Sunday, December 13, 2009

anywhere but here

It's not often I can say during these last few years, that I like the cold or the snow. Call it getting older, I'm not sure really, but there are moments in this cold climate of ours on Canada's East Coast when I think I can't stand it for one winter longer, and fewer moments still each year when I can't imagine living anywhere else. Unlike the days of when I was a kid, and my mom letting my little brother and I dress in snowsuits and lie outside on the snowbank in our front yard to catch snowflakes on our tongues, I no longer relish the snow. Being the romantic that I am, that surprises me. I used to get butterflies in my tummy at first snowfall and make my husband drop everything he was doing, to have us take a walk in our first snowfall of the year together. But I have to say, today was a day, in the bitter cold, when I couldn't possibly fathom a Christmas spent in balmy temperatures surrounded by palm trees (and trust me when I say, prior to today, there have been many!).

Today, we had the privilege of experiencing a Norman Rockwell Christmas moment if ever there was one. We have this wonderful lady, Sue is her name, who cares for our Golden Retriever, Murphy, when we are away. Sue and her family own a gorgeous property about a 15 minute drive from us. There they have their home on a huge lot of land, a brook running through the property some distance from the house where she takes daily walks with her dogs and the others she so lovingly cares for, and the kennels as well as her dog grooming business. What I didn't know was that Sue also owns a horse, and he/she is kept at a stable yet another 5 minute drive from her home in an area called Glenlevit. Sue called a couple of weeks ago to invite us to an afternoon at the stables, for horse drawn sleigh rides and an appearance from Santa. Joe and I had been set to Christmas shop away this weekend, but couldn't imagine missing out on this for Lizzy, so we stuck around the weekend and attended the much awaited event. And we were not disappointed.

"Boudreau Lane, Boudreau Lane...was that what she had said"? We followed the jeep in front of us as it looked familiar, and sure enough, he led us straight to our destination. What I saw as we turned the bend in the road, were white covered fields of glistening diamonds as the sun shone brightly, a huge barn in the background, a beautiful newer home situated at an angle on sprawling fenced property and tons of vehicles. This must be it!


We park our car and shuffle up the long lane in our snow boots and insulated pants to find a team of horses harnessed up to a long red wagon and a load of people climbing out, young and old...Christmas music playing, a bonfire on to the left where some were warming their toes, others roasting marshmallows (and not the reverse altho I later was tempted in my falsely labelled -25 cold protected boots). Just as those were unloading from the horses, along came a tractor with another load for drop off, while another line had formed for those wanting to be on the next run. Hot apple cider was being circulated on trays, a grill was running with hot dogs for anyone with a hunger, complete with condiments. A huge inflatable snowman stood proudly in the open upper part of the barn, the fence boards outlining the fields were decorated with green garland swags and red bows, and the front doors of the barn were open to more obvious activity...a table covered in festive tablecloths with thermal dispensers of fresh brewed coffee and hot chocolate, and beside them, trays of home baked holiday sweets which never seemed to run completely empty. The horses in the stables were being fed by little hands holding feeders of carrots and apples, and one, Ladie, was even in her festive coif of braided mane with pretty bright red bows. After several waits to get on the horse drawn ride, it was announced the horses would be returning following a short break...and did they!! With a full-fledged roley poley Santa onboard carrying a huge red toy bag stuffed with treatbags for every child there. Once we calmed Lizzy down after having been traumatized by the thoughts of sitting on Santa's knee, we boarded for our turn on the horse drawn ride making our own tracks through the diamonds.  



Now you may be thinking..."What's the big deal? You live in Canada, you do that kind of thing all the time, don't you?". Perhaps, for some yes...for me, it was a first, for my husband from Germany a first, and for my 3 year old daughter a first. What was so heartwarming about this event tho, was that not one person attending, was charged for anything! This event was hosted by a group of friends who shared stable care for their horses, and who just thought it would be a great idea to host such an event for the young and old alike at Christmas time. Yes, the rides, the fire, the music and the food all held outdoors on a chilly winters day just days before Christmas was big enough, but what touched me, was that it was all done purely out of the goodness of their hearts...without profits, or even covering their own expenses. What an incredible and heartwarming gift...donating their time, and talents as well as absorbing all costs involved, only to give to others, and expecting nothing in return!

