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midwesterner love: kim of knoed creative

September 14, 2016

kimknoll1Quick story: At my last job, I happened upon a rebranding proposal pitched to one of our clients by a Chicago-based branding agency named Knoed.

Hopefully you know this by now, but I’m kind of an art and design nerd. So here I am, at work, flipping through this gorgeous graphic design book created by this awesome company and I’m dumbstruck.

There’s just something in me that lights up when I see people doing incredible creative work. Whenever I run into someone that strikes me like that, I’m nearly compelled to reach out and introduce myself. And that’s exactly what I did–I reached out to Kim Knoll and said if they were ever looking for a copywriter, I’d love to help.

While she didn’t take me up on that specific offer, we did end up reconnecting later when I asked if she would be willing to be interviewed for this blog.

Now, full disclosure, this post is long. But it’s juicy. And inspirational. And I’d love to continue creating pieces like this because THESE are the people that give me life and fuel. They’re the incredible, creative people doing awesome things in the Midwest–something that I personally believe gets overlooked when people think of the heartland.

But enough of my babbling. Without further ado (as they say), please say hello to Kim of Knoed Design…

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


I went to school for graphic design. I always knew I wanted to be a designer, even in high school. I was in a lot of art programs and my teacher told me to pursue graphic design based on my style and what I liked doing in class. Though, it really wasn’t a hot thing to do at the time.

I’m kind of a planner, so when I went to college, I started working part time as a receptionist at a design firm to try and get a feel for graphic design to make sure it’s what I wanted to be doing. Because you’re going to college for 4-6 years, and I thought to myself, ‘What if I get out and I don’t like any of this?’ Ultimately, I was able to see the behind the scenes, which I really enjoyed, so I pursued it.

I completed college in 6 years and left Chicago as soon as I graduated. I just picked up and moved to Arizona, where I lived and worked as a designer for the first 3 years of my career. I started out as an in-house marketer for a senior citizen fitness program, where I designed tape and CD cassette covers and posters for really bad senior citizen materials. It’s not glamorous whatsoever, though it makes a great story now and I gained a lot of the skills I needed to eventually get a better job.

From there I went to a graphic design studio for about 6 months, where I did quite a bit of boutique client work, which I really enjoyed.

However, I was homesick and wanted to come back to Chicago. So I came back and got a job as a designer at Tom, Dick and Harry Creative Company. Really great people. I would say David Yang completely turned my career around. They were producing really great work, and my book wasn’t the best at the time, but I was really eager to learn and just needed someone to give me a chance and take me under their wing, and he did. I was there for a little under 2 years and we worked our asses off, creating a ton of different things, and my portfolio did a complete 180. I feel like that was a pivotal point in my career; when I started to produce better work. I understood things better. I got more passionate about it.

Those guys were really great. The only reason I left was because advertising just wasn’t my thing and they did more of that then branding and print. And I really wanted to get into a design studio where there was a greater focus on identity work and things like that.

So I left Tom, Dick and Harry and went to a shop called BrainForest, that no longer exists. I was there for about a year, doing print and web for boutique companies. However, you could tell the company wasn’t doing so well. So I left and went to this place called Jones–a really small ad and boutique identity shop–and I worked there as a senior designer for a year. But I could tell they were ready to sell to someone bigger. And at that point, I had experience, felt ready to take on my own clients, and really wanted to work on projects from beginning to end. So that’s when I left to start freelancing.

I’d been working 6 years total when I became a freelancer. And I did that for a year. At the time I was freelancing, my husband Kyle was also freelancing. We were working back to back in the second bedroom of our house, but we each had our own clients. Our own agendas. We were competing for work. It was kind of silly. Then, we started helping each other out. If he was too busy, I would take some of his work and visa versa. We made a really great team, which led us to the realization that we should combine portfolios and start a company together, with one name and clients we both worked on. And that’s when we started Knoed, about 5 years ago.

Eventually we got enough money to rent desks at a co-working space, where we worked for about a year. It was a really great setup and nice baby steps leading up to renting a studio of our own, which we eventually did and are still here 3 years later.

Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


Well, I met Kyle when I was in my second to last year of college. I went to school with his younger sister who was in the design program with me. He would come up to visit his sister, and since we were friends, we would all be hanging out with these big groups of people. At some point, he noticed me and that’s how we met—through his sister.

I immediately knew he was amazing. And we ended up having a fling for four months–every time he would visit his sister, we’d hang out. Then I’d drive down to Champaign and hang out with him. It got to the point—he didn’t have a car—and we were entering our last year in school and shit was just nuts with our projects and studio time. And we’re thinking, ‘What are we doing? Are we going to take this seriously or not?’ and ultimately we both decided to call it off. We graduated, I moved to Arizona and I didn’t talk to him for 3 or 4 years.

Then, when I was working at that in-house marketing job, I got an email from an old roommate of mine. She said Kyle was trying to find me and forwarded me his email, so I wrote him back. We were both single and started talking over email, and then phone—just catching up and basically getting back together.

I flew home for Christmas, we met up and spent the whole day together. And I knew I really wanted to be with him, but I didn’t want to move back to Chicago just to be with a guy.

So I head back to Arizona, walk up to my apartment and see a big notice on my door saying they’re turning our apartments into condos and my lease, which would end in two months, would not be renewed. That same week, my best friend told me she was moving to Seattle in two weeks. And then the company I was working for—the boutique design firm—ended up going under. Essentially, within a month’s time I didn’t have a place to live, I got let go of my job and my best friend moved. Taking these things as signs I should not be there anymore, I packed up whatever I could fit in my car, drove back to Illinois and moved in with my mom to save some money. I got the job at Tom, Dick and Harry two days after I moved back, then Kyle and I started dating for real. Six months later, Kyle and I bought a house together and three years later we got married.

Knoed Creative


In the beginning, it was a little harder because we were both working out of our house and it was tough having your work and home all in one place–we never got a visual separation from the two. And you know how you’re at work too long and you start getting agitated by it? We were feeling that a lot. So as soon as we got desks at the co-working space, it helped create a visual division between work and home. We would get out of our PJs, get dressed and go to place with normal working hours. And when it was time to leave work, we would physically leave it and come home and chill as a couple, which really helped.

Another thing that’s helped is to define very specific roles, so we don’t step on each other’s toes and we can create stuff that we can own. While we’re both designers and do all the work 50/50, Kyle does a lot of new business–he’ll do all the proposals, writing people back about inquiries, billing and bookkeeping. And I do a lot of the scheduling, client management, social media, entering our work into things, or writing students back about questions they have and stuff like that. And then when it comes to design, Kyle manages most of the web design projects and I manage most of the print design. It really helps that he does his thing and I do mine, but we come together for brainstorming or critiquing, things like that.



When we first started out we would take anything we could get. We would do anything. If someone wanted a logo, package, website, we would say yes. But we realized we were constantly creating new relationships and bringing some new designer on board just to do a logo, and then that designer would go away. Plus, it was a lot of work trying to get to know someone and their business. And we were getting really tired of constantly pitching new people. We also realized we would rather build a design identity from scratch, rather than being handed a pre-existing identity.

