Our Favorite Things – CuddleMutt Interview

We have made it past the ghoulish fun of Halloween, traipsing right into the oncoming holiday season. (Egads, there’s a smidge over 7 weeks until we are merrily gathered around the Christmas tree, yule log ablaze, our spirits warmed by frothy spiked eggnog!)

Inspired by the Holiday Gift Guide featuring the season’s must haves and a few of our favorite things (find the guide here:) we thought it would be awesome to get to know the people behind the businesses!


Our Favorite Things – CuddleMutt!

Kristen of CuddleMutt is AMAZING! She’s sweet, kind, brimming with personality and a HUGE heart (her business is built on giving back to shelter dogs). AND…. CuddleMutt just turned 2 in September!

Hello Kristen!

How did you get started?

As the daughter of two entrepreneurial parents, I was drawn to the idea of starting my own company. But I was also drawn to the idea of making a difference. I was brainstorming different ideas that would make an impact. But as I was picking up foster dog #12, the idea for CuddleMutt hit me (more on that with question #2).

Where did you get the idea for CuddleMutt?

As a dog foster mom, I saw the need for soft blankets firsthand as well as the need for monetary donations. An old towel is not the same as a soft blanket. And I saw organizations holding back their impact due to lack of funding. CuddleMutt’s buy a blanket, give a blanket model + 20% of profit donation for all other accessories helps address both of these needs.

What’s unique about CuddleMutt? What sets you apart from others in your industry?

CuddleMutt was founded on the concept of providing beautifully designed, high quality accessories that make a difference. Our unique give back model of a tangible item (blanket for blanket) and 20% of profit for all other accessories sets us apart.

What is something that surprised you about owning a business?

The amount of groundwork you need to do, and the structure that has to be built. As a one-person company, you are everything. The director of IT, HR, sales, operations, design etc. But luckily, there is always google to help!

Did you have any early challenges? If so how did you overcome them? If not, what is something you’ve accomplished with CuddleMutt that makes you the proudest?

Finding a manufacturer to work with a small business was one of my biggest challenges. After no luck with any manufacturers found via google, I sent out emails to other small businesses asking if they had any recommendations, which led me to the manufacturer I have now and have had since the beginning based locally in Maplewood, MN! 

What is some advice you’d give someone just starting out? 

Network! Reach out and meet with other small business owners. The entrepreneurial journey is full of bumps along the way and having other entrepreneurs in your network is helpful!

What is you most popular product?

The CuddleMutt signature blanket, but the buffalo plaid bandana is a close second!

Do you have any pets?

Yes! We adopted our Louie (Terrier/Maltese mix- best guess) from Secondhand Hounds last December. He is also CuddleMutt’s Chief Dog Officer!

Tell us about the humans behind CuddleMutt:

This is Kristen typing- hi! I’m the founder of CuddleMutt. I run the company, but I have an amazing support system of family and friends that help out. I couldn’t do it without them!

Where can we find CuddleMutt? 

You can always find us online- www.cuddlemutt.com. We just redid our website! But you can also find us at these two MN malls over the holidays:

— Southdale (Edina, MN)- Nov 1st – Dec. 31st- Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

— Ridgedale (Minnetonka, MN)- Nov 23rd – Dec 22nd- Saturdays and Sundays + Black Friday

And social media of course- give us a follow on Facebook or Instagram!

Thank you Kristen!

Give her some love, whether in snagging one of the blankets (they are SUPER soft & Bender loves his – he’s tucked in every night with it!), a collar or bandana. Have all your gifts already (overachiever!) then give her some love via a like & follow on Facebook & Instagram!

More of our favorite things to come, plus some tasty treat recipes (we found a gingerbread recipe for dogs!) and some tricks to teach your pup so she’s the star of your holiday party!

Mr. Blue Sky | 52 Weeks

Minnesota dog photographer About A Dog Photography |  52 Weeks is a blog circle with a theme for every week (which means we all link to each other, links are found at the end of the post).


Oh Mr. Blue Sky, how welcome you are, especially when you blanket us with those lovely warm temps and dapple with poofy white clouds akin to drawings of children. Granted, those clouds often congregate, sewn together like a lumpy quilt to hide the blue or become whirling dervishes of teenagers full of thunder and deep greys, peeing everything in their path. Ah the bipolarness of early summer in Minnesota.

