Sighs & Smiles: Hoping for the Best

Welcome back to my second edition of Sighs & Smiles! I’m thinking of posting one of these at the end of each month, as long as there’s enough content to make it worth while.

Here’s a brief update of this past month; the good and the bad. Is it just me, or has February flown by?

Sighs

  • Still no luck on the job front. I’ve put out a few applications, but honestly there’s not much to apply for at the moment in my area. I thought I had an opportunity though — I received a voicemail from an HR Director of a company I applied to and immediately called back. I left her a message, but didn’t hear anything. Called again and left another message two days later, and still didn’t get a call. Frustrating. After a few more days I gave up on that one.
  • I recently found out my cousin and his wife, who live about an hour away from me at the moment, will be moving across the country this summer as he accepted a better job. This is bummer, because both of them are close to my age and are really enjoyable to be around. I don’t get to see them much even now, but obviously those times will become less since they will be so far away.
  • I’m still struggling with self-esteem issues because of my weight. Though I am gaining pounds, it’s very slow and I’m impatient. I’m sick of the majority of what’s in my closet not fitting, still don’t like what I see in the mirror, and if I think about it too much it brings me down. So I try to ignore it best I can.
  • I continue to have issues with the incision site on my abdomen, where a fistula formed. Some weeks it’s easy to manage because its not too active, but just when I think it’s healing and my problems there are coming to a close, it basically laughs and gives me the middle finger. This back and forth situation of being in pain and feeling all right is tiresome.

Smiles

  • This weekend I will be traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for my first appointment with GI and oncology specialists. This gives me a lot of hope concerning the future of my health, especially since my current health system doctors have either failed to give me concrete answers, fix me completely, or abandoned me all together. I’m really hoping they can provide some insight about why complications from surgery are still ongoing and more information regarding my questionable cancer scare. So far all I have on my schedule is consultations, but the doctors can add tests if they feel those need to be done. I’m guessing they won’t just yet, but we’ll see.

  • I continue to have incredible support from family, friends, and even people who know me and my situation through others. I have received a number of generous gifts to help me while I have no income, and my mom’s coworkers even hosted a benefit so my costs on the trip to Mayo Clinic will be fully covered. How blessed am I?!
  • After more than a month of frustration and filling out paperwork, I was finally granted a Bridge Card from the state to help me with buying groceries! That seriously takes a load off.
  • John Oliver is back with his show after a few months hiatus. That definitely warrants a mention under this category!

How has your month gone? What have been some of your own sighs and smiles?

—K

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My Top 5 Current Beauty Products

There are so many beauty products on the market, it can be difficult to know which to try or purchase and can make you feel quickly overwhelmed.

I’m no beauty guru by any stretch of the title, but through trial and error I find items I like and dislike. I enjoy finding out if certain makeup, nail polish, and skin care products are right for me, and I usually am a loyal customer if I love the results, though it’s also great to have options if you want something new!

I adore a range of products, but I tend to pick favorites throughout various times of the year. Below are five of my current favorite beauty products that I highly recommend and love!

Pop Art Brush Set

I’ve been a fan of BH Cosmetics for about six years now, and while I love a ton of the company’s makeup products, I have to say this 10-piece brush set is my favorite purchase. As you can see, it’s bright and colorful, and comes in the cutest and most convenient case that’s perfect for display or travel! The brush heads are soft and gentle on the face, but also pick up enough product to get the job done easily. I also love the variety of brushes you receive in this set, as it’s perfect for my every day makeup needs! And for $16.99, I think it’s a pretty good deal!

Night Owl Precision Eyeliner Pen

Want the perfect eyeliner? I believe I’ve found it. Night Owl is made by YouTube star MadeULook, known as Lex. I found her through BH Cosmetics when I first discovered that company, and have been following her beauty and body painting videos ever since. She’s incredibly talented, honest, kind, and I trust what she recommends. In the last year or so she released her own set of makeup brushes as well as this eyeliner. Night Owl comes in black only (its product name is Haunted), and is in a felt tip pen form. The design makes application ridiculously easy, even for those who struggle getting precise wings using a brush to apply liquid, cream, or gel liner. It also doesn’t smudge once its dry, though comes off flawlessly with makeup remover. I’m a huge fan of this and the price tag of $12 is pretty affordable for a high quality makeup product, especially compared to the prices you see at Ulta or Sephora.