All of these things led us to focus more on branding because we could form one relationship and get 5-10 projects with that person and do everything; it’s all your vision. We only showed branding work in our portfolio in hopes it would start to attract more people interested in branding and 360 identity work, and it did.

Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


It’s love/hate. It gets lonely for sure. I’m the kind of person where I need to talk during the day. I can’t sit at my desk all day, but Kyle can. I also miss being able to bullshit with a coworker or go out to lunch, because it’s not something we do. But collaborating? Kyle’s one of the best people I’ve ever collaborated with, so I don’t feel like there’s anything lacking in that. It’s always fun to collaborate in a big group, but I feel like I still get that here—even if its just him and I. It gets a little lonely sometimes.



I got to the point of trusting my opinion right before I started Knoed.

Luckily, as far as design goes, both David (at Tom, Dick and Harry) and Scott Manee (my boss at JONES) taught me how to get out of my head, put it to the side and start over, and just keep doing that. I would get my work done pretty fast and we’d still have a couple days before the presentation. And they’d be like,”That’s great, but what else could it be?” So I’d start over or try to push the idea further. They just drilled that mentality into me.

Now, being on my own, I just automatically keep doing that and I almost feel like there’s a CD (creative director) over me saying, “That’s great, but lets see what else you have,” because I’m so used to hearing that. And I’ll tell Kyle the same thing: “That’s great, but what else do you have?” So we’re always pushing each other and then we’ll narrow it down to the best ideas from that pile.

In our position, we just have to trust what we’ve done. But, we’re also at a point in our careers where we can [trust what we’ve done] because we’ve been doing it for 12 years now and the more you do graphic design–practice graphic design–the better and faster you get and the more ideas you have. At least, that’s how it is for us.

Design is less of a struggle that it used to be. And it used to be a struggle, but then, if you keep doing it over and over, you get better and you get there.

Interview with Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


There was nothing out in Arizona. There were no good [design] firms. No good work. It was just a ton of corporations who needed in-house designers. There was no community for artists or designers, which was one of the reasons I left. But I think here [in Chicago], there’s a huge community. I have a lot of friends who own their own studios or work at some of the big ones.

As far as getting work, I feel like there’s more than enough to go around. We get inquiries all the time that we say no to because it’s not a good fit for us, so that work goes to someone else. Luckily we don’t have a problem getting work, and I think it’s because we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve made a lot of connections, our website is out there and our clients come back, which leads to a lot of repeat work.

One of the negatives I’ve noticed, however, is that you seem to hear about the same creatives over and over again. I don’t know why, but it seems as if there’s 20-30 people that I hear their name in a lot of exhibitions and things like that. There are so many great people doing great work and they’re not being recognized, and I wish there was more of an opportunity to uncover those people instead of recognizing the same people over and over again.

But that said, there is Creative Mornings




Swiss Miss launched Creative Mornings out in NY in about 2008. She was just doing it for Studiomates (her co-working space/office) to bring someone in and inspire the office and her team. Eventually more and more people wanted to attend, and she started getting venues to host these speakers so that more people could attend. Then someone from Studiomates moved—to Sweden or Stockholm—and wanted to bring it out there. So he requested a guidebook and that’s when she put the whole thing together. And that was the 2nd chapter, now there are over 130 chapters worldwide.

Chicago was #5 and started back in 2011, when Mig Reyes (a designer at Basecamp) applied to start the chapter. He ran it for a year and a half, but wanted to teach at Starter League and didn’t have the time to balance both. Kyle and I happened to be speaking at Creative Mornings in 2012 and he asked us at the end of 2012 if we wanted to take it over. And me, being the planner I am, was stoked about the opportunity. We officially took over Creative Mornings in February of 2013 and we’ve been doing it ever since–over 3 years now.

Because Knoed is just the two of us, Creative Mornings is a nice way to get out and just talk with people; get in the inboxes of some really great people and get a peek inside their minds. And I really love the vibe Creative Mornings gives off. I like that it’s free. I love seeing all the people there every month. I like that there’s no catch.  You just kind of go and get inspired. And I was a huge fan of it before we were speakers at it—we would just go and sit in the audience–so it was a no brainer to keep it going.

One of my favorite parts is in the morning, I say, “Okay everyone, we’re going to started in 5 minutes and in those 5 minutes I want you to turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself,” and you can hear the room go from this silent buzzing to this big boom, as everyone turns around and the chatter goes way up. And every month that makes my heart skip a beat.

In the beginning, when Mig hosted, there were a lot of designers that would attend and speak. It was almost strictly for designers. So, naturally, it drew that crowd. But about two years ago, Creative Mornings HQ came out with themes for every month to better unite all the chapters. And once we started getting those, it pushed us to start thinking ‘Who would be good for this theme?’ and look outside of the graphic design community.

Since the start of those themes, we’ve had architects, tattooists, toymakers, obviously graphic designers, murals, street artists, photographer, filmmakers…all kinds of people.

Right now the audience seems very mixed–it’s designers, photographers, a lot of creative directors. And then we have people like knitters; people in the textile artists. We have people that are in college all the way up to age 55 who come. And then you have people who aren’t professionally creative at all, but have creativity in them and attend to get that part out. Really, it’s all different lives and ages now.



I think what I love about Chicago is that there’s such a utilitarian, hardworking, rugged work ethic here. And I think it shows in a lot of the visuals. Just going downtown you see a lot of the old, hand-painted brick walls from businesses that no longer exist. And it’s all weathered. That whole feeling is in a lot of design in our community, and in a lot of things that inspire us.

There’s this whole movement to go back to hand-painted signs, and every designer is having their logo or mural put up on a brick wall now and it’s kind of like the new Chicago; the new old.

We [at Knoed] have a very minimal, almost European aesthetic, but then we like texture. We always apply some sort of texture to whatever it is we’re working on. And I think those textures are inspired by being here–seeing things that aren’t pristine; are a little worn and have some authenticity to them. For me, when I look at a design book, I can tell–without even looking where the designer is from–what’s generally done in the Midwest versus the East versus the West. Because I think we totally have a style here, or at least a look.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


I just like going to a park and lying down on a blanket and staring at the sky. I know it sounds really cheesy, but it really helps me clear my head. I’m an outdoor person, so being outside is just a great feeling for me–not in the winter, because its freezing, but when it’s warmer. A lot of ideas come to me when I’m outside–when I’m at a park or walking my dog. When you’re on autopilot, it allows you to think about whatever you’re working on; it’s in the back of your head. A lot of my ideas come out that way.

I know for Kyle, his ideas come out in the shower. We even have a waterproof notepad in the shower for him to jot ideas down on.

There isn’t necessarily a specific place, but we try to do these things we call “Mental Health Days” and go to the MCA or gallery—somewhere with artwork or sign work—to get inspired.



We get into work around 10am. Usually on Mondays we’ll have a status meeting, where we’ll go over what each person is working on and the plan for the week. Then, I usually have to go through emails from 10 to noon–I have a lot of emails to go through. Same with Creative Mornings–I try to get that stuff done by noon.

