Monday, September 26, 2011


It was three years ago today. I made the best decision of my life and married Rob Whitman.

Inevitably, many people talk about the bride at a wedding. But much of the feedback I heard on my wedding day was about the expression on my new husband's face. People said he was the happiest groom they'd ever seen, and that he couldn't stop smiling. I loved hearing it then, and I love remembering it now.

And I'm pretty sure I was the happiest bride.

I love being married to Rob. Occasionally I write super sappy blog posts about my husband and how I feel about him. But this year, I am having a hard time putting it into words. Life has been amazing since I met him, but somehow it gets better each year. I didn't think we could possibly feel closer and have a deeper connection than we had a year ago, but we do.

Sometimes I try to do something to show how much I care. I made him a cookbook for his birthday:

I dedicated my Master's degree thesis to him:

But somehow it never seems like enough. And I know this blog post won't be enough either. But I'll keep going.

Since I can't find the right words to describe Rob, let's talk about our marriage.

One thing I love about our marriage is that we talk about everything. EVERYTHING. This is especially good because we can easily talk about things that are bothering us or things we might want to make better, without the other person getting defensive or feeling like we're making something into a bigger deal than it should be. I've heard other couples say that they are sometimes afraid to bring up feelings about a small issue because it may seem like they are overreacting or making it into a big deal. But when you talk about everything, nothing is really a big deal. In fact, it makes it pretty easy to conquer any problem, no matter how small or large. Not that we have a lot of problems - I actually think we have an alarmingly small number of problems as a couple, and I think that's a direct result of our open communication.

Sometimes we talk about changes we'd like to make to our lifestyle. Sometimes we talk about things we want to do when we're elderly. Sometimes we talk about our daily observations or what happened at work. Sometimes we talk about how the Counting Crows are underrated. Sometimes we talk about football or P90x. We never seem to run out of things to talk about.

We don't fight about money. We were told this is one of the biggest issues to overcome as a young, married couple. But we set up the fun money budget plan (read details here), and so it's been a total non-issue for us.

We spend a lot of time together. Most people say that couples need autonomy, and each person should maintain their individual independence. And we do. We each have our own hobbies and interests, and we spent time apart or with our friends. But I can honestly say that everything is better with Rob. There's no one I'd rather be with, no matter what I'm doing.

We have been together almost every day since we met, more than five years ago. And it still doesn't feel like enough. When we spend time apart, we miss each other.

We encourage each other to try new things and explore our passions. Rob convinced me to buy a camera, and photography has become my favorite thing to do. I encourage Rob when he plays guitar and writes songs. I help him plan and execute DIY projects. Make things. Fix things... and I tell him how proud I am of the finished product. And he makes me feel like everything I do has value and meaning. There's no place for fear of failure in our marriage.

We make decisions together, always. Whether they are big or small. We always consider the other's opinion (and feelings), and we easily compromise when needed. There's no place for stubbornness, control battles, or egos in our marriage.

When I'm upset, Rob always knows the right thing to say. And sometimes the right thing to say is not saying anything at all. Earlier this year, I received a call that my grandfather had died. I cried and cried and somehow choked out some words about what I was feeling - things I remembered about my grandpa and the kind of man he was. And Rob just hugged me as tightly as he could and let me talk as I sobbed. He didn't say a word. When he finally stopped hugging me and pulled back for a second, I saw that he had tears in his eyes too. I've never seen him cry before, but he nearly broke down when he saw me in pain. I can't believe I am loved that much.

Speaking of love... Sometimes we annoy people with our public displays of affection. I make no apologies.

He doesn't particularly like having his photo taken, but he puts up with it. For me. And maybe for the kisses.

He makes me laugh, constantly. At least once a day, he makes me laugh so hard that I have tears in my eyes. He is the funniest person I know.