Well, all I can say to that is WOW and Thanks! Thank you for your generosity, but mostly for setting such a remarkeable example and reminding us all what Christmas is truly all about. Any warm feeling I had lost in my toes, was more than made up for in my heart, for it truly was a Norman Rockwell Christmas moment I'm not likely to forget. And I'm thinking it's left me with the feeling that I can't imagine a Christmas, anywhere but here.    



Many thanks to Greg Dion, owner of Cedar Creek Farms, and to all who gave in hosting the wonderful event.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm in the kitchen

Two posts in one night...imagine!!

Further to our attempts to rid ourselves of all evidence of pink in our kitchen, I wasn't really sure that I would like a true ceramic tiled backsplash. Loving French Country colors and the decor style itself with it's motifs, I thought I would try my hand at freehand painting a rooster over faux tiles above our oven. Here's how I did it (I'm sure others will have different approaches...this is what worked for me). If unsuccessful, just repaint, right? Right! I have to say that it was not really my intention to have him stay, but he has all along on a temporary basis...sort of. Again, until the big reno!

The new kitchen drywalled walls were basecoated with a water-based ivory color in an eggshell finish. I opted for a gold color called Livingston Gold (BM) and mixed it with equal parts of water. Using a seasponge, I dipped the sponge into the mixture and lightly dabbed the color onto a handcut stencil I had made to resemble small ceramic tiles. Easy enough. Once dried, I traced a rooster pattern which I had photocopied from placemats I had for our breakfast island with pencil, and transferred that using transfer paper, to the wall. Using acrylic paints mixed with a bit of water, I then filled in the rooster freehand until he resembled, well...a rooster :-)! This was the result...  


I've still not finished the faux tile work due to waiting on my husband to finish with the brackets he added to the underside of the cupboards, and it's only been about 6 years since I left that project :-(! But I will get back at it one day...hmmmm. I hear myself saying that quite a bit lately. That and "my next post will come much sooner"...

'tis the season

Well the festive time of year is upon us and WOW...did it come from nowhere, and fast!! It's been a super busy Fall with the business, Lizzy's dance classes, fighting off sinus infections, throat infections...for some reason, she and I seem to be on the same cycle and have both been ill off and on since about August. Skipping workouts and making time only for the business and my family, has made for not much activity outside of just that...I already know what my first new years resolution is. My Painted Porch hosted an Open House mid November for one afternoon only, with a good turnout. Guess meds prevented me from having the presence of mind to take pics...I keep forgetting there's a blog now to post them to :-)! In preparing for the Open House, I wondered if I should decorate for Christmas, but thank goodness I didn't...as it turned out, I was still painting signs until 3 am the night before and a tree, let alone anything else, would have been beyond unrealistic. We had our first snowfall in mid October and an absolutely fabulous month of fall weather in November, seeing no snow again until last week, and a winter storm yesterday. The mild weather thus far has been completely out of the norm for our area this time of year, and made for considerable slowing down of the natural dive into the Christmas spirit. Once we saw 30 cm fall yesterday tho, that changed everything...we have a tree! I made a few new signs for the Christmas season, keeping one of each of my faves for myself. Ck out the Gumdrops sign...looks fab peeking out from behind our tree. The Noel in the bottom right you can barely see...will try to snap a better pic a bit later for posting.  

We spent the afternoon Sunday with the kids piling the season's supply of firewood, decorating the tree and sipping eggnog, and I indulged the hankerings of my son with 'Mom's cooking' for family dinner. I have to say, that there is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that can make my heart go pitter patter like the image of my two children together, 20 years apart in age. One so totally thrilled to have the other, and even with such an age difference, so attached. With Lizzy now 3 and having a greater interest and amazement with all things Christmas, it was a truly magical and heartfelt family day. And yet another year, I am forgiven for making them wear the silly Santa hats for pics, which of course I have to share...  