From noon till about 6 or 7pm, I just do design work and client management kind of stuff.

I’m sure Kyle’s day probably looks different than that, but we’re pretty much at our desks all day, working. And if we’re not at our desks, we’re out at a meeting, learning about someone’s project or presenting our work. But for the most part we’re here.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


When I’m in brainstorming mode, I sketch in my sketchbook. Even if I’m brainstorming a website design, I like to sketch out ideas before I go to a computer. And there’s a couple things that we do that are hand-drawn, so I’m doing that too. But for the most part it’s sketches, or I’ll sit at the worktable just brainstorming.



Work never turns off. We’ll be out at dinner on a Saturday night, and it’s really romantic, and then the conversation will turn to improving our process. It doesn’t ever turn off and we’re okay with that, because we really love what we do. And when it’s your business, all you want to do is work on it and make it better. And its just him and I; it’s all up to us. When we leave the office, it feels good and we can go home and chill out, but there’s so many times where we have to talk about work even if we aren’t at work.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


We’ve intentionally stayed small. We really like this niche that we’re in. We’re bigger than freelancers, but smaller than a Firebelly. We’re the ones who talk to and do the work for our clients, and there’s not too many places out there like that, so I think there’s something that makes us different in that way. And we still like doing the design work.

A year or two ago, we had one employee for about a year, but it turned us into managers, where we were trying to bring in work to keep that designer busy. And Kyle was starting to jump on more of the biz side of things than the design side, so then it was up to me and that other designer. And Kyle and I work so well together, but with that additional designer, things started changing, and not in a way that we wanted them to change. So we ended up having to let that person go because we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were doing a good job of what we were doing, but we weren’t happy. So we just had to make that call.

I think we would probably grow, but we’re just not ready for that. And whenever we do, we have to make that commitment that we’re going to step back from the design. Because as soon as we start hiring, we’re going to have to be the managers of everything.

But I do think at some point we’ll get there because we’ll be burned out.



I would hope my legacy would be inspiring people to be true to themselves, with what they want in their career or life, and having the courage to go get it. That’s why I love CreativeMornings so much, and why I put so much of myself into organizing these events. Sometimes all it takes is to hear someone speak to something you’re struggling with or be inspired by another person’s journey, to put a fork in your road and choose a different path…one that leads to changing you and your life forever. I believe staying true to who you are—no matter what anyone expects of you—is the only way to experience true happiness.



I talk to a lot of students through Creative Mornings and Knoed and I’ve noticed there’s almost this feeling of entitlement. Young designers think they can just graduate, get a job and be put in a vice president position at the age of 23. And I just want to say: be prepared to be at the bottom of the totem pole and stay there for a few years. Work on really shitty projects and work your way up the ladder. It takes a lot of work and a lot of patience, but you have to put in that time if you want to go somewhere.

A lot of people are eager to get the best title or the best job right away, but if you did that, what do you have to look forward to? You’re going to be working for 4o years, till your 60? 65? So if you get that title in your 20s, then what? I guess you could start a company and go that route too, but there’s nothing wrong starting out as an in-house designer working on senior citizen materials. It doesn’t mean that’s shaping or dictating who you are as a designer. You can always start over. I had a great portfolio coming out of college and a terrible portfolio after two years of this profession. But you can keep working on things on the side, get into a great job and then you can throw all that shitty work out and start over.

Keep going after what you want. You’ll get there, but you have to put that time and effort into it. And have patience.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


For my younger self, I would tell myself…that’s hard. I think it’s very similar. Because I was one of those people who felt entitled. I would go to interviews and think I was the shit like, “Isn’t this work great?” and expect a job. I had a really hard time and my ego got bruised, but I think it was a really good thing.

It’s hard when you’re in school and your professors are telling you you’re good, then you win a scholarship and an award at this show–it’s really hard to keep your ego in check. But then you get out into the real world and it’s not like that at all. There are so many great people doing great things out there and you’re just one in a million. So you have be a little more humble.

I would say I should’ve been more humble then I was.



I think so. I feel really fortunate. I’m really happy with the kind of work we [Kyle and I] get. And we put our heart into everything we do, but we work a lot of hours to get things to where they are.

I feel really fulfilled, and this is by far the best job I’ve ever had. And the longest. I also have things to look back on and compare it to. That older adult fitness program, I could be working on stuff like that. But when I stop and I think about being able to work on Tru Studio or Hannas Bretzel, it’s so great. And it’s people we love working with, work that we love doing and businesses we love supporting. I feel great about all of that. I only hope that we can keep working on that kind of stuff because there are always people out there who are better than you, and could take that client out from under you. So we just feel happy with where we are now and hope it keeps up.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


Water fountain.



That’s a toss up. I’m going to say thin crust.



Stop light.


Via our portfolio. Or on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (@knoedcreative) LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you Kim! And side note, sorry it took me so long to get this published, but super happy I finally did. To all you readers: please comment with any further questions or anything this interview sparked. I’d love to know! // P.S. This interview has been edited for clarity & time. // P.P.S. All the beautiful images were pulled from

Educate Life

Natural Fix: How to Get Rid of A Planter’s Wart

June 23, 2016

Fast, Cheap and Natural Way to Get Rid of Planter's Warts (for good)Okay, we’re going to get a bit gross here.

Talking, planters warts.

It’s not pretty, people. I know, I know. But this issue drove me NUTS virtually everyone will have at least one (if not several) planters wart in their lifetime. FUN!

Basically, the odds are not in your favor.

Little bit of backstory/personal antidote: my mom is the quintessential midwestern woman. My dad’s from the Chicago area and we traveled a lot, which means I’d like to think I have a healthy mix of the big town attitude with small town upbringing. Well, like any solid midwestern woman, my mom was thrifty. Before she had us (her three kids), my dad said she was obsessed with Mother Earth News and would try and make everything, including trying to make ketchup from the tomatoes in her garden (no clue why, but they always bring this up as example of how hippie my mom can be). Props to her!

Well, her thriftiness and penchant for natural solutions has definitely been passed onto me as an adult. Again, I probably have a healthy mix of both natural and unnatural solutions, but when I find a Mother Nature-approved remedy? I’ll always down.

Okay. End of antidote.

Basically, what I’m saying is I tried to get rid of my planters wart the Big City way. I applied wart stick to the warts.


I went to a foot doctor, recommended by my primary care physician. On average, with insurance, every appointment was $25. Not bad, but that ish adds up! I saw my foot doctor a few years ago, maybe 7 or so times, before my wedding. Supposedly the wart was gone by then, so I breathed a sigh of relief, got married, honeymooned, came back, switched jobs and all of a sudden…that sucker was back! Not sure how it came back, but it was there. And so I continued with the wart stick and returned to the doctor.

Fast forward about 10+ sessions, and even though the wart was “shrinking”–according to my doctor–it still wasn’t gone. What’s worse is there was a crater in my foot–this ugly hole that kept trying to heal, but kept getting re-damaged by all the additional visits to the foot doctor.

