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These Are A Few of My Favorite (2016) Things

Dear 2016 Diary,

I've long held the belief that if you want to see change, be the change. While my efforts may be perceived as small ripples in the overwhelming vastness that is the sea of life, sometimes - those ripples can become waves. I do what I can with what I have, and in keeping with that, it is my hope that my 2016 send-off brings a smile to your face like it does mine.

Welcome to my review of the moments and things I loved in 2016:

1. I love this photograph:

This one was runner-up. I love his excitement.

Okay, this one too - my kids' unintentional take on the classic, American Gothic, which cracks me up! #murica

2. Book I love: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Further Reading: My Experience and "Marie Kondo and The Ruthless War on Stuff" (New York Times)

3. Top Blog Post, per my stats: The Mary Jane Twiliger Story

4. Most Loved DIY: Target Dollar Spot Hack: Tassel Clutch

5. Most Loved Road Trip/Vacation(s): our trek through Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota
(recap posts here, here and here); and SWEDEN (recaps here, here, here and here) and UP NORTH (recaps here, here, here, here and here)!

Kalmar, Sweden

Lumberjack Show, Hayward, WI

Mount Rushmore

6. Our largest renovation: INTERIOR PAINT

7. Favorite TV Shows of 2016: the three NCIS series, Hunting Hitler and The Curse Of Oak Island

8. Always and Forever a Contender on All of My Loves Lists: these 3
9. Favorite Restaurant: Fogo de Chao, Minneapolis

10. Most Loved Activities: swimming for Madelyn, lacrosse for Landen (here and here) and sitting sidelines at both.

11. I took on a personal challenge in 2016 - to wear less makeup, and use less product and heat styling on my hair. I likely wore make-up and styled my hair a mere handful of times in 2016. No one really knew I had taken this upon myself. (Spoiler alert: it's positively liberating.)

12. 2016 was also the year we successfully lived on one income. Though obviously challenging, it also freed us from a student loan payment and empowered us to save as much as possible. We traveled more, experienced more and cut the crap so we could focus on the things we wanted and needed instead of any unfavorable obligations. We didn't tell anyone about this, either.

13. In closing, here are a few more of my favorite photographs:

(Shooting apples out of an air cannon - Hastings, MN)

(The Minneapolis skyline)

(Climbing the steps to the observation deck/mouth of the World's Largest Fiberglass Muskie - Hayward, WI)

(Cotton candy skies)

What are your favorite or most loved things and highlights from 2016?
Post Idea Inspired by this blog and this.

Target Dollar Spot Hack: Tassel Clutch

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Dear Diary,
Target hypnotizes you.

You intend to pick up nothing more than a gallon of milk, but soon the shine from various aisles within the store casts its spell, and you leave $200 poorer and still without milk.

One section I'm especially drawn to is their dollar section. I rely on this area for blank notecards, small stocking stuffers and teacher gifts. Recently, I found a pretty basic gray felt clutch for $3 and brought it home without question.

The construction was simple, and I discovered I could pull the bottom hem open. I began sewing colorful tassels within the space.

Before they served this purpose, Madelyn loved to play with the colorful tassels I had set aside because like her - I was drawn to their happiness effect. 

When she found me sewing the tassels onto the clutch, she exclaimed, "ooo! That's mine right?"

It was hers.

And you must call her MISS Fancy now.

Making Fairy Houses at Watch Me Draw Art Studio - Lakeville, MN

Dear Diary,

One weekend morning, we woke up to 4" of fresh snow on the ground, but that didn't stop us from a fun morning at Watch Me Draw Art Studio!

Madelyn attended her friend's birthday party (it explains why we were there, but I've opted to not include the images of the other children in attendance) and they built fairy houses.

Watch Me Draw Art Studio is a creative, inspiring shop that encourages it's guests (adults and children alike) to explore their imagination. The space was bright and colorful, a welcome contrast from the gloomy weather situation happening just outside.

 Adding some fun finishing touches to her fairy house...

Many of the pictures taken of the displays were shot by Madelyn - she's developed quite the interest in photography lately. It's a good thing Santa will be bringing her a camera for Christmas this year!

2016 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train - Hastings, MN

Dear Diary,

The #CPHolidayTrain is in its 18th year, and we've watched it come into Hastings for 5 years now.