Don’t Look At Me Facial Mask

Lush Cosmetics is one of my newer obsessions, and this bright blue facial mask is one of my favorite products the company offers. It’s vegan, made with all natural products including tofu, lemon juice, grapefruit oil and neroli oil, so it has to be kept in the refrigerator and does expire. It also has ground rice in the formula for exfoliation. It even smells like Fruit Loops! After using it, I’ve noticed my skin feeling super soft and maybe even a touch brighter. For $12.95 you receive a small jar of the mask, which will give you about six to seven uses — not too bad! It’s a lot of fun to use, especially with your girlfriends during a night in of pampering or even with your significant other! It’s a breeze to take off and will not stain fabric if you choose to use a cloth for removal.

Black Honey Almost Lipstick

This lip product by Clinique is perfect for those who don’t care to wear lipstick or who want only a subtle color to their lips for the day or night. I know this color looks extremely dark and even vampy, but I assure you it’s not. Almost Lipstick allows the wearer to choose how much coverage they’d like without it feeling heavy. The color can be enhanced with each added layer, yet still leaves a glossy-without-being-sticky feel, which is personally my favorite part! Not much is worse than hair sticking to your lip gloss during a windy day. They have a pink option, but I chose Black Honey for its berry tone. This versatile “lipstick” is flattering and helps bring color to my complexion without going over the top. And its just…pretty! You can find it at any Clinique kiosk for $17.

Good Night. Night Cream

At $40 for a small jar, this is the most expensive product on my list, but I feel it’s worth it. I truly believe keeping the skin hydrated is one of the best ways to fight issues of aging skin (not that I’m super worried about that right now, but in the future I will be!). I have very dry skin, so the more moisture, the better, and while I have a cream to hydrate my face after my morning shower, this cream does the trick while I sleep. It has a velvety consistency without feeling greasy, smells like cucumbers, and absorbs into my skin quickly. In my opinion, it’s luxurious! I apply it each night after removing my makeup and just love it. And since it’s made with natural products, has a biodegradable formula, is cruelty-free, and is made in the United States, you can feel good about a purchase!

Well there you have it, my most up-to-date beauty picks! Have you tried any of these products? Which are you most curious about? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below!

—K

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Sweetheart Salad — A Treat for Your Valentine

Sweetheart Salad may be the most appropriately named dish for today!

My aunt has been making this creamy dessert for family gatherings since I was a little girl. I asked her to share the recipe with me so I had it for my own collection, and then I thought it would be perfect to share with you this Valentine’s Day.

Whip this up quickly and share it with your own sweetheart after dinner! Or before; whatever works!

This sweet treat is fruity, fluffy, and full of different textures thanks to the ingredients inside, and its red and pink coloring is perfectly themed for the holiday celebrating love. Sweetheart Salad is really easy to make and keeps well stored in and air-tight container inside the fridge.

I’m not sure why this dessert is so addicting to me. I usually fill up a section of my plate with it and forgo some of the other tasty sweets on the table, and usually take some leftovers home!

Now, with this recipe, I don’t have to wait for family parties to have some! Here it is!


Ingredients:

  • 2 cans crushed pineapple; do not drain
  • 2 tbl lemon juice
  • 2 tbl maraschino cherry juice
  • 15-20 diced maraschino cherries
  • 1 package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 packages (or 1.5 tbl ) of unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water

For whipped cream:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbl powdered sugar

Directions:

  • Heat pineapple with sugar on stove, soften gelatin with water
  • Combine gelatin, lemon juice and maraschino cherry juice to pineapple mixture; let cool
  • Combine cream cheese with diced cherries with mixer in a large bowl, slowly adding pineapple mixture into bowl; chill in fridge
  • Whip the cream and powdered sugar until whipped cream is formed, then blend it with chilled mixture. Serve.