I’ve been trying to save money (summer goal for real!) and decided that I needed to take a break from seeing the foot doc and try to treat it by myself. Clearly, the wart was still there and I was no less richer for it.

After a quick Google search, I found hundreds of people singing the praises of–wait for it–a banana peel, as an at-home remedy for curing warts. Sure there were a few (super disgusting) photos to prove it, and hundreds of great reviews, but I was skeptical. Mainly because I had been living with this wart on and off for nearly 5 years at that point (the first year I didn’t know it was a wart and thought it was a stubborn sliver). But, I gave it a go.

I religiously applied a small piece of (inner) banana peel to my wart every morning and/or evening, put a bandaid over it and left it there. When I remembered, I would change it out that evening or the next morning, depending on when I first placed it. There were a few times I didn’t change the bandaid for over a day, and a few times I had no banana peel on it and just bandaid.

I’ll spare you any gross pictures because, um, ew, but this is roughly what happened:

  • Week One: Fairly religiously placing banana peel on, with bandaid.
  • Week Two: Toward the beginning of the week, the wart area started to turn brown. I assumed it was some sort of natural banana peel stain (though in retrospect it might’ve been killing off the wart) and just pulled or scraped away any peeling skin around the area.
  • Week Three: The brown area’s gone, all the remaining layers of skin have been peeled back and now it looks like new skin is growing…I throw a bit of wart stick on it to be safe.
  • Week Four: There is nothing on my foot. The scarred area where the wart once was is now made up of new skin. Essentially, the underside of my foot looks like a normal foot. I’m skeptical. I keep a bandaid on it, until I can get a second opinion from my dad.
  • Second opinion: They’re gone!

And that is only based on what I remembered. Tbh, I remember the wart basically being gone within two weeks.

Maybe everyone’s a bit different, but this method seems to work on most people. And trust me, even though I’m big into healthy eating and being as natural and thrifty as possible, even I was skeptical.

I mean, a banana peel vs. science/freezing it off?

But I promise you, it worked.

If you want to try this at home, I recommend this:

  • Cut a small piece of banana peel to cover the area.
  • Apply a bandage over it to hold it in place. The best time of day to do this is definitely at night, where you can sleep while it works it’s natural magic.
  • Change it out for a new banana peel the next day, at the same time *or* swap it out for a fresh bandaid in the AM.
  • Keep at it religiously, for a few weeks at least.

Any who, I know this was gross, but I wish someone would’ve shared this with me. It would’ve saved me a shit ton of money and frustration.

DIY Educate

Creative U: How to Set Up a WordPress Blog

March 30, 2016

Blogging 101Why do my eyes look so small? Hell if I know. And I promise I’m not skowling in this pic. Resting bitch face maybe? Or I was just super tired…hence the coffee.

Alright. So. NEW SERIES! Get excited!

I feel like I keep having the same convo over and over again with blogging newbies or ladies interesting in starting a blog.

Honestly, why does anyone start a blog?

For me it was to serve as one voice for the modern midwesterner–fight back against all the people who talk shit on the midwest. It frustrated me to hear people talking about us being backwards, cheese-obsessed hicks (though, of course I love my grilled cheese), when I know how many interesting, healthy-cooking, ceramic-making, good-food-baking, doing-cool-shit folks are rockin’ it out here.

Which is why I want to show you how to properly establish your own WordPress blog (if you don’t already know how to). And not just a “buy a URL, try it on WordPress” type post. I mean a legit step-by-step info post. That’s why I’m starting this little “Creative U” series–to share all the digital knowledge and know-how I’ve learned over the past few years during my freelance and personal projects. Hopefully it can help you start a business or blog, or just learn a few new creative skills.

Hope you enjoy! And if you have any questions or need anything answered, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll try to get back to you boo.

create a unique name

If you already have a name or run a business, you can skip this step. If not, don’t take naming your biz or blog lightly. This will be your calling card. I’ve had 2 other blogs before midwest love fest and learned how quickly you can outgrow a blog name. Of course midwest love fest isn’t a prescriptive name (which is kind of how I wanted it to be, since the midwest lifestyle is just that–a lifestyle, which is how I wanted this blog to be), but if you know the precise subjects you want to cover, try to come up with a unique, yet semi-straightforward way to explain that to any new visitors.

For example, if you’re a plant enthusiast who also likes baking and that’s what your content will mainly feature, you could try Alterations or rhyming names are always especially memorable. Just make sure to check if your URL is available first, and avoid any names that will kill your search results (anything that starts with “GOO” …is probably not going to be best, as Google kind of owns the combo of those 3 letters) or are similar to any other already-established blogs.

purchase your name

If you’re running a hobby blog and don’t necessarily plan on making it a business, this may not be necessary. But if you’re running a business or want to run your blog as a business in the future, make sure to secure your name legally.

why wordpress?

While I’m writing this post specifically for setting up a WordPress-based theme, I’ll go ahead and mention the alternatives: Blogger, WIX and Squarespace.


I’ll mention Blogger because it’s technically an option, but I don’t know anyone who’s on Blogger who hasn’t transferred over to WordPress. Blogger is a Google-based application, and while it’s great if you’re starting a diary-like blog, if you’re running a blog you want people to see, Blogger isn’t so good. It provides limited customizations and outdated UX (user design).


WIX is a step up from Blogger, but was still considered one of the early, easy blogging options. That said, I now consider it a tad outdated. Though they’ve made recent improvements (Wix’s themes look a lot cleaner and more professional), visitors to WIX sites can always tell they’re WIX sites because of the recognizably clunky design. And if your visitors can name the platform you’re using to host your blog, it detracts from the blog itself.


Squarespace has beautiful advertising and beautiful UX. Plus, I love what they stand for–clean, creative and professional-looking websites that anyone–from those with no experience to web experts–can set up. Squarespace and WIX are similar in that way: they’re very plug and play.

If I had to choose between WIX and Squarespace, I would choose Squarespace because WIX (IMO) is still too behind the times. However, Squarespace is pretty damn expensive. Frustratingly, the easiest way to set up a site on Squarespace is to purchase the URL through Squarespace. And the only way to host the site is through Squarespace. This is great for some people because it’s very simple and a total “all in one” service, but if you want the ability to buy and host your site however or wherever you want, you’re SOL. Additionally, Squarespace only offers a certain number of templates to choose from and the templates are not very flexible. So if you ever wanted to go in and add something down the line–good luck.

