Welcome to Homegirls. You'll find a sassy sampling of décor and design tips, frank conversation about everything from holidays and homekeeping to home improvement and our picks and pans of new products, stores and events.

Contributors: Kim Palmer, Lynn Underwood, Connie Nelson, Kim Ode and Nicole Hvidsten.

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Posts about Gardening and landscaping

Eyes on the prize

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: February 27, 2013 - 7:46 AM

You can't miss the media blitz trumpeting this weekend's arrival of the Parade of Homes and the Home & Garden Show, both signs that spring is finally within reach.

The timing couldn't be more perfect. I'm sick of the inside of my house and am ready to focus on the outside, even though the inside is still in desperate need of my attention. I'm ready to throw open the windows, trade my painting tools for garden tools and start dreaming about making my yard into a backyard oasis. When it comes to dreams, I don't mess around. I dream big -- otherwise why bother? -- and I let the dreams stay with me through all the home shows, garden displays and magazine spreads. Reality will kick in soon enough.

Dream 1: The 12x12 cement slab is converted to a huge paved patio -- half of it covered -- that will become our outdoor "living space." Bugs are not allowed, but a fire pit is.

Dream 2: Said patio also includes a living room's worth of furniture, complete with a chair for napping. Outdoor naps are pretty hard to beat. And if my table should all of a sudden appear with legs that aren't corroded, all the better.

Dream 3: We'll say goodbye to our trusty grill to make room for an outdoor kitch

A girl can dream, right?en, complete with a permanent grill and a room for built-in insulated coolers or a refrigerator. Because really, what's the point of having such a nice outdoor area without being able to enjoy your beverage of choice?

A girl can dream, right?

Dream 4: My salsa garden is now a flower bed filled with daisies and some of my other favorite blooms because I now have a larger vegetable garden -- and time in my life to maintain it.

Dream 5: Privacy will become a reality, thanks to the line of shrubs I will plant and the fact that our trees will grow eight feet this spring. Wait, this is a dream: someone else will plant the shrubs for me.

Dream 6: Our past-its-prime siding will be replaced and I will finally paint my front door the turquoise I've been eyeing.

Dream 7: I will be able to maintain my new living space, along with the flower pots, beds, herb garden, etc. the entire summer. I will NOT give up by the end of July.

Do you have spring fever? What are some things you're looking forward to accomplishing this summer? Dream on!

Festive, or past its freshness date?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: January 22, 2013 - 1:17 PM


Driving home last night, on a dark subzero evening, I saw something that made me stop and circle the block for another look.


It was a holiday light display, a fiesta-bright rainbow of color that lit up the lawn. 

Yes, January is more than half over, and most of us have taken down our holiday finery, probably even weeks ago. But this festive remnant in south Minneapolis looked awfully warm and cozy on such a frigid night. It cheered me up, just looking at it.

Most people, me included, are generally sick of holiday decorations by mid-January. Some folks even look askance at those procrastinating slackers who haven't yet gotten around to undecorating.

Are there "rules" about when holiday decor becomes a stale eyesore? One newspaper, the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md., conducted a reader poll. The results: While a majority (55 percent) said they undeck the halls between Jan. 2 and Jan. 6, and almost 29 percent do it even earlier, there was still a good-sized chunk of folks who take their time -- 13.5 percent said "Whenever" and 2.6 percent said "Never." (http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/when-do-you-take-down-your-holiday-decorations/poll_4605187c-5028-11e2-a08c-0019bb2963f4.html)

Most people seem to agree that the Christmas tree, at least, should come down by Twelfth Night (12 days after Christmas). But there seems to be a little more tolerance for outdoor holiday decor that sticks around well past the New Year. Maybe that's especially so here in Minnesota, where January is often too cold, snowy, icy or all-around miserable for mucking around with outdoor decorations.

The Huffington Post took a stab at writing "guidelines" for taking down holiday decor. While holiday-specific decorations like Santas and candy canes should probably come down promptly, more generic winter decor, such as lights, can be left up longer without raising neighbors' eyebrows. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/29/take-down-holiday-decorations_n_1174822.html)

On "Today," Kathie Lee and Hoda also weighed in -- with Hoda confiding that her family once left their decorated tree up until February. (http://www.today.com/id/40819956/site/todayshow/ns/today-today_home_and_garden/t/when-do-you-take-down-christmas-decorations/#.UP7SQWeUBI2)

How about you? Do you have a different timetable for indoor and outdoor holiday decor? And what do you think of neighbors who leave their holiday decorations up until Groundhog's Day?



Homes of the 1 percent

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: December 11, 2012 - 12:05 PM


As a reporter who writes mostly about homes and gardens, I don't get a lot of hate mail or angry phone calls. Nothing like the days when I covered city hall and could expect at least one or two a day.


Life is calmer, but I have  sometimes wondered if anyone -- other than my mother -- is reading my stories at all, or just glancing at the pretty pictures.

But homes, in this economy, are a lot more controversial than they used to be. Just this week, the Star Tribune published two letters from readers critical of the Homes section. Here's today's:  "Opening this section makes me sick. I am usually not a bitter person, but I can only wonder how anyone can afford this stuff." (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/letters/182904101.html)

I also fielded a few annoyed phone calls last month when we published a story about pianist Lorie Line's $4 million lakeshore mansion, and then, three days later, a story about it heading into foreclosure. (www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/179217631.html)

Featuring rich people's houses is "rubbing it in readers' noses" that they will never live like that, one caller told me.