Blue skies in the morning, the early sun heading into the upward crest of day. We considered, strolled out to the peonies, considered further. The neighboring park was neatly trimmed, set with a smattering of trees, two playgrounds on each end. Too flat. Nothing exciting. A glance out the front door after an inspection of Bender barking sparked an idea. We’ll use the front yard.

A white not wood picket fence tucks a corner, skips over the sidewalk, then strolls the rest of the length of the lot, ending at a row of bushes horizontal to it.

Previous owners have developed the garden nestled in front of the fence to be a display. Currently the flowers are tones of purples and pinks, roses, poppies and peonies (and purple flowers that we haven’t the clue as to their lineage). In the corner tuck, on the backside are irises in purples and yellows.

This corner area is on the corner of the yard as well as the street, the park residing kitty corner, a main artery of street the separation. The openness of the street lends to a perfect little cutout of sky above the white picket fence. Charming indeed!

The newest of the strobes was put into employment, (this in itself is a minor battle of just lug it vs not lug it out, end result is always good but getting to just lug it out is still a push to create the habit), Bender was suited up with a collar and we began. 

Ugh! 
Not quite the “oomph” we were looking for…

Alright, this resembles where we want the end result to be…

Drat, the camera battery is dead. Swap to spare, hope the whole rig of lighting isn’t spontaneously inspired to take flight in the manner of a kite. 

It stays.

We resume.

Right handed key light worked, but didn’t quite carry the “look” that we were aiming for. The strobe was moved, the sun scuttled behind the clouds, manipulating the exposure of this chunk of the world.

We waited. Reloaded on treats, allowing the clouds to make their passes at the sun. (Can you tell when we had full sun?)

Note that little touch of odd blur on the catching images – ambient light! Since there was full sun it added extra light, so while the image is frozen by the strobe, the sun “stayed on” when the movement happened. An interesting effect indeed.

Next visit Pet Love Photography, serving Greater Cincinnati, the San Francisco Bay Area, and destinations nationwide to see if they’ve had blue skies!


Don’t Pee on That! (aka gardening with dog)

Bender… don’t pee on that! Don’t pee on that either! Get out of the garden! Don’t eat that! Yucky! (Boy dogs, what else can we say?)

Spring has solidly arrived, the grasses and plants pushing upwards past the nuggets of not gold strewn about from the winter past.

Time to activate the green thumb you may or may not have. (Ours is moderately green, though perennials are very appreciated for their hardiness…)


[Backstory: At the end of September last year we bought our house. Nearly half of the huge backyard was a “jungle” – plants tall and thick that hid the fence, 2 bushes and a small tree, and everything shorter than knee high.

The jungle was hacked through, plants removed to the point of a rough strewn canvas of dirt. Winter arrived. 

Spring arrived. Ground level was lumpy, unlevel dirt. And from the dirt has sprung forth a multitude of green plants in a plethora of styles.

Currently identified as of May: Tulipa Tarda (love these!), Siberian Squill (everywhere in the yard…), Glory of the Snow, a pink and green Hellebore, wild ginger, and white Bleeding Hearts, as well as a large pink Bleeding Heart, white Magnolia, pink Azalea, two pink & one orange Rhododendron, plus a chokecherry & crabapple and variegated lilacs called Sensation.

There are approx 7+ peonies that are budding too!


Don’t pee on that!
Bender you’re sooo “helpful”…

(Bender gets tied up away from the garden because his “helpful” is stepping on plants, peeing on them then enthusiastically kicking up dirt as he marks his yard with the biggest doofus smile on his face. Thanks for the help buddy.)

Let’s get to gardening!

Step 1: Prep

Evaluate old mulch, add or replace as needed. Decide if you’re going to reduce or expand beds, or if you are keeping the plants that are long time residents, moving or removing them.

(We decided removal was the first step for the jungle last fall. Moving will happen progressively as plants start arriving this spring and after they have been identified.)

The timing is also perfect to divide and split clumping perennials (things that grow from bulbs, tubers etc) to give the roots more growth room.