I don't know what else to say. I don't know how I got so lucky or why Rob loves me so much. It doesn't quite seem fair. But I do know that I will continue to try and be the best wife I can be, and try to show him how much I appreciate him. Every day. It's the least I can do.

I love you, husband. And I promise I always will. That's all I have to say about that.

More posts about us:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Impulse buy gone wrong

We should know better than to make an impulse buy like this.

Rob and I were at Target last weekend, when something with a red clearance tag caught our eye. It was a faux leather arm chair recliner with, get this, built-in massagers! Seemed like a great idea to me. And it was marked down to $99. Yes, please.

We've already been talking about possibly getting an arm chair in the dining room, and this had the look we were going for. It is similar to this club chair recliner, which retails for $300.

We brought it home and eagerly opened the box. Disappointment. The box clearly shows a chocolate brown chair, and the description also reads "warm chocolate brown color." But when we opened the box, we saw the fabric was straight-up black. And believe me - we made sure of it. We have both black and brown leather items in our house, so it was easy to compare and see the difference. This chair was NOT brown and therefore didn't match our existing furniture.

So back to the store it went. We didn't even bother to check if it was a mistake or if all of the "warm chocolate brown" chairs are actually black. We decided we really didn't need this wacky massage chair anyway. And incidentally, I can't find this item online anywhere (I wanted to read reviews to make sure the massage motors don't burn out quickly or that there aren't any other known problems to consider).

We usually read reviews and carefully consider every purchase. This time, we let the little red clearance tag sway us from our normal logic.

Lesson learned. No impulse buys.

In other weekend news, I also came down with some type of flu (boo). Hope you're all feeling well and had a better weekend than I did.

Over and out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Changes to the office/spare bedroom

Have you heard of the Winchester Mystery House? Rob and I toured it a few years ago when we visited my sister-in-law in California. The house is a tourist attraction with an interesting story. To quote wikipedia, "According to popular belief, [the owner, Sarah Winchester] thought the house was haunted by the ghosts of the people who fell victim to Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would appease them." Therefore Sarah kept the house under construction for more than 38 years. She just kept starting new projects. Consequently the house has some goofy features, like staircases that go nowhere, doors that open into walls, and so on.

I'm starting to think our home office/spare bedroom suffers from a similar phenomenon. It seems to constantly undergo changes and redesigns. In the 2+ years we've lived here, this room has had more transformations than any other room in our house.We can't seem to finish this room because we keep changing our mind. Here's an older post that shows many previous renditions of the room, for background.

And here's the most recent change.

We removed our old Ikea Malm bed and replaced it with the Ikea Hemnes daybed/trundle bed.

We scored a great deal on this piece on craigslist (where else?). We'd been planning on buying this bed for a while. We like it because it it has so many functions:

  • It provides seating in the office. Sometimes we watch movies in this room on the computer (which sits opposite the bed). It's a pretty comfy movie movie zone now.
  • It can sleep 2 people when we have guests. The bottom drawers pull out, and you then have a king-size bed platform. We still need to get a 2nd twin mattress in order to do this, and the two mattresses would be stacked when the bed is in twin-size mode.
  • It has built-in storage since the three drawers pull out. I'm currently using them to store our extra bed linens and blankets.
  • Some day (waaaaay off in the future), when we decide to start a family, it will be a good piece of furniture for a child's room. It even matches a lot of other glossy white furniture pieces we already own.
We also like that it's got a smaller foot print, so the office seems more open now.

Before (old Malm bed):

After (new Hemnes bed):

So much more room!
Note: I took the chair out for the photos because it was in the way.

For now, we picked up a blue patterned twin size sheet at Target and just threw in some pillows that we already had. It looks alright for now, I think.

You might notice the haphazard and unbalanced art work in this room. That's because the art is covering small holes or areas of the wall that need to some putty and plaster. We haven't painted this room yet, so we are just covering the imperfections for now. But we have plans to paint, putty, and I've already started on some new art work.

It's coming together.