Even with the cold, it's become a bit of a holiday tradition for us. This is also a charity initiative that benefits the local food banks. It's pretty cool knowing that all of the donations and food collected stays within the community.

There is always quite the crowd gathered.

Perspective through a woman's selfie stick ...

One of the cars folds open to a stage, where we were treated to live music. Obviously it was of the festive variety.

Until next year!

House Update: Putting It Back Together

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Dear Renovation Diary,

To prep for paint, Nick and I (more so Nick, since I had to be at work), took down and took out every possession kept within our house. Our garage has resembled a flea market of sorts - folding tables piled high with stuff, wall hangings and art work leaning against a wall, and boxes bursting at the seams.

Inside, with the fresh paint, I felt calm without the clutter. This is the “life-changing magic” Marie Kondo spoke of in her book. And now that I am beginning to put my house back together, I find myself slowing down. I’m being very selective and intentional with what I bring back inside. Goodwill has seen a lot of me lately (as you read this, I've taken 3 car loads in!)

The first area I addressed was the space above our kitchen cabinets. I’m drawn to the eclectic, layered look but I didn’t want it to come off as cluttered. I also tried to balance both sides of the cabinetry with a focus on symmetry. I continually tinker with it, but I feel like it’s added height to our kitchen area. Besides the paint job, there isn’t much more to be done in this space, since it already has good flow.

I’ve also put a heavy focus on my closet. It’s so fresh with the gray walls and white shelving. Without doors, I’m trying to maintain a crisp aesthetic. I ordered white storage boxes from IKEA for additional storage. I also spent $20 on a pair of basic shoe racks from Target. And recently, I purchased this jewelry armoire that I can hang on the wall, which also serves as a full-length mirror.

{And my wedding dress can be seen - I opened its preservation to wear it for a 10th anniversary shoot, but I'm not sure what to do with it now.}

I like it for a variety of reasons. It’ll balance the light gray color on my walls. It comes with a skeleton key to lock up my jewelry collection. Price-wise, my collection overall isn’t very valuable; but to me, it’s priceless. So many pieces are gifts from my husband, my children and my family, that I treasure it. I’ve spent some time testing different jewelry organization options. None of them really “worked” for what I was hoping to achieve. This armoire purchase will hopefully utilize an otherwise wasted space, while keeping my jewelry all in one place. It’ll be out of sight, yet everything will be completely visible when I open it up so I’ll never face the “I forgot I had this” conundrum again.

{This is what my dresser top looks like now. I have zero intentions of adding to what you see here.}

It feels like we crossed a major hurdle now that the walls are painted.

The Creepily-Fascinating True Crime Books I Want To Read

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Dear True Crime Diary,

So, this is probably one of the more disturbing topics I've written under, and understandably so.

While I'm not here to defend myself, I do feel a few things are important to note: I was 8 years old when Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison. Growing up in Milwaukee, while the suburb my family lived in was largely unaffected, I do remember the urgency. Something was amiss. Something was wrong. People were disappearing, and the moment the street lights turned on, we were due inside now.

To be from a city, and to call a city my hometown with an association to the kind of pure evil Dahmer left in his wake, is odd to explain at best. Perhaps it's this association that sparked my interest in crime dramas, and forensic investigation shows. Perhaps it's this association that explains the Pre-Law double major I had in college.

Perhaps it's why I didn't throw up in my Dead Men Do Tell Tales course.

Still, whatever the takeaway may be, I'm curious to read the stories not found in the headlines surrounding this sort of infamy. While the crimes themselves are haunting and unspeakable, the process of achieving justice piques my interest time and time again. And that is why these books maintain a spot on my reading list:

1. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
Ted Bundy is one of the world's most infamous serial killers who, though he confessed to murdering 30 people before his execution in 1989, is accused to murdering countless more.

The author, Ann Rule, knew Bundy personally. They once volunteered together, and she worked as a journalist. This book recounts what happened and her relationship with Bundy; all accounts point to this being a gipping tale and a very well-written book.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In 1959, Truman Capote and his friend Harper Lee (yes, the Harper Lee of To Kill A Mockingbird fame) traveled to Kansas to investigate the quadruple murder of a family. Though the book reads like a novel, the story brings chills upon realizing it's all true. In fact, many critics have perceived this to be the first non-fiction crime novel.

3. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
I may be most afraid to read this book, but since it's written by the prosecutor of the 1970 trial, I'm interested in the firsthand account. I've already been warned that this book is incredibly hard to read at first, since it offers a reconstruction of the murders.

4. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt
I purchased this book when Nick and I traveled to Savannah - the book's setting. A finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, this book begins with the murder of a young man by his employer Jim Williams. The story set in 1980s Savannah follows Williams' trial and, despite being a work of fiction, is considered to fall under the true crime genre.

Read it, especially if you're considering a trip to Savannah.

5. Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Schactman
Written by an FBI profiler, this book recounts Ressler's work with the Behavioral Science Unit, tracking serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. Ressler is credited with coining the term "serial killer," and reviews speak to this fascinating yet disturbing career.

Phew, now that I've confessed ... what fascinating books are on your reading list?

House Update: The Power of Paint

Dear Renovation Diary,

We purchased our tri-level split when the housing market in the Twin Cities was at its rock bottom.

With the idea this home would be for the short term in order to cash in on the equity when the market rebounded (a 5-year flip, if you will), we've been slowly tackling the cosmetic updates we felt would maximize our return.

We didn't change the footprint of the house, and not a single room was gutted to the studs. (Edit: our downstairs 3/4 bath may require a full demo now.) Despite its weird split layout, the home has really good bones!

Split levels are seemingly a suburban staple here, and ours was built in 1992. Two families have lived here previously to us, so as we put our own personal touch to it, we couldn't deny the sense of "community" that wove the tapestry of our common ground. It feels like our projects left a stamp that speaks to our tenure here - "we're a part of this story too!"

... Even if it means outsourcing the painting because the idea of picking up a roller made us nauseous.

And as you can see from the above panorama, our house was in quite the state of disarray. This was done on Halloween, on which we also hosted an informal party, so we were a little tense and cranky.

Still, a fresh, cool gray is now up on the walls throughout the main living areas of the house. It will offset the white trim nicely, creating a neutral backdrop for our current furnishings and for when we sell. It's easily the best money we've spent on the place.

It amazes me how something so simple (albeit time-consuming) and relatively budget-friendly can leave such a lasting impression on a space.

Never underestimate the power of simplicity, and an even paint job.

In other news, Nick installed a new storm door *with* a retractable screen. Now when people ring the bell, I no longer have to open my house up to them.

And the 3 windows in the lowest level got some new jewelry - nothing too fancy, and pretty basic but classic nonetheless. The bedroom down there has a pair of coral curtain panels to offset a navy comforter, and I'm pretty excited about it.

I didn't anticipate loving this color combination as much as I do - cool gray walls and sleek white trim really make my turquoise (IKEA!) curtains and sheers pop. 

The Ever-Evolving To-Do List:
Do necessary touch-ups
Paint the window trim in kitchen
Paint and install baseboards and remaining trim
Install hardwood on the support beam in the great room
Finalize cabinet stain for kitchen, upstairs bathroom and linen closet
Install flooring in upstairs bathroom
Figure out what the hell to do with the yellow 3/4 bath downstairs
(yes, it really is yellow ...)
Attend happy hour at the closest bar to ease tensions
Install white 6-panel doors
Discuss the idea of keeping dark wood pantry door as an accent
PURGE/ORGANIZE and donate the castoffs to Goodwill
(how do 4 people accumulate so much crap?!)
Finish decorating/staging

... Because when you cross off one thing, four more things arise to take its place!

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Weekend Warrior: The Badlands

Dear Travel Diary,

They call them "fly-over states;" simply the patchwork view from an airplane window en route to Los Angeles from New York City.

Who'd want to live down there / in the middle of nowhere
Jason Aldean, "Fly Over States"

Without discrediting anything NYC or LA has to offer, we must not ignore the in between. If your only exposure to the middle of America is the view from an airplane seat, then please observe what you are missing out on ...

This perspective is absolutely stunning.

The next morning, we got up early in order to be on the road by 8:30 a.m. with the intent to drive through the Badlands.

Here again, we were treated to up-close views of the wildlife.

And here again, my son's geography lessons were brought to life as they explored, touched and climbed, while keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes.

We were home by 7:30 p.m. and crashed into our own beds at 8. It was a whirlwind weekend adventure, but certainly worth every minute.