Bonus: you have extra plants to add to empty spots in your garden!

  • Adding in new plants? Aim for  for flowering plants that are bee friendly – here’s an awesome list from the U of M!

    FYI in St. Cloud we are Zone 4a / 4b, while closer to the Minneapolis & St. Paul area the zone is 4b. Growing zones give you an idea of what plants will be the hardiest for the area’s weather.

    The higher the number the warmer the climate the plant needs and less hardy it will be in colder seasons. Which means the 7a perennial you love won’t make it through a Minnesota winter.
  • In any sort of gardening with dog, safe animal friendly plants is something to be aware of. If you have the kind of pup who enjoys tasting everything that grows, its good to know which plants are toxic!

    Here’s a mega list from the ASPCA: Toxic Plants for Dogs. (Hmm, hostas are on that list… good thing there is a bazillion of them in our yard…luckily Bender doesn’t munch on the garden plants!)

Step 2: Plant

Prep finished, plants moved/removed or picked out, let’s get gardening!

Layering is key! Just like layering decorative pillows to dress up your bed, layering plants will dress up your garden throughout the seasons.

  • Height layering: tall plants in the back, mediums in the middle, shorts in front. Straightforward. (Granted sometimes your talls are short and the shorts go tall, adjust your bed if this is the case).
  • Seasonal layering: based on when the plant grows & flowers. Spring plants are first up, first to flower and can leave you with decorative bushes the rest of the season (peonies are early summer masters at this). Summer plants will give flowers from June to August, and late seasoners will flower until frost.

The best made garden transitions throughout the seasons with blooms in each season so there is no lack of color throughout the warm months.

Step 3: Water, weed & enjoy!

…. DON’T PEE ON THAT!!!!!!

Leading Lines | 52 Weeks

About A Dog Photography – Minnesota dog photographer |  52 Weeks is a blog circle with a theme for every week (which means we all link to each other, links are found at the end of the post).


Leading lines, the well known & versed “rule” of composition where a line leads the viewer into the scene to the subject.

The lines can be literal lines – roads, paths, fences, etc – man made or organic. They can even be lines that don’t exist – implied leading lines. (Implied leading lines often happen with eyes – we look the direction the eyes are looking. Arms & hands also lend to implied leading lines as well.)

Used correctly they can have amazing impact directing your viewer into your scene. Misplaced lines can lead your viewer out of the scene rapidly or lead them past the subject you want them to see. Use wisely.


Classic literal leading lines were found in a teenie weenie blue walking bridge over a girthy yet shallow creek, both of which had lived in the quaint park for eons. The creek feeds the Mississippi River, while the bridge feeds into a petite wooded area with dirt paths meandering throughout.

Mixing it up a little, we asked half basset / half golden retriever Daisy to be our model. She happily agreed (possibly more excitedly for the car ride than the picture taking), the evening granting us beautiful temperatures and lovely just before golden hour light.

In a new adventure, one of the strobes was brought into the wild (portable power is awesome to have), set up, threatened to tip in its delight of being outdoors and playing kite to the breeze, then settled into perfect working mode.


Daisy was happier to stroll down the bridge to smell all the smells and consider quite possibly a dip in the creek than to hold a sit, so as in any occasion where we need a dog to hold a position she was tied to the bridge. (Behold magic of leash removal!)


Below is a subtle difference of strobe to natural light (these were consecutive frames, fired too rapidly for the strobe to recycle, whoops!). The little extra light gives Daisy an extra sparkle in her eye and evens out the shadowing on her chest. Pretty neat!


A short moment of perked ears and being attached to the bridge led to some very dramatic whining and opinions from Daisy about the injustice of not being able to sniff and explore as she pleased, which brought her mom and I to fits of giggles.

A squeaker & THE question (“Do you want to go for a R-I-D-E?”) helped quiet her opinions for a few more images, though only briefly.


For a touch of variety, we scooted across the bridge, the strobe making friends with the tree branches and Daisy happy to be back into the smells.

The little path made a perfect leading line, though Daisy wasn’t privy on holding a single spot as she was set within all of the smells. To help get her to look forward, she and her mom walked away from me, then towards me multiple times. Going for a “walk” meant Daisy was looking towards where I was, until her basset nose activated.