Alright, now that I’ve at least addressed WordPress’ competitors, I’m going to be blunt: I’m very passionate about using WordPress and this is why: they offer thousands upon thousands of design options + flexible editing (if you ever grow your blog and want a professional designer to step in, you can easily do that) + flexible hosting (since you can either host through WordPress or another domain service like A Small Orange). IMO, this makes WordPress the best option for anyone who wants a clean look, with the flexibility to grow and change everything from the look to the hosting service (ps obvii WordPress doesn’t pay me to say this, I just really believe in the “product”…thoughhh I wish they’d pay me for all the times I talk them up!).

set up hosting

If you’re going ahead with WordPress, you’re going to want to choose a hosting service. I’ve used two different hosting services between six different blogs, and personally recommend A Small Orange. My perception is that it’s a bit of an indie hosting service, or at least that’s how the company makes me feel. They’re available at nearly all hours of the day and have personally helped me set up WordPress on the backend of my blog. Because, yes, even I still get quite confused when it comes to all that cloud/server business. Plus, their options are relatively cheap (keep an eye out around the holidays, when they’ll be more likely to throw around sales and discounts), my hosting runs smoothly (much smoother than previous hosting services), they have clean UX and they run tons of great sales throughout the year.

installing wordpress on your server

Okay, now that you’re hosting on A Small Orange, let’s get crackin’ on the install front.

Don’t be intimidated by this step. Use A Small Orange’s WordPress Install Guide and WordPress’ Installation page. And never hesitate to chat or email your hosting service’s customer service–no matter how you host your blog, they should be a good asset.

And because I’m not a total asshole, here’s a couple WordPress installation guides from a few other popular companies:

finding + installing a wordpress theme

Now the fun begins! I’m kind of a theme whore. Swear, I change up my theme like once a year. There are just so many options to choose from, it’s hard to commit to one.

That said, I’ve searched HIGH and freakin’ low for good quality themes, and here are a few of my favorite places to check out if you’re in the market:

  • Theme Forest : this is a big one. If you want a variety of themes, an easy/reliable payment process (and a variety of prices), check out Theme Forest.
  • Creative Market : this is another major site to check out. Both Theme Forest and Creative Market source themes and graphics from different designers and developers, which means both are worth a look-see.
  • Studiopress : Super sleek options are available on this site, which basically means I’m obsessed with it. This might’ve been where I also found Foodie, which is the best theme I’ve found for sharing, collecting and organizing recipes (HIGHLY recommend for food bloggers–it was the last theme I used, before getting antsy and updating to this one).
  • Etsy : Yes, Etsy is another great resource for finding WordPress themes. The only downside I’ve found is that the development isn’t as sturdy, which means that the themes aren’t always as flexible or don’t work as smoothly as themes from more established sites.

Once you’ve chosen and purchased a theme, the developer will provide you with instructions and support to help you install it. However, speaking in general terms, you will download the theme to your computer. Then, go to your WordPress dashboard > Appearance > Themes > Install Theme and upload. From there, you can experiment with “customization” to get a few colors and such changed.


I know that’s a TON of information, but I swear that’s the nittiest, grittiest part. It’s all … smooth-ish sailing from there on out, ha. In my next post I’ll dive into the WordPress Plugins I recommend you download first, and a bit of the HTML + CSS coding you can easily do on your own to better customize your sidebar.

Per usz, let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below.

Educate Life

Puppy Love: 12 Must-Haves to Puppy-Proof Your Place

October 5, 2015

puppy proofing your place | midwestlovefestKero was a happy accident. Though I’ve been around–and helped raise–dogs my whole life, it’s a totally different situation a) caring for a puppy in the city, b) caring for a puppy in an apartment and c) loading up on all the supplies you need, sans parents.

puppy proofing your placeSo while I knew the little things I might need (or need to do), I didn’t really have much of anything when he came home with me. Luckily, I did a quick Petco run, spoke to my mom (the unofficial dog expert in my life) and now have my bases covered.

Of course, as I’ve learned from having Kero, everyone has a different way of disciplining, training and caring for their dogs. So take my recommendations with a grain of salt and always do what you feel is best. However, these are a few tactics that have worked for Kero and for the 7 dogs my parents have owned since I’ve been born, so…. #justsayin.

puppy proofing your placeWithout further ado, here’s what I recommend as a mini starter kit to brining home your new four-legged friend:

  1. tummy-friendly chews: I don’t recommend giving your pooch a bone to chew on until they are at least 6 months or older. However, while Kero is teething, I’ve found these vet-approved, teeth cleaning chews to be a godsend.
  2. treats: Of course you’re going to need to reward your pup when they go to the bathroom outside (and not on your hardwood floors), or lure them into the crate when it’s time for you to run errands. Just make sure to watch how they react to the treats, and try not to give them too many, since a puppy’s stomach can be extra sensitive.
  3. poop bags: In the city, there’s no way around it — you’re going to have to scoop that poop. I love these biodegradable Earth Rated poop bags because if you’re going to be throwing away poop two or more times a day, it’s important that you’re not just adding more to the landfill.
  4. kong: I’m OBSESSED with these toys. If you have a teething pup, again, these are incredible. I have one in a large size and a small size, and I fill them with peanut butter and/or a few bits of dog food and then freeze it in the freezer so it lasts longer. Keeps Kero occupied for 30-45 minutes.
  5. bitter apple: Your pup is going to get into things they shouldn’t. For example, Kero loves pulling on his leash or biting on the edge of the fabric couch. Spray a bit of bitter apple on it, and they’ll leave it be.
  6. foot/water bowls: This almost goes without saying, but they’re so cute I thought I’d include them. Many people prefer the standard metallic bowls because of their durability (which I agree with), but I couldn’t resist these dog paws ones.
  7. non-ammonia disinfectant: Apparently ammonia mimics the scent of dog urine, so if you clean up an accident with ammonia-based disinfectant or cleaner, chances are your pup will smell it later and pee in the exact same spot. I’d recommend a “greener” cleaner like the above Seventh Generation.
  8. dog shampoo: Especially if you adopt, your little one might smell a bit. Kero smells all the time because I SWEAR he gets into everything (or eats everything) outside. Puppy-safe shampoo is a must.
  9. [not pictured] puppy crate: It’s important to crate train your pup at an early age. Don’t just leave them to run amok in your bathroom, scratching at doors or getting into things they shouldn’t. Oddly, the safest place for your dog (and your home) is in the crate.
  10. [bonus] stuffed toy: Kero is obsessed with his skunk squeaky toy (pictured above). I got it on sale–which I highly recommend, because they will destroy it.
  11. [bonus] rags: Accidents, blankets for them to lay on, whatever. Head to a Goodwill or second hand store and pick up a few used towels. Paper towels won’t cut it. You’ll need some rugs.
  12. [bonus] puppy bed: I got Kero a puppy bed and he took to it right away. Dogs love having their own little spot to go to. Just, again, make sure not to dole out a ton of money on this right off the bat. They will end up destroying it during puppyhood.

The Whole 30 (And Where I’m At)

June 3, 2015

Breaking Down The Whole 30

Alright you guys. The Whole 30. Yes. I spoke about it Monday, remember? Well do you also remember that I mentioned starting work yesterday? Yes? Well, you probably saw the stars aligning not in my favor and, yep…wrong time to start the Whole 30.

My bad, my bad. I know!

The Whole 30 said to prepare and be ready, and I thought I was…food-wise. But, apparently, not life-wise.