More office/spare bedroom plans coming soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The best (and easiest) design tip I know

Today I'm going to share my best and easiest design tip. In fact, you're going to laugh at how easy it is. Ready?

Look at this window. Try to overlook the unfinished and sparse dining room:

It looks like a decently sized window.

But it's actually only this big:

I hung the curtains wide so they actually hang on the sides of the window frame. This tricks the eye into thinking it's a bigger window.

Seriously, this little change can make a big difference.

Here's another example. This is in our spare bedroom. This isn't the best example because the curtains are sheer, and because I usually hang them higher too. I haven't had a chance to move/replace the current curtain holders that came with the house.

Curtains hung normally:

Curtains hung wide:

We even did this upstairs in our attic bedroom.

Why are bigger windows better? Many people prefer large windows in there home because they add more natural light, but I also think they provide more scale and balance to your rooms. Having tiny windows is like having tiny furniture in a large space - it feels awkward and disrupts the balance in the room.

Credit - I first learned of this trick from HGTV's "Design on a Dime." I've also seen the concept on popular blogs like Young House Love.

Give it a try!

On an unrelated note, this is why I love working from home (which I do one day a week): I get to prepare lunch in my own kitchen! I didn't feel like cooking today, so I just whipped up a plate of misc. things we had in the fridge. It was a little weak in the vegetable area, but still very yummy!

Don't critique the photo - it was taken with my phone.

(clockwise from top)
Smoked salmon
Fresh raspberries
Wild game jerky (courtesy of my dad)
Sharp cheddar cheese
Slice of summer sausage
Aged cheese (has some sort of balsamic coating, very good)
Fresh spinach

Question: What is your favorite thing to pack for lunch? I bring my lunch most days, so I am always looking for new ideas. I especially like to hear about leftovers that reheat well. What say you, Internet?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adventures in clothing alterations

I have a confession. I’ve never altered a single clothing item. Not even my wedding dress.

Is that unusual? I think I always just assumed you bought clothes that sorta fit, and did the best you could with it. That means shirts are sometimes loose, and pants are sometimes a little too long. It wasn’t until recently that I started to think otherwise. I recently read a blog article where Clinton Kelly from the TV show “What Not To Wear” said that almost everything on the show or worn by celebrities is tailored. Everything. To quote the original blogger, "Jeans, blazers, dresses - everything right down to plain t-shirts and camisoles." He said he recommends buying items that fit your widest part and then altering them to fit you perfectly. What a novel concept! Maybe it’s because I grew up in the great plains of North Dakota and am light years away from being labeled a fashionista, but this concept blew my mind.

This revelation caused me to reevaluate my current wardrobe, and more specifically - my jeans. most of my jeans are a bit too long, so I have to wear them with higher heels or cuff them. But wouldn't it be nice to have jeans that were the proper length for my mid-range heels or even flats?

My friend recommended a good tailor that she found in a nearby suburb. She said the woman has affordable rates and does an awesome job. I'm not sure what it would cost to hem a pair of jeans, but I was strongly considering paying the tailor a visit. I was still a bit nervous. I *like* my jeans, despite them being too long, and I don’t want them to get messed up if the alterations are not what I expected. But I couldn’t shake the idea that it would be REALLY nice to be able to wear flats or tennis shoes too. Everyone who knows me knows that I truly value comfort. But I still wasn’t sold on the idea of trusting someone else with my treasured garments. I’d much rather do it myself, but I just don’t know.

Enter my friend Georgia. Georgia is pretty much a whiz with the sewing machine. She’s made a few cool things (like this and this). So I asked her if she’d be able to help me shorten my jeans. To my delight, she said “of course” and came over.