This year, we are all so looking forward to experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a 3 yr old. The smiles in front of and behind the camera I know will be far from few. As we carry on in our preparations for the holiday season and the anticipation of the occasion drawing nearer, I can't help but think of those less fortunate...those with illness, those unable to be with their loved ones, those who have lost, those who are still fighting a brave battle. My heart wishes peace to all, in the true spirit of Christmas.
 

Monday, October 26, 2009

hidden treasures

When Joe and I bought this 100 +/- yr old house, we were told by our lawyer, who has always astounded us with his known history of our little town and every 'old' family in it, that the street on which we bought our house, was known to have 'rum tunnels' existing underground built during prohibition for none other than 'rum-running'. Intriguing! And a bit alarming! What, or who was I going to find in my basement?? Along with that interesting prospect, we didn't know what other surprises we would find, but if first impressions were to be indicators, we were not going to be impressed.

The previous owners had decided to rent the house out. It's a big old house and for someone renting, the heating bills would have been a major shock...certainly not what one would expect to pay for a rental property, and a poorly insulated one at that. We just had our first snowfall of the season last Thursday, so it is very chilly this time of year, and it doesn't end really until about May, when you can finally turn your furnace off for the winter. And so, the tenants decided they would flee in the middle of the night in mid February in minus 30C temps to avoid further heating bills, but not before turning the heat completely off! And what does that do to waterpipes?? Why...cause mini-disasters of course, such as broken pipes within the plastered walls of the house which had burst due to standing water freezing and swelling! But...along with the nasty surprises of an old house, also come some really wonderful treasures, like this one.

We had moved into the house in the fall and hadn't yet had the chance to crawl under our front porch until spring. In that treasure hunt, we found old gardening shears and other tools, and refuse that are usual things most often left behind by construction crews like empty cement bags, soda pop cans, empty buckets, but also found halfway embedded into the soil, an old ladder. Not an extension ladder nor a step ladder as I guess technology would have them evolve over time, but a plain wooden ladder, going wayyyy back in time we guessed, roughly 10 ft in length and tapering somewhat as it got to one end. Only knowing it to be really old and not having any idea as to it's immediate use, we set it aside until something would come to us later...and it did! Joe cleaned it up somewhat, cut approx 2 feet off of one end and 4 feet from the tapered end, rounded the legs off, shaped or 'banged out' iron hooks as we couldn't locate any at the time that would fit, and it now serves a purpose as well as has become a focal point in our kitchen...  

Of course, we find it extremely useful daily. It's awesome to look at, gives a defined space to our island sitting at an angle, and allows us to add a bit of unknown history to our kitchen. You just never know what's hiding under your porch...or your neighborhood!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the perpetual project

Wow...where has time flown to? I knew it had been a while since my last blog post, but truly didn't think it had been this long! It's been a super busy time with both business and home and time just got away on me I guess. In my attempt to save face, and knowing how much everyone enjoys Before and After photos (well at least I do so figure everyone else does), I've decided that I'm going to blog on occasion about some of the personal projects Joe and I have worked on together in this 100 yr +/- old home of ours. In the event that you don't know this, My Painted Porch began as an interior decorating business, specializing in faux finishes. I'm not going to pretend to have answers to all and won't profess myself to be an expert in the world of faux...I want simply to share what we've worked on together, what I've had a blast experimenting with and some of what we've salvaged in order to create and re-enjoy items that may otherwise, not have been enjoyed at all. I may offer a tip or two learned through trial and error, and share some of the nightmares (I'm sure there will be one or two), as well as the proud moments in a pleasing result. I may mention specific products or color names from time to time which may appear to promote a specific product. They are not mentioned for that purpose. Anything specific I do make mention of, is due to our firsthand success with a product or preference for a color...anything you see written here is based solely upon our experience as to what has worked well for us. This will be my first installment. I won't make promises to bring you one a week, but will try to make it a somewhat regular thing for a bit...at least until I run out of rooms, or projects...whichever comes first. I'm getting the itch to redecorate again tho, so running out of projects is not likely to happen :-). Here goes...enjoy!

OUR OLD HOUSE...