Love chocolate? Throw in a few handfuls of mini or regular chocolate chips to add some decadence to this dish!

I hope you enjoy Sweetheart Salad as much as I do, and I also hope this Valentine’s Day fills you with love and happiness!

—K

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Leaving Space for Possibilities

Guest post by Justin McKee

This post is going to touch on two topics already covered in previous writings by yours truly; aperture and composition.

However, instead of rehashing how to utilize the different aperture settings and principals of composition, in this post I’m electing to show how each of these topics can affect a graphic designer who has to use your photograph for a layout.

Graphic designers do a HUGE variety of visual tasks. Designers are versatile. People who learn the art have both technical and artistic skills that range from complex web design to impactful page design. Some designers (like myself), even elect to primarily become photographers because the art of photography affects design so much.

As a photographer, it’s always good to lend a helpful hand to whoever is going to design whatever medium showcases your images — either digital or print — by using good composition techniques. It’s especially helpful to do so if you’re the one designing around your images.

One technique that can help a graphic designer create a stunning web page or print layout is utilizing negative space to create visual interest in an image.

What is negative space?

For starters, negative space is not space that’s negative.

Negative space is an area in a design or photograph that isn’t being actively used to communicate a message or draw attention to a subject.

A simple example: If you take a picture of a person outside, the person is the subject and the landscape behind them is the negative space.

It’s always good to leave a little negative space in your photographs because, compositionally, it looks good and the space creates some room for design (if design is a necessity).

Using a camera’s aperture can help enhance the minimalism of negative space by using apertures that are wide open. An aperture of f/2.8 creates a fantastic background blur that can make the negative space in a photograph perfect for overlaying text. The sharper an image is in the negative space, the less likely text is able to be read efficiently.

Next time you take a photograph, think about how a design could be incorporated into your image.

Doing so can help take your photography to a new level of awesome.


Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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More About Yours Truly — On Camera!

Why hello!

I’m expanding into the world of video! At least a little bit. Though I’m not sure how often I will be filming, I wanted to make my first video a fun one that was easy for me to create (with the help of my video editing guru, Justin) and interesting for you viewers.

I believe videos are a great way to connect with you guys on a different scale, especially if they’re simple and quick or talking about a specific topic in detail that doesn’t exactly work for a blog post. Look for those periodically on Facebook!

Also, if you have any ideas about what types of videos you’d like to see, leave them in the comments! Even if it’s just “give us a brief update on your life,” I want to know!

And you might want to subscribe to my channel, as I’m hoping to upload videos from time to time! 😉

Enjoy my kick-off video below!

—K

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Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for Him and Her

Love, love, love.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! Have you locked down what you’re gifting your significant other this year? Well, I thought I might provide three ideas that make fantastic gifts for him or her in a simple gift guide post!

So if you have been procrastinating on shopping for that surprise that says “I love you,” or if you’re hoping to add a little something to the gift you have already, look no further! Here are my picks!

Stitch Fix

Giving the gift of style for your guy or girl hasn’t been easier! Stitch Fix offers personalized boxes for women AND men, and is such a fun idea for Valentine’s Day! You can surprise your loved one with a box, or give them a Stitch Fix Gift Card to use when the time is right. Open the box together and have a fashion show in your own home! Better yet, plan on giving this gift to each other and enjoy your boxes at the same time!

Romantic Photo Book

Are you the sort of couple who have taken loads of pictures together or have had a professional photo shoot? Photo books like those from Shutterfly are such a great memento and can be such a sweet and thoughtful gift! You can customize a book to showcase your love for each other with photos from vacations, every day life, and special occasions. The best part? These books last forever, and you can revisit each memory over and over again. Showcase your love visually!

Lush Bath Bomb and Massage Bar

Turn up the heat with these two products from Lush Cosmetics, specially made for Valentine’s Day. As this company is famous for its enticing bath bombs, purchase one to enjoy in the tub with your honey on a romantic night. Add some candles, play some soft music, and soak in some hot water surrounded by soothing scents. Then after the bath, treat each other to a relaxing time with one of Lush’s melty massage bars, perfect for couples who want to show a loving touch!