For what it's worth, we do try to feature a mix of houses -- big and small, expensive and modest -- as well as overall home-related trends that affect everyone. When we do have a grandiose home in our section, we try to balance it with another story about something more accessible.

Before the recession, big, expensive homes rarely generated comment. And their owners were, on the whole, happy to share them with readers.

The faltering economy changed that dramatically. Affluent homeowners got a lot more reluctant to showcase their affluence when so many others were struggling. When we did feature a big, expensive house, we got a lot more negative feedback. 

Last week, I had lunch with a freelance writer who told me she's changing her focus. "I can't write about rich peope's houses anymore," she said. 

Me, I'm still fascinated by all the spaces we call "home" and the people who create them. I love the quirky starving artists' homes and the freedom they feel to glue rocks to their woodwork and paint murals on their ceilings. I love the elegant old mansions, and the sleek modern dwellings. I even loved the "punk house" I wrote about a few years ago, where a bunch of young musicians were staging shows in their filthy basement.

How about you? Are you sick of seeing homes that you can't personally afford? Or do you like peeking inside all kinds of homes?


Year in review, home-improvement style

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: November 28, 2012 - 8:13 AM

With the end of the year quickly approaching, we're constantly reading about the year's best this-and-that. At the Star Tribune we're talking about our year-end stories, and the Christmas letters are starting to come with everyone's annual wrap-ups.

Me? I'm starting to take stock of the year in terms of home-improvement projects. And, in the spirit of the season, I'll do it holiday-letter style:

Dear friends,

It's been a wild ride at the Hvidsten house this year. Believe it or not, we had another sump pump incident this spring. I know, right? I've  sworn off carpet in the lower level, and we're still missing half of a wall on one side of the basement. Baseboards need to be restained and put up again, but at least we're getting good at disaster recovery!

For those wondering if I've decided which color to paint my accent wall in the living/dining area, the answer is a big no! Yup, there are still swatches painted on the walls, now going on about three or four years. I've lost count! We've grown to love our eclectic look, but this still remains near the top of my wish list of things to accomplish. But now the surrounding walls need to be painted, so we just upgraded the project from minor to major. It's good to have goals!!

The kids are busy with all of their activities, but thanks to Papa, we now have cubbies in the garage for all the sports equipment (which are sadly ignored most of the time). I've attempted to hang hooks alongside the shelves, but have yet to find something that can withstand the weight of a softball or hockey bag. Something to work on for 2013!

Our year was also filled with accomplishments: I finally cracked open my electric sander; the tree we planted THISCLOSE to our house when it was a seedling was finally transplanted; the clematis now have real trellises to climb; the clothesline was restrung; the piles in the office are gone and, thanks to my love of all things organizational, are neatly filed. I could go on!

I hope your 2012 was full of home-improvement successes. Looking to next year -- can you believe the year's almost over? -- we hope to do some landscaping projects, tackle that basement, experiement with beadboard and perhaps choose a paint color or two.

May your holiday season be filled with fun and fan decks,


His chores, her chores

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: November 13, 2012 - 11:06 AM


Last Saturday -- warm and sunny -- was a perfect day to get those last outdoor chores out of the way before winter descended on us.

So I rented a chainsaw and went to work on the buckthorn that stubbornly continues to erupt in our back yard. My husband spent the time cleaning out the cars.

Chainsawing has become my wifely duty, mainly because I'm the one who cares about eradicating buckthorn. The first time I rented a saw, a couple of years ago, I was nervous that I wouldn't be strong enough to control the machine -- without slicing off one of my feet or fingers. I was game to try, but slightly annoyed that my husband wasn't rising to the manly challenge of battling invasive species.

But as I've gotten more comfortable wielding a chainsaw, I've also found it increasingly satisfying to buzz through unwanted shrubs in a fraction of the time it used to take with a handsaw. 

When I was finished Saturday, my husband offered to return the saw while I treated the freshly cut stumps. When he got home, he was chuckling. "The guy asked me how it had worked for me," he said. "I told him I didn't know because my wife had done all the work. He just looked at me, raised his eyebrows and said, 'How'd you manage that?'"

The comment got me thinking about household chores, who does what and why. Apart from my chainsaw fetish, our division of labor falls into pretty traditional patterns. He mows the lawn. I do the cooking. He does more of the shoveling and raking, while I do more of the laundry. We've never really planned or even discussed this chore allocation. It just sort of happened.

The icky chores that neither of us likes, say cleaning the bathroom or the refrigerator, are the ones we tend to share and tackle together.

The "chore wars" got a lot of press back in the '90s, when worn-out working wives were urging their hubbies to step it up on the homefront. But years later, many of us are still grappling with chores and gender, judging from recent studies. 

One study earlier this year claimed that couples who share household chores are more likely to get divorced (!)  


And another found that women, on average, spend three hours each week redoing chores that their husbands supposedly "completed." 


What's the story on chores in your household? Who does what -- and why?





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