Basically, I went to this day-long client meeting. I knew it’d be tough to stay on-track so I packed a Larsbar, but assumed they would have a basic salad option (since most client meetings do). Well, nope. Not this time. They brought in delicious, but totally off-plan, Chipotle burritos and chips and guac. That’s it. Keep in mind, this was in a corporate park, so there were no other options to walk to AND this was my first day on a new job at a client office, so I didn’t want to offend anyone by skipping all together. So, I ate a vegetarian burrito. But it was still rice and tortilla.

I really trust this program and want to give it 100%, which means postponing it for now (possibly till fall), when there are no first days, not so many weddings and not so much traveling. I just want to be honest with you because FOR ONCE I was going to do a healthy food program and complete it. But I know that I can’t restart it now, without prematurely ruining it again at today’s unpredictable day-long client meeting (yep, another one) or my trip to LA at the end of the month.

Okay, now that you know where I’m at, I do still want to introduce the Whole 30 to you because I really believe it works; that it isn’t a gimmick or some “get thin fast” diet (in fact, it says to go on it without your main focus being weight loss). Sure, it’s tough. But not as tough as the nay-sayers would lead you to believe (the fact I passed up fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls, sangria and burgers last Friday is a small testament to that). Plus, if you’re still trying to get beach-ready, eating this clean will definitely give you a major boost in the right direction.

So, what is the Whole 30 program?

Essentially, the Whole 30 is similar to the Paleo diet (which, by the by, I actually don’t totally support as a lifelong diet, just FYI). Essentially, you cut out all dairy, legumes, grains and sugar for 30 days.

Why do people do this?

Some people do it to lose weight (which does happen), however they don’t advocate for this (you’re not even allowed to use a scale). It’s supposed to “restart” your gut by getting rid of all the potential harmful or inflammatory foods that we usually consume on a day to day.

I could never give up cheese and rice!

Believe this Wisconsinite, I didn’t think I could either. But I did! Even gave up hummus (which I lurvee). It’s possible, just make sure you have a clear goal (mine has been making my gut healthier and, yes, getting ready to don a bikini at the end of the month).

Sounds like a lot of work…

It’s a bit of work. Clearly, I suggest planning a period of time where things may be a bit slower in your life and you’re able to easily pack your own lunches and eat dinners at home because, even though you can eat out on the diet, it’s not very easy (plus you never know 100% what the chef added or cooked your food with and many cooking oils aren’t allowed). Luckily, if you plan a little better than I did, the Whole 30 gives you a lot of help with forums to ask questions and support other whole 30-ers, and meal plan/shopping list downloads (which accommodate a variety of diets).

P.S. I’m still going to continue eating clean-ish, but I knew that this program was something I wanted to do for 30 days and didn’t want to short-change myself from that. That said, I do plan on trying it again this fall when I know I have 30 days to fully and successfully dedicate to it.

Educate Life

What is the low fodmap diet?

May 1, 2015

what is the low fodmap diet?If you’ve been with me for a bit, you know that I struggle with stomach issues. In reality, it’s one of the reasons I started this blog.

I was having major stomach pains–I’m talking vomiting, pain and nausea that would wake me up in the middle of the night, gas, heartburn…the full monty. I experimented with an intense carb diet (which–go figure–also made me gain weight) so that it, if I had celiac’s, it would show up on my GI test. When it turned out I did not have celiac’s disease, but may have a gluten-intolerance, I tried a gluten-free diet, but felt like a fraud. Who was I to be eating a gluten-free diet when I didn’t have a diagnosed condition? Plus, though the gluten-free made me feel a bit better; lighter, I was still experiencing the same stomach nausea, especially when it came to alcohol.

To add to the fun, I randomly developed a fruit allergy over the past year (fun fact: I found out I was allergic to some sort of berry when my lip swelled up during a morning meeting).

The full post on my stomach issues can be found here, and in it I also mention how my nutritionist “prescribed me” a low fodmap diet.

Because this was just before my wedding, I’ll be honest. The solid information informing me that there was indeed an issue and a “cure” for my pain came as a relief, but I didn’t necessarily do much with this new insight. I blame everything that was going on in my day-to-day, wedding prep schedule.

Fast forward to almost a year later, and I think I’m ready to give this new diet a try.


What is the low fodmap diet?

Essentially, it’s a diet for people who suffer from digestive issues (especially IBS). My nutritionist recommended it to me because of my gastroparesis issue.

It’s interesting when looking at what foods are allowed on the diet and which ones to steer clear from because, for the most part, the items that I shouldn’t consume are indeed the ones that usually cause me problems. However, there are a few exceptions for me personally; items that are included as safe, when personally they cause me issues. Which they do say–the low fodmap should be seen as a guide, adapted to your own needs. (If you search “low fodmap guide” and look in images, you’ll see that the charts do vary slightly). For all intents and purposes, I’ll be trying to follow the chart below (again adapted to my own needs), but here, here and here are a few other good ones.

your easy guide to low fodmappingWe’ll see how successful I am at this. I’m one of those people who, if I say “I’m doing this,” I usually freak out and feel too much pressure, so just stop doing it. This was also a problem in school where I suffered from text anxiety…but that’s for another day, another post, ha.

I will say, after we have settled into our new place, I’m excited to jump back into a routine. Probably restart BBG (again, since I’ve only successfully ever completed it once and that was back before my wedding) and get back on this healthy eating, while trying to stick with the low fodmap thing.

Experts say to give it 6-8 weeks on the diet to see if it helps, and then slowly introduce the other foods back into your diet–one by one–to see if and what may cause your issues. So I’m considering doing that, since I’ve already found some of my triggers after experiencing problems the past few years (almonds are my downfall, for some reason). However, you will still see me eating apples, which are on the “no no” list, but have never caused me any problems. I can’t give up those little suckers.

What do you think? Have you ever tried the low fodmap thing?

Educate Home Life Local

gone apartment hunting

March 6, 2015

let's go apartment hunting!Happy friggin Friday, all!

This week has been insane. So much busyness. So much drama. So many life decisions. I’ve never been happier it’s almost the weekend…

In case you’re wondering what all that vagueness is about (and if the title of this post didn’t give it away)…Ryan and I are apartment hunting! Woohoo!

This will be our second official apartment together. The one we are currently at is gorgeous with seriously insane views, but it’s not ours. It’s a family friend’s. So we pay rent, but a lot of their items are physically there. And sometimes they come and stay in the adjoining room, which we agreed to, but can feel…weird. It just doesn’t feel like our own home. Plus, we’ve been there for two years now. So, while we are extremely grateful for their generosity, it’s time to literally move on.

That said, we think we might have already landed a place here in Chicago! We’ve been apartment hunting for about a month, which (we’ve discovered) is quite different than apartment hunting in Southern California. But between both experiences, we’ve become pretty darn good at the whole process. So, I thought I’d share a few tips that have come in handy when making such a major life decision.

1. Make a list of your most important, can’t-live-without-it needs.

For Ryan and I, we can’t live without storage. When you combine our wardrobes, it’s pretty intense. That, along with our hobbies (DJing for him, painting for me) and our day-to-day needs (Ryan works from home and I love working at a desk), we’re talking some serious storage requirements. We also needed an apartment that was dog-friendly (just in case), had wood floors and was close to things (like a grocery store).