I have an inexpensive Singer sewing machine that I picked up when we bought our house. I envisioned myself saving bundles of money by sewing our curtains and pillow cases and various other home product. Sadly, I never really learned how to use the machine. Sure, I took home economics class in 8th grade, but that was a long time ago! I just wasn’t confident to tackle this kind of thing on my own. I’m grateful for Georgia’s help in this adventure. And by "help" I mean she pretty much did all the work while I provided moral support and entertainment. She even brought her own sewing machine, and we set up shop in the dining room. Our large dining room table works well for this sort of thing.

There are some good resources online which lay out the process for shortening pants. This one one was particularly useful to us because it shows how to shorten while keeping the original hem (which I think looks better than just folding and sewing a new hem). Basically you pin the jeans where you'd like the new hem to be. Then you measure the distance that you would be shortening the pants. Divide that number in half. Don't include the distance between the edge of the pants and the original hem. Then stitch. Depending on how much you are shortening the pants, you will have an interior flap that you can either cut off, iron flat, or tack a few stitches in to keep the edge from folding up.

This technique worked out well. Here's a before and after photo of one pair of the jeans. The difference may seem subtle from the front...

... but take a look at the side and back. My jeans no longer drag on the floor!

And check out this photo of the newly altered pants. You can't tell that the hem has been altered at all. I'm impressed. Good job, Georgia!

I'm so happy with my jeans now. This experience has opened my mind to the world of clothing alterations. I think I'll be more likely to go to a tailor or try my hand (with Georgia's help) at adjusting future clothing purchases. Maybe I'll even take a hard look at my current wardrobe and see if anything can be improved. It can't hurt, right? Especially since the cost of this upgrade (can I call it an upgrade?) was virtually nothing. We only needed some thread, pins, and our existing sewing machines. Pretty cool.

As always, comments and discussion are welcome. Do you you alter your clothes? Do you have any advice for a newbie like me? Let's hear it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Caption this photo

I was taking some pics for a different post when I noticed Murphy laying on the floor near me. He had an odd expression on his face... sort of contemplative and also sort of forlorn. So I turned the camera to face him, and snapped this one. I tried to think of a clever/witty caption for it, but I'm coming up empty handed.

To be honest, I'm just amazed that the photo even worked since it was so dark. I had to notch my shutter speed down to 1/25, which is typically photograph suicide when I'm shooting the Murphy.

1/25 second
ISO 400

Hence, I invite you to caption this photo. There's no prize for the best caption (sorry 'bout it), but it will be entertaining (for me). What say you, Internet?

You can click the photo for a larger view

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We're back, baby! (Plus some cool free stuff)

Blog posts have been sparse for the last couple months. To put it simply, we had a lot going on. Because I am a fan of lists (which doesn't really make much sense on paper since right-brain thinkers aren't supposed to be the list-makers), here's a little snapshot of what's been keeping us from blogging. (I say "us" because Rob does post occasionally. I promise.)

  • We bought a newer car and had some problems with it (it was in the mechanic's shop for a full work week, on two separate occasions). That's stressful.
  • Even more stressful - we had a sick dog for a while. He had an impacted gland that became infected. Yes, it really is as gross as it sounds.It's pretty heart-breaking to have a sick pet. He had to wear one of those Elizabethan collars for two weeks and was on antibiotics for almost 4 weeks. He's doing a lot better now, thankfully.
  • I made two trips to North Dakota to visit family. I've discovered that I'm not made for traveling. A few days away from home really wears me out!
  • I've been preoccupied with work, family, and I found out I'm lactose-intolerant, which explains a lot of recurring illnesses throughout my life. So we've spent some time experimenting and revamping our diet and some lifestyle habits. Good changes, but they do take time.
There were other things too, but you get the idea. The thing about this blog is that I always intended it to be a fun, creative outlet, but also a way to share our house (and life) projects with our friends and family (especially those out of state). It's been a public journal of sorts, documenting our first few years of marriage and house ownership. And I love looking back at old posts and remembering details that we'd long since forgotten. I like having a blog, and I like writing in general. But I just haven't felt motivated lately. Sadly, I didn't even feel like taking photos, and my camera sat in its case untouched for the better part of two months. That's very unusual for me.