I hope this Valentine’s Day showers you with love, romance, and affection!

—K

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Healthier Living Through Smoothies

After everything that’s happened to me last year concerning my health and the weight loss that followed my hospital stay, I need to keep increasing my nutrition and find easier ways to do so that’s also easy on the digestion front. Well, I think I found just the thing: smoothies!

What an easy way to consume fruits and veggies all at the same time! Not only are they filling, but they’re a great option for someone like me who finds it really hard to eat vegetables. They’re hard for me to digest and I hate the taste of most. But smoothies allow you to mask their sometimes unpleasant taste by using fruit, juice, nuts and peanut butter, spices, honey, chocolate, and even ice cream!

Since I have been having trouble keeping my potassium and magnesium at a consistently safe level, and because I know all of the vitamins the plant contains, I decided to use baby spinach in all of my smoothies. I don’t typically eat salads or leafy greens, so this is the perfect way for me to add more to my diet. And when blended with fruit, you can’t taste it one bit, which is again, perfect. I also don’t like bananas, which everyone knows have a lot of potassium, so again this is a great way to get all the good stuff out of foods I won’t eat on their own. And as long as I don’t use too much banana, I’m in the clear on taste.

I used Pinterest to help me find some recipes, and then modified some of them to refrain from using highly acidic fruit and juice I cannot have due to Crohn’s Disease. Some of those I posted don’t include spinach, but you can add it into whatever creation you enjoy and get that extra boost of vitamins and nutrients. Including yogurt or a type of milk as a base to your smoothie will provide protein as well. Like some crunch? Add ice!

Keep in mind that even if the color of the smoothie doesn’t look appetizing, it doesn’t mean the flavor isn’t tasty!

So now that I’m a beginner in this smoothie world, I wanted to share a few recipes I tried and really liked using the main ingredients of baby spinach and fresh and frozen fruit, though I chose to leave spinach out of one of my creations. Try them out for yourself!


Mixed Berry and Spinach Smoothie:

  • 2 oz. Yoplait vanilla yogurt (about half of the small 4-oz. containers)
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 2 cups mixed berries
  • 1 tbsp sugar for added sweetness (optional)

PRO TIP: If you’re like me and absolutely hate crunching on the larger seeds from raspberries and blackberries, a strainer will do wonders.

 

Banana Peach Strawberry Smoothie:

  • 2 oz. of Yoplait vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 cup peaches
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Splash of milk

 

 

 

 

Tart Apple Raspberry Smoothie:

  • 2 oz. Yoplait vanilla yogurt
  • 1 apple
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • Splash of apple juice
  • 1 cup ice (optional)

This new adventure is exciting for me, and coming up with new combinations and concoctions might be fun. I think I’ll try to get three smoothies in each week as a starting point, then maybe increase it to four once I really get going with them. We’ll see what happens!

Maybe now my doctors will stop scolding me about not taking the horse-pill potassium supplements…

Do you have tried and true smoothie recipes? Share them with me in the comments! I’d love to try them!

—K

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O, Canada: Road Trip to Niagara and Toronto

Sometimes everything life throws at you takes its toll and you just need to go somewhere. Even if only for a day or two. Your eyes need something fresh to look upon, your spirit needs to feel like it’s free of everything weighing it down.

That was me last weekend, and my significant other, Justin, too. After months of pestering him to order a passport, it finally arrived, and we decided to cross the American border into Canada for an overnight stay. Niagara Falls and Toronto are both easy-to-reach places from where I am in metro Detroit, so we decided to take a mini vacation to ease our troubled and stressed minds.

One word to describe this trip: fog. Fog so dense in places you really couldn’t see an object until you were right next to it. Freaky to drive in during the day, scary to drive in at night. The weather did hinder our trip just a bit, but we made the most of what we could.

A few hours after crossing into Canada and dealing with a really cranky border patrol officer, Justin and I arrived in Niagara Falls first, and let me just say whoever designed the city streets in the touristy part of town needs to be smacked. After winding our way in and out of where we thought we needed to be, we finally settled on a parking garage and proceeded on foot to find a hotel in the same connected buildings.