When Joe and I bought this old house, we knew we had our work cut out for us for the next 50 or so years and truly didn't know where to start! The house was sound, with 3floors, 6 bedrooms, 2 baths (one on the 2nd floor and one in the attic which had previously been rented out as a separate unit). It still had all of it's original 9" high mouldings, 9' high ceilings, hardwood floors hidden under layers of shag carpet which had seen many bare feet over the years (EWWWWW!!), and with a roomy main floor and wrap around glassed in sunporch. We decided upon closing, that project #1 outside of lifting carpets and scrubbing, would have to be the hub of every family's home...the kitchen.

THE KITCHEN... The kitchen had the potential to be something we could live with on a limited budget. It was a bit small, but with plenty of cabinetry, and a breakfast counter, we felt it could be easily adjusted to suite our taste and needs until our budget allowed for a major kitchen reno and something more beyond just cosmetics. Our kitchen cabinets however plenty, would definitely need attention first however, as they were all faced in a simulated (pale pink no less) woodgrain veneer. Not every one's taste, and more specifically, definitely not ours. If that wasn't enough, not just the cabinets were pink...the countertops, backsplash, some of the wood trim, the doors, the wallpaper...everything pink! Don't be thinking that we liked it and that's why we bought it. If the purple baseboards in the living room (matching the painted tree stumps and sandbox on the front lawn :-0) weren't enough to scare us off, nothing could. What we saw was a huge older home, with good solid bones, oozing of history and character underneath it all, begging to be stripped back to the grand old charming homestead it once was. Joe and I often imagined who lived, loved and shared precious family moments here over all those years...and were determined to put any ghosts to rest. Hmmmm...did I just say ghosts??  


We started with ripping up the white ceramic floor tile in the kitchen which had laid over it, 4 more layers of flooring from previous owner's ideas to a whopping total of 1.25" higher than the adjacent hardwood flooring of the dining room. We ripped everything up down to the hardwood that awaited us and were left so disappointed to find it riddled with holes from every previous owners idea as to where the sink and dishwasher should be, that we tore that up too and opted for pine flooring. When I ordered the pine from the lumber store, the salesman said "Softwood? In the kitchen? Maam...you don't want softwood flooring in the kitchen". I could hear his gasp over the phone when I said "Yes please...and if you can arrange for it to fall from the truck en route, please do so...I'll walk on it in my highheels when it arrives". Our pine floor was installed. We then moved our island to sit at an angle in our kitchen rather than in the middle where there was just no room to move or freely open the dishwasher door and oven at the same time. We removed 'towers', which were sitting on the island housing everyday dishes, drinking glasses etc, and were just too bulky, so as to allow more natural light into the room and not obstruct the cooks view of those sitting at the island. After all, one of the main purposes of having seating at a kitchen island is to encourage casual conversation and on occasion, with the cook...is it not? And I hate to be left out! And so, off the towers went to the basement, added to our never ending stockpile of materials destined for bigger and better things down the road.

I wanted our home to be warm and inviting, but more than anything, comfortable and never pretentious. Our love is for the old, old and the old with our style being I guess what you could call an eclectic mix of various styles of Country, Colonial, Early American...anything old, warn and looking as tho it's been around forever. We wanted it to be more screaming history rather than modernizing while losing character.

I also wanted to go as extreme and far away from the pink I thought I couldn't get away from fast enough, so I sanded, primed and painted the upper and lower cabinets around the perimeter of the kitchen, in black. I sporadically sanded edges and corners, and gave them a wash of a coal colour. I love mixing color in a room, so sanded, primed and painted the island an ivory for contrast and a bit of interest, and applied a tea glaze over once dried. I kept the hardware as the brass knobs were antiqued which weren't horrible. I basically wanted the kitchen to be livable and attractive enough for us, until we had a firmer idea as to what we wanted when the major reno time would eventually roll around, so replacement of everything wasn't necessary. The overall effect was just enough to give it warmth, the contrast to give it enough interest to suit me, and the black was so striking...really adding depth and dimension to the room. The wood mouldings ie baseboards, door mouldings etc, we painted in an antique gold color.