2. Know what you’re willing to give up.

Nothing is ever perfect. You’re going to have to know what you’re okay giving up. For us, that was layout. We can live with built-in cabinets above our bed, if it means more storage. We can live with a galley kitchen, if it’s updated and still open enough to move around in. So think, what are you okay with giving up? Do you need gas/electric included, but you’d be fine paying for internet? Know what you can do without.

3. Know what to ask.

It’s important to make sure your basics are covered. Like, if an appliance breaks, who do you call and how long does it take to fix it? Can you nail things into the wall or hang a TV? What’s included in rent? Do you have to pay extra on anything? Do you have to put a security deposit down and how do you get it back when you leave? How safe is the area? Do people buzz in or are there keys? A door man? What’s a rough age group of the people living in the building (sometimes they can’t say, so just ask for a rough range to get a good of how rowdy or quiet the place will be)?

4. Look beyond the apartment.

While touring, look around. What do the other tenants look like? Is it loud? Quiet? Are the hallways clean? Does anything look broken, rusted or old? Get a good idea of the area you’re dealing with and how well the place is managed.

5. Take pictures.

Pictures on Zillow, or wherever else you’re looking, usually use a wide-angle lens to make rooms and apartments appear bigger. It’s important to take your own phone or camera along for the ride, and take pictures of every single thing you feel is important–closets, kitchen, rooms, windows, views etc. It will help you remember the place once you’ve left, and give you a good idea of how big the space is in reality.

6. Make an immediate pros/cons list after visiting.

If you’re touring more than two apartments, you’re going to quickly forget what you liked and disliked about each one. Once you leave the potential apartment, immediately write down your takeaways: what you liked, what you didn’t like, how it looked, what it felt like, etc.

7. Get organized.

Between the pros/cons list, the photos, the general facts and price points of each, it’s important to stay organized. If you do take pictures, make sure you label them in your phone. Or upload them to your computer and keep each apartment unit in a separate folder. However you do it, make sure you don’t mix up listings or information (or you could end up loving the wrong space!).

8. Do some research.

A building may have all the bells and whistles you’ve ever wanted, but then you do a quick Google search and discover it’s managed by a company who’s under investigation or known for shady financial dealings. There’s so much information readily available, it’s important you don’t just fall for a place without taking a deeper look into the people you’re writing that check to every month.

9. Know the area.

With all this said, these tips will vary depending on where you’re hunting. In Southern California, Ryan and I toured over 15 apartments, never concerned about timeline because there wasn’t a huge demand. Here in Chicago, we fell in love with two different apartments online. Booked times to visit. And by the end of the day, both had already been rented out. Know the area and adjust your timeline/decision-making accordingly.

10. Really read the contract (or have someone run through it with you).

Before signing on the dotted line, take a second to read through what you’re agreeing to. If you have any questions, ask a realtor, the person who’s handing you the contract or even a close family member. We had a 30 day kick out clause with the place we’re going after right now, but once we told the agent we wouldn’t move in because of it, the owner got rid of it. There’s always room for a little negotiation (or room to back out), if you’re willing to discuss and look into the details.

BONUS tip: Trust your gut.

Ryan and I always discuss the vibe we get from the places we tour (I’m lucky that most times, Ryan and I both get a good vibe from the same places). “The feel” of a place means more to me than almost anything because I trust that intuition above all else. You can usually feel when you’re home.

Hope they tips helped, if you’re on the apartment prowl like us!

I’ll keep you updated on whether we get the place or not. And trust me, if we do, there will be plenty of photos and DIYs to follow.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Educate Life Relax

10 days no sugar: The Lebron Challenge

January 3, 2015

what i'm doing for the next 2 weeks //

Awhile ago I mentioned watching Fed Up, but never updated you guys because Ryan JUST got around to watching it with me. On top of that, I was convinced I wrote an entire post about Fed Up that…apparently was in my draft folder. I’m losing it, guys. I’m losing it.

Okay, let me refresh your drink on what all this Fed Up babbling is about:

+I watched Fed Up, an awesome documentary that exposes the dangers of sugar and the processed American diet (I highly recommend giving it a watch, obviously).
+I talked to Ryan about doing a 10 Day No Sugar Challenge with me, but he wasn’t on board until I rebranded it “The LeBron Challenge” (because Lebron James did a similar, albeit more extreme, dietary change over the summer).
+Yesterday I FINALLY got Ryan to watch Fed Up and we are both starting The LeBron Challenge on Sunday!

In case you haven’t watched Fed Up, here’s some cliff notes:

  • Though fitness is an important part of staying healthy, it’s a misnomer that if you work off more calories than you consume you can fight obesity.
  • Not all calories are created equal (160 calories of almonds and 160 calories of Pepsi will enter and sit in your body in majorly different ways).
  • Always check your ingredients–sugar is found in EVERYTHING. Though it has many names (corn syrup, glucose, honey, molasses, raw sugar, natural sugar, cane sugar etc.), your body treats it the same way. And too much of it overloads your liver and converts straight to fat.
  • Unlike fat and carbs (which are badmouthed, but actually have an important place in a healthy diet), sugar has no nutritional value.
  • Sugar can cause diabetes and cancer.
  • Sugar and cocaine have the same reaction in the brain. AKA Sugar is majorly addictive.
  • The food industries in America have worked hard to get children and minorities addicted to sugar.
  • Health companies have even purchased stock in the food industry (food industry = pumps people with junk and sugar = causes disease = health industry treats disease = $$$ for the health industry).

And those are just the highlights; the tip of the iceberg. The documentary also focuses on the lives of three obese children and how their quality of life, self-esteem and happiness are affected by misinformed parents, the government, advertising and fast food having their fingers in our school systems.

Okay, enough of my impassioned rant.

Ryan and I are starting the 10 Day No Sugar Challenge tomorrow. We are following these guidelines (plan A) from Sunday-Tuesday of the following week. If you want, you can join us! Or, you can inform yourself and wait for a recap.

We both agreed now would be the best time to take this challenge, since the past few weeks have consisted of way too much sugar (holiday) and not enough working out. I’ll let you guys know how it goes in, um, about 10 days. In the meantime, feel free to join or give the documentary a watch!


check yo’ bottled water

December 12, 2014

check yo' bottled water | midwestlovefestHAPPY FRIDAY!

We made it through another week! Hooray!

And even though I’m not trying to wish away the minutes, I am really excited for the upcoming holidays. Coziness. Decorations. Coffee. Presents. Family. Friends. Reading. Ahh, heaven.

In the meantime, I’ll just ride out the next week and a half. Filled with parties and last minute “end of year” shenanigans.

Okay, okay…I’m getting on with it.

Today, I wanted to share something that TOTALLY irks me.

Wait for it…

Bottled water that has MORE THAN ONE INGREDIENT.

Like, WTF.