We found fantastic lodging at the Crown Plaza Hotel, located a block from the falls. And I mean fantastic. We got a great deal on a small but super comfortable falls-view room, which included parking fees for less than $100 American. And this was on a weekend! Gotta love the off-season rates. And the hotel was connected to a Hard Rock Cafe, where we had dinner. I finally got to try poutine! Yummy.

Getting back to the fog. It was so thick we couldn’t see any bit of the falls when we arrived, and we couldn’t even see the fireworks they shot off in the evening! But near midnight the fog and mist dissipated just enough for us to see the smaller section of falls, which is lit with lights that change colors. We rushed out to get some photos while we could.

Sadly, the largest part of the falls, Horseshoe Falls, was still hidden from view that night and the next morning the entire area was shrouded in fog once more.

We did walk around the main area of the city, which is reminiscent of a tacky Las Vegas. There are enormous signs everywhere, decked in lights, beckoning you inside. There are casinos, game and arcade centers, haunted houses, bowling alleys, eateries, and more packed into a tiny area. It’s a bit odd, to be honest!

In the morning, we packed up, said goodbye to the invisible falls, and traveled two hours to our second and final stop, Toronto.

For me, Toronto was surprisingly vast, without a lot of the typical skyscrapers you’d see in an American metropolis. Most of the high-rise buildings appeared to be housing. The highway system was a bit confusing, as exits came from every direction (even the middle lane), but thank God for GPS! We passed a few sports stadiums and the famous Hockey Hall of Fame, then found a place to park to explore St. Lawrence Market.

St. Lawrence Market is comprised of three areas — the top and bottom floors of one building and the entirety of a building across the street. More than 100 vendors are available to sell products of all sorts. The ground floor featured some fresh food stalls of baked goods or honey and syrup, but most vendors sold non-food items like touristy shirts, trinkets, and woven accessories.

The second floor hosted dozens of food stalls. You could find any sort of meat, vegetable, fruit, cheese, or fish product in vast quantities. Many stalls offered fresh meals as well, such as pizza and pasta, or fried fish and chowder. The smells were pungent, everything was incredibly fresh, and sellers were ready to barter. People were everywhere and it was hard to navigate around at times, so if you’re claustrophobic, you may want to steer clear of the top floor.

After grabbing a quick bite, we said goodbye to the market. Per the recommendation of a friend of mine, Justin and I walked to the Cathedral Church of St. James, a few blocks away from the market. It’s open to the public, so we walked right in and admired the architecture of the Gothic structure. The sanctuary was exceptionally beautiful with it’s high ceilings, weathered pews, and colorful stained glass.

I had wanted to do more in Toronto, such as go up into the CN Tower and visit Ripley’s Aquarium, but the fog destroyed the tower plans and the aquarium was a bit too expensive for our super tight budget at this time. I was disappointed, but I guess it means we just have to go back!

Heading out of the city and back toward home, we stopped at a local mall to get some cheap eats and take a breather before getting on the road once more. The drive felt longer this time, but that could have been the fog. And luckily for us, the border patrol guard letting us back into the U.S. was much more friendly.

Even with the unfortunate weather and limited budget, it was great to get out of the little bubble we live in and travel somewhere new. I’m definitely looking forward to returning in a warmer season!

—K

—Some photos by Justin McKee

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Skin Imperfections? Bah. Who Needs ‘Em…

Guest post by Justin McKee

We all have those days, months, or even years where our faces break out in a flurry of unpleasant skin flaws. This post is going to cover how a photographer would go about fixing those imperfections in Adobe Photoshop.

Oh, no! Isn’t Photoshop bad? Just look at all of those models who are completely touched up to the point that they don’t even look like themselves anymore!

Well, there are do’s and do-nots for many photographers, freelance or corporate.

Personally, I like to edit my photos for color correction and just minor touch-ups on the subject’s skin. I never ever use Photoshop’s liquify tool to change the composition or shape of someone else’s body (unless otherwise requested, but I haven’t thus far).

For Photoshop newbies out there, Photoshop can be used for photos, but it also can be used for drawing and painting. I’ve done a good number of illustrations from scratch just in Photoshop alone with a tablet that hooks up to my computer. No pen and paper involved.