We found an old swing door in the basement after we bought the house (among tons of other 'stuff'), and drug that upstairs. I located an old brass push plate after much searching, with old text style "Push" (imagine :-)), and had Joe install it. Painted the door in a French Country Red, and again, scuffed and sanded. There was even a huge crack across the door when we found it (perfect!), so sanded that as well to emphasize it's depth. Located special hinges for cafe style doors, and our kitchen door separating our kitchen from our new mudroom was installed, beautiful in all it's new found glory and perfectly functional.  


As mentioned earlier, the countertop as well was pink. When it comes to major renos, I like to live with a space for awhile, to see how it functions for me taking note all the way as to what I find myself cussing at when I'm banging into it, or what is too far away from me and should be within easier reach etc. I don't like to make many decisions in my life without thinking ahead as to the outcome, weighing the pros and cons and end result, preferring to take my time where I can. Only knowing that I didn't want to keep the pink countertop and that was IMMEDIATE, and knowing our reno budget allowed for only so many redos, I opted for painting the countertop as a temporary fix. I started without sanding or roughing, but just using a paint roller and a melamine oil-based paint in a tan color. Allowing that to dry hard (I think it was 24 hours), the fun began. I used a sea sponge, and began pouncing on sporadic layers of water based paints mixed with equal amounts of water. You have to be careful with sponging in order to avoid losing any evidence of your base color...it's all about "good measure". I sponged one layer on all of the space very randomly, and waited for that to dry. Next color, same method to a total of approx 8 layers, until it reached an effect and color I liked. The countertop BEFORE...   

and AFTER...
When I thought it was taking on too much of a red tone, I gave it a layer of cream etc. When the final layer was dried, I applied 4 coats of Flecto Interior Water Based Urethane. It goes on appearing like milk but dries clear. It's dry to the touch in 2 hours, can be recoated in 4 hours taking approx 2 weeks to cure. You can still use the countertop before it's cured, but it should be used with care. It's going on 7 years now (I liked the result so much that I've not replaced it with something more permanent as yet), and I apply a couple of coats of Flecto every couple of years just to keep it looking fresh. It depends on how rough you are with your countertop. If you always use a cutting board, pot pads for hot pots, etc, then it can last quite a while. Certainly I should have my mind made up by now as to what I would like to have permanently, but I don't have the time to go there these days, and this temporary solution was a result I liked alot then, and still do...I'm really in no hurry to see it gone.

I'm just realizing while writing, that there are so many things Joe and I have created together. Still with at least 3 more projects in the kitchen, and that doesn't include all we've built that's in the kitchen. Some bigger than others, some involving more paint than the use of the resalvaged but for sure, anything we've created has always for us, been with a specific purpose or need. Alot of the projects are just a matter of experimenting with paint and color while utilizing different tools...and I don't mean special tools. I mean everyday items that you may have under your kitchen sink or in your utility drawer. Always fun, and always an adventure...after all, it's only a can of paint! If you don't like the end result, you paint over it and try something else. It's all about experimenting and letting your creativity take over. You'll be amazed at what you can achieve when you're not afraid to experiment a little, and if you don't try it, you'll never know! Some are overwhelmed by the idea and fear a mess. Of course that's always a risk you take with experimenting, but if it's a last chance attempt before replacing something, you have nothing to lose. Just keep reminding yourself...it's only a can of paint, it's only a can of paint... You may find that you really like it and wouldn't have it any other way!

I'm not sure which I'll touch on next, but I think I'll still be in the kitchen, and it could be the project where we used something almost a hundred years old found buried under our porch when we took over our house, to become the focal point of the room. Please remember that these are projects that have worked for us. Everyone will have their own idea as to how something should be done, and more likely than not, you should be listening to the experts where they need to be sure that something can be guaranteed before endorsing it. I'm only sharing our personal projects, what we've made work for us and what has passed our test of time...and it was only a can of paint!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

what is a hero?