A huge thank you to Daisy & her mom for helping me out with leading lines!


Next visit Terri J Photography, photographing your pets in the Toronto area and Southeast Florida to see how she captured leading lines.


Photographer’s Choice | 52 Weeks

About A Dog Photography – Minnesota dog photographer |  52 Weeks is a blog circle with a theme for every week (which means we all link to each other, links are found at the end of the post).


Photographer’s choice, interpreted in whatever fashion strikes our fancy. Perhaps it would be the strobes with the variable of an indoor or outdoor setup? Perhaps a location other than the couch and the backyard? Perhaps an uncommon lens? All of the above? (Weather pending for all of the above – neither Bender or myself enjoy a dreary rain.)

Part 1:  uncommon lens – 85mm f2.8 tilt shift.


Bender hesitated at the door, as he wasn’t hooked up to his harness. He may have been thinking we were missing something, then had a thought of glee as he could quite possibly run willy nilly about the yard.

He was not thrilled to learn he needed to park his bum on the top of the deck stairs and be photographed.

Did you notice something unique about the images? The tree BEHIND Bender is in focus… what in the world?

Its a property of a tilt shift lens (freelensing creates a similar effect). When tilted, the angle of the focus plane is manipulated – which means it can be vertical, diagonal or horizontal depending on the tilt and rotation of the lens. 

Regular lenses have flat focal planes that are horizontal to the sensor and can only be somewhere between narrow and deep. 

Pretty neato!


Having held the sit just long enough, Bender made his way down the steps to take a pee on the bush, hoping he could explore the smells further in the yard. The treats in hand guided him otherwise, to a sit on the grass, under the blustery breeze that was laced with cold from the north. 

Brrrr! Let’s go in the house! 

The plan was to resume image taking in the evening, under a sky that hopefully would burst with colors that danced across the clouds, the cold bluster exchanged for a warm breeze of the summer to come. 

It rained.

Then, it snowed. And continued into the later part of the evening. Gross. 


Part 2: the strobes + gels

(Strobes are monolights – big versions of flashes, not what you’d find on the dance floor, fyi).

Before the strobes were live, the living room needed to go into studio mode. The loveseat was moved up against the couch, modifiers were assembled, the two monolights were plugged in, the third light – a small flash – was turned on. 

Flash got a blue gel, monolight #2 got a red gel & was set on the floor. 

Treats were ready at hand. 

Strobes + 85mm tilt shift

Notice how Bender’s ear, eye, whiskers and nose are in focus on the left side of his face, but the right side of his face has a smooth blur? Tilt shift magic right there!

Whoops! A little too much power on the little flash…. 


Strobes + 50mm f1.4

Bender’s look was growing more low key bored as all he needed to do was sit in front of the lights and look my direction. 

Changed gears to the 50mm for one reason – autofocus. Having said autofocus was going to be useful for treat catching images that would be sprinkled into the mix to keep Bender interested in being photographed. 

Ready? Catch!

How about a beg?

Did you hear something? (Aside from the blustery wind and s-n-o-w?)

(Did you notice the black edge on the right side in the images above? That’s from going one stop above max sync speed – 1/250th. The bar is actually the shutter curtain!)


Back to the 85mm tilt

There’s just something about this lens that tickles my fancy. Trickiest part? Manually focusing especially critters who like to sniff and look about the room.

Luckily lights = look at me (give or take ears)

Deadpan looks = easier manual focusing

Soooooo very excited…. 

Oh, did you say scootch closer? Closer? How’s this? 

(Next training command is going to be backup.)

The subtleties of deadpan…


Return to the 50mm

Look above – see how the focal plane goes from a diagonal from his ear to eye to nose on the left, while the right side of his face is a smooth blur?

Look below – see how both of his eyes are in focus, while his ear is just out of focus as is his nose. Flat focal plane vs tilted focal plane. Neato!

Did you hear something? 

Yup def heard something…

Nevermind, it was nothing. Return to deadpan, half ears… 

“I’ll take more treats please!”


Next visit Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography fetching portraits in Coppell and surrounding communities in the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex to see what she picked for photographer’s choice!