However, whatever was killing my motivation seems gone now, as I've had many creative bursts and can't wait to share all of it here. To anyone who's stuck around over the last couple dry months, I thank you. Here's a taste of some ideas I've got floating around and intend to share here:
  • Smarter solutions for home organization
  • A BIG art project
  • More spray painting (yay!)
  • A mini room redesign and plans for a larger design
  • Canvas art prints
  • My first experiences with clothing alterations
  • Some healthy meals that we are enjoying
  • Plans for upcoming house projects
  • Photography tutorials? Is anyone interested in this topic?
Anyway, as you can see, I've got a lot of ideas jotted down. I wish I had a whole month off work to get things done! I am feeling energetic too. I signed up for a watercolor class, a couples dance seminar with Rob, and am doing an NFL football picks league.

I am going to wrap this up and go spray paint some picture frames (and I'm not just painting them glossy white, like I usually do). I leave you with some fun things I've found online recently. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do:
  • Free e-book: 5 ingredient meals from Stonesoup
  • Music Beta by Google. Upload 20,000 songs and then access your music remotely. Plus get free songs. (I requested an invite and had one by the next day)
  • Free album: Wugazi. A few local musicians teamed up to make a game-changing remix/mash-up of Fugazi and Wu Tang Clan. You have to hear it to believe it.
  • Adobe Muse: Design websites without writing code. It's Adobe's latest, and you can download a beta version to try it out. It's a little too basic for me, but I think would be a great resource for anyone new to making websites. The beta version is free until at least 2012 when they release the live product (which will then be available by subscription, $15 a month). I think Adobe is wise to cash in on the software-as-a-service business model. Recurring revenue is the way to go.
Over and out.

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My first smartphone - background and review

This is almost embarrassing to admit, but until a couple weeks ago, I never owned a smartphone. Crazy, no? Maybe it’s not crazy for some, but look at my background. I worked in IT and as a web designer for more than 6 years. I currently work at a technology company. I’m a total nerd about computers. Yet I avoided purchasing a smartphone for quite some time.

Keep reading to see why I chose an iPhone.

Part of my hesitation was fueled by money and budget considerations. Smartphones require data plans, and that can easily add $25-30 onto your monthly cell phone bill. You may recall from earlier frugal-living posts that Rob and I have a basic cell phone plan in which we share minutes. So thus far, our monthly bills have been quite low in comparison to others we know. We weren’t sure if it was worth the added cost each month.

But then recently, a family member fell ill, and Rob and I decided to spend some time with family in my home state of North Dakota. The problem is that this situation occurred during a very busy time for me at work. I work on a very small team, and I really didn’t want us to fall behind because I was out of office. Now one huge benefit of my job (that is not lost on me) is that I can do a lot of my work remotely, as long as I have access to the Internet and phone. So I decided to use some PTO time and also work remotely for a few hours here and there in order to stay on top of my workload while I was away. The problem with this is that my parents and grandparents only have dial-up Internet. I can’t access most of my work systems (and definitely can’t remotely connect to my work computer) on a dial-up connection without a lot of frustration and failure. Many websites time out before I can connect to them, and whole thing is an exercise in patience. It’s nearly impossible for me to be productive on a dial-up Internet connection.

There’s the option of wi-fi on my laptop, but North Dakota is different than a metro area like Minneapolis. Minneapolis has city-wide wi-fi or free wi-fi from a variety of businesses, coffee shops, etc. Not the case in ND. This situation finally gave me the push to pull the trigger and get a smartphone so I’d be able to access the Internet whenever I pleased.