Today is Sunday, Aug 23rd, marking the end of a vacation week...for my husband that is! It was my intention to have orders caught up, shipped and book the same week free, but anyone, any woman/wife/mother who is self-employed that is, knows how it goes...a thousand and one things to try and accomplish in the course of a day in addition to the full-time job of operating a business...kids, husband, home, dog etc etc etc. and having all work out exact and according to schedule enough to empty out the studio and hang the "ON VACATION" sign on the virtual door is not always as easy as one would imagine it to be. And so...we decide that this will be the week that Joe catches up on his to-do list (or my "to do list" for him, more like it) as I hand him his 1001 things to accomplish on his week off including his favorite of all jobs, painting...NOT!! How someone can NOT find painting relaxing, therapeutic, rejuvenating, a completely self-indulgent ME-time, is beyond me! Some of my girlfriends LOVE housework (now that, I'll never get), some LOVE baking (don't get that one either), some LOVE gardening (well okay...maybe for a while...a very SHORT while), but to not LOVE painting...what is there to not love about painting?

My husband is, I guess what one might call, a 'workhorse'. He's up at 5 every morning, tends to Murphy the 2nd, runs with him, and after showering and shaving, makes his lunch for work, cleans the kitchen, folds laundry, and when Lizzy was younger, would wake her, change her diaper, bring her in to me so that I could nurse her, and still finds the time to send a mail or fax to his parents in Germany or to the kids in Germany, puts coffee on for me but not without a love note wishing me a wonderful day and showering me with xoxoxo's and then driving an hour to get to work. Exhausting already, and his work day hasn't even begun! He then manages his team a full day, drives another hour to get home, spends time with Lizzy and I, can put Lizzy to bed including bathtime, storytime, lullabies, then carry on with yardwork, housework, whatever work is required including cutting signs for me, a late dinner with moi, and goes to bed at midnight. All of this to say, hardly a lazy man by any stretch of the imagination, but ask him to paint??? FORGET IT! He can do anything, fix anything, conquer anything, resolve anything, but paint? He can do it alright, but HATES IT with a passion! And so, imagine a man who works so hard, looking forward to a week away from work when all week, has been doing nothing but, painting! Incredibly fit and not at all afraid of heights or anything for that matter, has been out with an extension ladder to the top of our 36 ft tall house, on the rooftop inspecting our chimney, the roof, and enjoying the view of Campbellton, the Restigouche River, our maple treetops and our neighbors rooftops and for him, carefree and all so exhilarating until handed the dreaded paintbrush! Scraping, batting mosquitoes, sanding, batting mosquitoes, priming, batting mosquitoes, painting, batting mosquitoes. He can even live with the mosquitoes, the blistering sun, dangling from the rooftop where all that exists between him and the ground is NOTHING, but when the painting is set to begin...UGGGH! One might ask, 'Well if he hates it that much, why not hire someone to paint?". You know, I tried to sneak that one by him, but like any other man totally capable of doing his own work and that whole male pride thing that seems to go along with it, there is not a chance that I can hire another man to do his work. So all I can say to that then is, then just do it :)! And count your lucky stars that we don't live in a bungalow where the ladder can adequately reach allowing your height-fearing paint-aholic wife with her pungent for color and scheme change fluctuating every day of the week beckoning the solace that painting provides her, change the color of the house every week...because for sure he knows me well enough to know that if I could, I would!! And we laugh...

Quietly, while I'm in the attic, painting the letters on my final custom sign to be shipped in our "vacation" week, allowing what I love to do take me away in thought, thinking thru my (his) next 'honey-do' list and reflecting a little as it allows me to do, I glance at the window from 3 stories up to see his gorgeous face smiling back at me and my heart sings.

Thank you Honey for all of your hard work, for your sacrifices, for who you are, for all you give of yourself to our life together and for being the most selfless, tireless, fearless and hardworking man and father I've ever known. You truly are my hero...xoxo  

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

never too young or old to learn

I don't know if it's just me, or if some are more easily able to grasp a second language than others. Throughout grade school, we had 45 minutes of French class per day...for as long as I can remember! For years, we seemed to go over the same verbs, the same pronouns, the same phrases...my skills however never seeming to advance. We seemed to learn no more the next year than we had the previous leaving me still to confuse "tu a, il a, nous avons, vous avez" and "tu est, il est, nous etre, vous etre"...see?? Still confused! Living in a bilingual province, I learned later in adulthood just how necessary that second language would be, but ironically finding it even harder now as an adult to open up my brain and let it in. So how is it then, that a toddler can learn a second language and be fluent, in two years?

