't want to jinx us.) We also don't buy brand new cars (read why here).

That said, we're super happy with our Escape and can't wait to try it out this winter in the snow and ice.

Since I ride the bus to work, Rob is driving the Escape on a day-to-day basis. Our 2nd vehicle isn't used very much, but it's very handy when we need to haul or move anything big. It's a 1999 Dodge Ram. This is one of those aforementioned Craigslist scores that we paid cash for.

Despite it being 12 years old, it's got under 100,000 miles logged and is still going strong. The only bummer is that it doesn't have air conditioning. I've had to take it a few places in the past week, and temps here have been in the 100s. Ah well. I'm tough (see the kayaking video above for proof). :)


Finally, in the news of the day, we were recently featured on Apartment Therapy's Re-Nest site, which is very exciting. Apartment Therapy is one of the biggest blogs out there, so I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. You can read about it here, but they did a short article about leaving a note for the next homeowner and used our message behind the medicine cabinet example. We had a big spike in web traffic after that. So if you're a new reader, welcome! If you're an old reader, thanks for sticking around. Blog posts have been a bit sporadic lately, but I think we're getting back into the swing of things.

Hope everyone's having a great summer so far. Talk to you soon.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I hope that someone gets my... message in a bathroom mirror?

I hope you were singing the Police song "Message in a Bottle" when you read this blog title. Because I sure am singing it as I write this.

Anyway I recently posted about how we finished our mini bathroom renovation (read about it here). I forgot to include one detail, so I thought I'd share it now.

We decided to hide a letter to future owners of this house. Why? No reason other than we think it's a cute thing to do, and we think it would fun if a future owner found it while doing a hardcore renovation (like we just did).

When we pulled the nasty old bathroom mirror and medicine cabinet, we saw the perfect place to hide a note.

Here's Rob nailing it into place:

It's a simple business-sized envelope addressed to "Current Home Owners."

Now it's hidden away under all this:

Since we put in a more modern mirror and cabinet, who knows how long it will be before this bathroom gets torn up again?

You may recall, this isn't the first time that we've left our mark (secretly) during a renovation project. If a future home owner takes down the drywall and insulation in the basement, they will find this:

And in case you're curious, here's what we wrote in the letter.


Hello current home owners!

We are Rob and Kristi, a couple of first time home owners in our 20s. We bought this house shortly after being married in 2008. We are hiding this note behind the bathroom medicine cabinet in the hopes that a future owner of this home will find it.

We hope that you will love this house as much as we have. We have worked very hard over the last couple years to make this house a personal retreat that brings us joy and comfort whenever we’re at home. You should be happy to know that we’ve given 100% to each project we’ve done here, and that we never took shortcuts or the easy/cheap way out. (Too bad we can’t say the same for the previous owners. They made some questionable “upgrades” that we’ve had to fix. Live and learn.)

Since buying the house, we’ve completely demolished the basement, adding a waterproof sealant, insulation, and drywall to make it into a truly livable space, when before it was just cold concrete blocks in the ground. We also installed laminate wood floors and built a storage room. We have replaced the furnace, water heater, gas range, refrigerator, and dishwasher. We ripped up old carpet to expose the original wood floors, and painted all of the rooms in soothing neutral colors. We’ve fixed leaky pipes and installed a shut-off valve to make your plumbing maintenance easier. We also built the six-foot wooden privacy fence in the back yard to contain our 125 pound lab/rottweiler mix Murphy; hopefully the fence is still standing.

You are finding this note on account of our most recent project - a bathroom renovation. We spent several days scraping through 50+ years of aging painted wallpaper and peeling paint in order to prep the walls for a smooth and satiny fresh coat of paint. We removed all of the old caulk around the tub, sink, and toilet and replaced it with a clean and fresh seal. We also put in a new medicine cabinet and light fixture. Depending on when you read this note, they may look horribly outdated. But we assure you, in 2011, these choices were modern and fresh.

If you ever tear down the walls in the basement, you will find that we painted the words “Chateau Whitman” on the concrete blocks. That’s the affectionate label that we gave this place (Whitman is our last name). We currently have a website,, where we document our lives and home renovation projects. If the site still exists, you are welcome to see a piece of the house’s history, as told through our eyes.

We hope this note finds you in happiness and good health. Please enjoy your home. We sure did, when it was ours.

Rob and Kristi Whitman
May 28 2011


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Back to the good life

We've been going camping this year. We weren't able to camp much the last couple summers because I was working full time and going to grad school. That meant my weekends were mostly spent doing homework and attending classes. Pretty lame, if you ask me. So now we're trying to make up for lost time.

Here's some photos from a few June trips.

Note: I'm getting to know my old camera again. There's no way I'd take my nice camera out in the woods. So far, I'm digging the time spent with this old friend.

someone else's words

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

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