To be honest, I had been considering one for the past year, but was nervous about more than just the costs. Smartphones are kind of intimidating. It seems like there’s a lot to learn about each specific model before you can use them with ease, and I am a total newbie, which didn’t help. I started researching to find out which phone would work best for me. I initially decided on the Droid 3. There are many things that sounded great about the Droid. It has a qwerty keyboard, an 8 megapixel camera, and I’d read that it is considered one of the better smartphones for doing business work (email, documents, etc). Also as a former member of a web development team, I liked the Android platform. On paper, the Droid 3 seemed like the perfect phone for me.

But then I tried it out in the store. It was larger than I expected, and I found the user interface to be cumbersome and unintuitive. The 8 megapixel camera was basically useless as the sensor was so tiny that the photos were very grainy and dull. If you are a Droid lover, I don’t mean to criticize the phone and realize it’s probably perfect for many people. But for my needs and what I was looking for, it just wasn’t for me.

Then I tried the iPhone 4 and fell in love. It was sooo easy to use, and the camera (despite only being 5 megapixels) was a million times better than the Droid’s. As you may know, I’m a camera nerd and have 2 DLR cameras, so I don’t expect my cell phone to replace my “real” cameras. But I did want one that was decent enough quality to snap some pics in my day-to-day life. My cell phone provider had a pretty good deal going on, so I went home with an iPhone 4.

My review after the first couple weeks of owning an iPhone? I can’t imagine how I survived so long without it. I love the camera and the fun photography apps. It’s so easy to snap a pic, apply a fun filter, and then email it to friends or post on Facebook.

Some of my photography apps

A few photos taken with the free app Instagram (my current favorite):

Rob cutting my grandma's pasture in North Dakota

A photo of me, snapped by Rob

Out the car window, driving to North Dakota

It was also a very easy phone to learn. I didn’t read a single page in the manual, but I had learned how to do pretty much everything within the first few hours of owning it. It’s *that* intuitive. I’ve never been a big fan of Apple products in general (sour taste after dealing with Mac computers in the computer labs I used to manage), but I have to give them props. They really nailed it on the iPhone interface.

I set up my work email as well as my gmail account to be routed to the phone, and so far, it’s working out great. I did change my settings so that my email accounts won’t update until I manually push them (this saves a great deal of battery life). This makes it easy to keep a work and life balance because I’m not constantly seeing notifications about new emails. But if I WANT to, the option to check work email is there. I enjoy this feature when I’ve got a few minutes to spare and want to get caught up on anything that may have happened after I left work. Very convenient. I also synced my calendars.

I was initially very worried about the lack of a qwerty keyboard since I wanted the ability to read and reply to emails on the fly. I was surprised to find that the touch screen keyboard was actually very easy to use. I was even more surprised to discover that I liked it MORE than the qwerty keyboard type. I guess it’s true that you sometimes don’t know what you like until you try a few to compare.

A throwback to my old Java class.

I’ve downloaded a number of apps and will write a post soon about my favorites/most useful apps. But if you have an iPhone and know of some that are must-haves, please by all means comment below.

So many apps, so little time.

And finally - a word about data plans. I was pretty skeptical about having a limited number of gigs each month, but my cell provider doesn’t offer any unlimited plans. I was surprised to learn that most smartphone users use less than 2 gigs per month (our salesman said 95% of their customers use less than 2, but citation needed if you’re a skeptic like me). I get a LOT of email at work, with sometimes large attachments, and I also wanted to stream music and watch YouTube videos. But the overage charges were not too bad ($10 per gig over), so we decided to start out with the basic 2 gig plan. After a month of owning my phone, I have only used 0.229GB of 2.000GB. Isn’t that crazy?? I’m glad to learn that I won’t need to ration my Internet use.

Tip: If you connect to a wi-fi network, you don’t need to use your data plan. Pretty awesome.

So that's why I chose an iPhone. So far, I couldn't be happier. Again, comments welcome regarding your favorite iPhone apps, tips and tricks, or even just insight as to why you chose another phone (Rob's still on the fence about which phone he would get if he upgraded, so we welcome all opinions and insight).

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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