A lot of the tools in Photoshop use brushes and spray paint-esque settings to emulate the real thing. It can be very handy for editing unwanted parts of a photo or adding in your own revisions. I once took a photograph of my friend’s guitar and incorporated a flower and waterfall into the body of the instrument — it’s fun.

So, how does a photographer go about making a zit disappear?

There are a number of ways to fix skin imperfections in Photoshop. There’s a Healing Brush tool that takes pixels that are near the area you want to touch up and uses the color of those pixels to blend the area to create a smooth texture automatically.

There’s also the Clone Stamp tool that takes the texture of an area of your choosing and applies it to wherever you paint with the brush.

You don’t want to overdo it. Getting rid of every wrinkle and crease can really change the composition of someone’s face. Yeah, they might think it’s nice, but there is a certain amount of “truth” that needs to remain in a photograph. If a subject has aged, a portrait should show that to some degree.

Other than the two tools mentioned, Photoshop also can be used to smooth skin subtly (or not so subtly) using different filters and blur techniques. There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube.com that can be followed if you own Photoshop to do this at home.

Again, with the skin smoothing, there is a threshold that I adhere to. You don’t want someone’s skin looking like butter or plastic at the end of the editing session.

Editing photos for skin flaws takes time. Each photo can take anywhere from five minutes to even a half hour to properly edit and get it to perfection. It can be daunting and really drag on, but it’s also a good time to turn on some music and just relax.

The goal with skin correction isn’t to distort someone’s appearance. A photograph is more than just an image on paper, it conveys who someone is. When you look back at your family portraits or photographs of your children, you want the fond memories of them to come to mind — not how bad they looked that day because their skin was acting up.

At the same time, you don’t want to look back at those old photos and see someone that you weren’t expecting.

Again, my ethics for photo corrections may differ from another photographer’s and that is completely OK. I respect other people’s work and their efforts to create great images for their clientele.

At the end of the day, skin correction using Photoshop (or any other image editing program) can be a very helpful tool to make a good image great. It can be overdone, but that is ultimately up to the photographer and the client’s taste.


Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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Build Your Dream Living Room with the Help of Arhaus

The living room is my favorite space in the house. Or in my case, apartment. It’s where I spend the majority of my time, and I do my best making it the coziest and most welcoming area. I love adding shelving, frames that can hold a bunch of my favorite photos, accent pieces like rugs and tables, and cute decor items. It’s also an especially important room because it’s where friends and family gather for special events or simply to just visit, catch up, and relax.

For this post, I’ve teamed up with Arhaus, an upscale home goods and furniture store, (which fortunately has a location near me) to give you a look into my personal dream living room.

I like my furniture to be extremely comfortable, classic, and able to hold more than just a couple of people when entertaining. Something I can stretch out on and take up all the space when I’m alone. Luckily, Arhaus carries a sectional with oversized cushions that caught my eye.

Yep, that’s definitely going into my (imaginary) shopping cart.

To complete this fantasy, I added lighting, decor, end tables, shelving, and some other odds and ends I believe would go well with my setup.

Here’s a look at a style board that brings everything together!

Besides living room necessities, Arhaus also offers items for the dining room, bedroom, home office, and your outdoor living space. They have TONS of stylish options for decor, lighting, bedding, area rugs, and more. The company’s online catalog is so fun to look through!

And when you purchase anything from Arhaus, you can feel good about where your money is going. This company uses natural materials like stone and hardwood, offers organic cotton fabrics, recycles metals and other items to use in their products, and never uses wood from the ever-disappearing rain forests. I can get behind that!

Arhaus is also featuring a giveaway opportunity! When you visit Arhaus.com, make sure to subscribe to the email list which gives you a head’s up on all special offers and sales. Once you do, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a $1,000 gift card during the month you join, and then entered into another drawing for a $2,000 gift card each quarter. Wouldn’t that be awesome to win?

What does your dream living room look like? Share your ideas in the comments, and make sure to check out Arhaus on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!

—K

—Style Board created by Justin McKee

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