Oh, and beyond that–when the ingredient includes SODIUM.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen bottled water with sodium in it. My guess? You drink water with sodium = you get thirstier = you buy more bottled water to quench your thirst.


Of course Dasani is a Coca-Cola Company, so you know they aren’t new to the whole “addictive additive” sort of thinking.

Regardless, I just wanted to share this disgusting fact so next time you go to buy that bottled water thinking, “Oh, I’m JUST getting water!” you check the ingredients and make sure your water is that: water.

Educate Life Relax

6 years of misery: discovering and treating gastroparesis pain

October 21, 2014

dealing with unknown digestive issuesForewarning: This is a long post. It’s been a long couple of years, so I want to share everything I went through in hopes it helps people out there struggling to find answers to their stomach problems too (as I’ve seen many women struggling in medical forums). So grab some chai tea and a cozy blanket, and settle in for a bit. 

For anyone who knows me, I’ve struggled with stomach issues the past few years. First, it began as severe–I’m talking severe–stomach pain. Like, I wanted to just cut my stomach out or fill it with food to make the pain stop. After a few years, the pain subsided and was replaced with random nausea and vomiting.

I Googled. I searched forums. I saw multiple doctors in two different states, each one with a different diagnosis.

When my symptoms first started, I ignored them. But after a few years, I finally went to see my primary physician at the time, who attributed to stress and IBS, with a side of heartburn. She gave me an over-the-counter antacid and sent me on my way. Obviously, this did not help anything. This was also around the time celiac’s disease became a popular thing, and I was encouraged to go on a gluten-free diet to see if that relieved any of my pain.

The issues seriously subsided, but weren’t altogether gone.

Next stop: an upper GI (where they stick a scope down your throat to check things out, and take a sample to test for celiacs). I took the 2 months leading up to the “surgery” to load up on carbs and junk, hoping to irritate whatever was going on inside me so that it would show up on camera. And what did I get? Nothing. They tested me for celiacs – nope. Maybe I had a celiac sensitivity, whatever that was, but not celiac’s disease.

dealing with unknown digestive issues

Next was a stomach emptying test. I ate radioactive eggs and a doctor tracked my stomach over a few hours to see if it emptied properly. It didn’t. The average stomach takes about 2-3 hours to empty, mine was showing no movement after 4 hours. Oddly, this was great news! Something abnormal was actually showing up! I held onto this prognosis–not really knowing what it meant or where to go from here–until I saw my new primary doctor.

Since my pain and nausea had not gone away, she recommended another GI here in Chicago. One of the top in the nation, she assured me.

I got to his office and, after waiting on that butcher paper for a good 15 minutes after my appointment was supposed to begin, he barreled in, looking irritated and tired. He gave me the once over. Read my chart. Took my pulse. In 10 minutes he told me the last diagnosis was a crock of shit, and more than likely I just had IBS.

IBS? Really? This was around the time I put a fork in it. I was done. No more doctors for me, no thanks.

Now, of course, I still wasn’t 100% sure what was going on. I wasn’t taking medication. I had started eating healthier and exercising consistently, now that Ryan and I were settled in Chicago and preparing for our wedding, but my symptoms still didn’t go away entirely. My mom chalked it up to stress, which made a little sense with the stomach pain, but not so much with the stomach nausea–which became more and more frequent.

dealing with unknown digestive issues

At my most recent yearly check-up, I finally asked my doctor if I could see a nutritionist. It seemed like the only thing I hadn’t tried. She recommended a woman within the system, but told me no insurance covered her (still not sure why) and she cost $150 for the first session. Of course saving up for a wedding, this was not a very logical appointment to make. So I waited–through the planning, the wedding and the honeymoon. And finally, when I was safely back in the U.S., I called. I set a date.

I’m sure every nutritionist and dietician is different, but she was awesome. Just very…relaxed. She read over my previous diagnosis from my GI and listened to what I was told by the other physicians from Wisconsin. We went over my symptoms and daily routines. Daily diet. And she gave me a few names:

Functional dyspepsia. Gastroparesis. IBS.

Oddly enough, all of these diagnosis had been said to me at one time or another by one doctor or another. But no one ever explained to me what they meant, what the symptoms were or how to treat them. NO ONE. A little crazy, right? So every time I left the doctors office, I never felt like I had anything new–other than an over the counter pill to pop. But here it was, all the things I had been told over the years, given to me in legitimate names. With real symptoms that real people, apart from me, were suffering from.

Holy crap. It felt good. To finally know!

Based on my consultation with her, it seems a mix of this dyspepsia and gastroparesis have caused me to have bad reactions at weird times to normal foods.

For example, I went out on a Friday and had a hard cider with some bar food and went home fine. The following day, I had nearly the same thing–a hard cider with some bar food. But this time, I went home feeling extremely ill. Like, trying not to vomit ill.

Another time, I ate 3 nuts a few hours before a 5 mile run, and spent the rest of the run in enormous discomfort.

Or that time I threw up an entire basil leaf, 5 hours after enjoying a drink.

Or, when I made a delicious homemade pizza, only to suffer huge amounts of pain after eating it. Even though a Domino’s pizza–full of God knows what–did’t make me feel sick at all.

These symptoms were finally all explained to me. Without me having to bring them up, she started explaining why my body acts the way it does, what causes it and why it’s happening to me.

I’m not a nutritionist, physician or any medical professional. I think that goes without saying. But this is (in lamens terms) what I gathered and how I am going to move forward:

  • Functional dyspepsia is a pain or discomfort in the upper gut that can cause bloating, nausea, pain, vomiting, among other things, and is not caused by an ulcer
  • Gastroparesis is when your stomach has trouble emptying itself
  • For me, all these names–functional dyspepsia, gastrparesis, IBS–mean the nerve endings in my stomach are especially sensitive to certain foods. They also have trouble digesting foods, so they need some extra help doing that.
  • Apparently, gastroparesis can be caused by food poisoning or a viral attack that your body never heals from (this would make sense, since I contracted mono my senior year in high school, and that was around the time all this pain began)
  • Because my stomach has trouble digesting food, I need to help it by ingesting things that are already broken down. Example: Rather than quiona, consume quinoa pasta–which has been processed and broken down in some way.
  • Gastroparesis also loves routine. So when I switch up the routine (i.e. hard cider with waffle fries) it can handle it one night, but has trouble digesting that much fat and nonsense two days in a row. My nutritionist’s tip? Go 3-4 days between “indulging” in things that are heavy or hard to process.
  • Stay away from whole grains, or don’t go out of my way to consume them, as it is hard for my body to break down (this is also why going gluten-free felt so good to me).

I now have a diet, and some tips, to stick by. Along with a probitotic, which may or may not help. Either way, I have never been more excited to get a diagnosis in my life. To finally take back control of my body and stomach. To know what causes me pain and WHY. It just feels…awesome.

Apparently a lot of healthy women suffer from these same sorts of symptoms too (it’s more common in woman than men, for some reason). So if any of you ladies are suffering from pain or nausea similar to mine, please reach out if you have any questions! Otherwise, I hope I helped someone out there get closer to finding their own answers.