English is the primary language spoken in our home. Contrary to what one might think living in New Brunswick, Canada however, French is not the second language in our home. My husband, being German, speaks nothing but German to our toddler and he has since her birth. We wanted Lizzy's German heritage to have a big presence in her life and to ensure that she be able to communicate with her family in Germany. Some of my husband's brothers and sisters were able to study English from 5th grade up so altho maybe shy to do so, that is until watching me flounder in my amusing attempts at the German language, we do somehow miraculously manage when together. But we wanted Lizzy to be fluent and to really come to know and learn her dad's family.

My father-in-law spoke very little English, and my mother-in-law speaks none...zilch, zippo until deciding at the age of 67, that to be able to better communicate with her new daughter-in-law, she would enroll in an English class. That SO impressed me, that I upped my efforts in learning German. We do manage to get beyond the "mixed salat" somewhat, but it's a struggle. I know they have sat around the dining room table in Germany at 4 o'clock coffee and cake thoroughly entertained with my German attempts via fax being read aloud...and I've been told none of them sit with a straight face. My father-in-law would teach me all of the dialect from my husband's area, and altho it would make not much sense to someone from Hamburg, that was fine...they were not those I was wanting so desperately to communicate with. For sure they would never understand that Jaggermeister gave me a "carter". But you know, it's hard to learn another language! I'm so busy and there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all one wants to do!

Now Lizzy, 2 1/2 years old, is in her bathwater before bed this evening, and well...she burped. Immediately, she said "scuse me Mama"...then said "Chull gon". I said "pardon?". She repeated "Chull gon". I said "honey...mommy doesn't understand...what is Chull gon?". She looked at me like I should know and said "it's scuse me in German". Well...Entschuldigen! She's counting to 14 in German, singing German lullabies which Joe soothes her with at bedtime and expecting Mommy to repeat (not likely), when Mommy puts her to bed, she's handing me German fairy tales for me to read to her at bedtime and expecting everyone at daycare to understand her when she says she wants to "schowken" (dialect). Every instruction he gives her in German, every story he tells her, every word he utters to her in German, she can turn to me and switch without batting an eyelash, in her translation for me into English! It's nothing short of amazing to watch this little marvel at the ripe old age of two and a half years, communicate in a second language. And it only ashamedly proves to me that as adults, we can too. Without making a conscious effort to do so, she's taking it all in and learning. She knows no different therefor has no comparisons and probably more importantly, no inhibitions. She's not wondering how silly she sounds and her one and only focus is her need to communicate. Have you ever watched a group of toddlers together in play? It's a whole lot of googoo-gaga, but they all get it. And so it's got me to thinking...

I think I need to make some room...both in my brain, and in my outlook, and re-evaluate what I "can" or "can't" get or more accurately probably, what I'm 'open to' and 'not open to' learning. Maybe I need to start with a blank canvas, an open mind...a willingness to learn, and let a strong desire and need to communicate with and to learn those around me, be my guide. Whether it be in love, work or play, be it family, friend, foe or neighbour, communication is everything and well, I'm thinking if a two year old can do it...


Lizzy on her "schowken"... 

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

never let it be said, "a sign is just a sign"

I had the thought this week that I think surely I've by now figured out all the buttons and have my feet wet enough in the blogging world to actually write about My Painted Porch :)! Just to let you know...I really have no intentions of this blog being all about business. I'm a people person...I love to talk, and listen, and really hear. I love people who are earnest, honest, aren't afraid to show a bit of vulnerability, have that wonderful ability to laugh at themselves...just share a bit of themselves. That's why I think it's so awesome that I get to do what I do, often in my pj's which I'm sure I must have mentioned before as that's pretty hard to beat, but...that I get to meet even if only online, so many wonderful and amazing people with real lives and hear their real stories, is even harder to beat. Where that becomes most evident and special for me is in the custom orders. So many, many e-mails back and forth trying to determine a customer's likes, dislikes, that of their family's, get a sense of their personal style, determine what decor they have, color schemes, their lifestyle...I even know their dog's names and they know mine! You can't help but get to know and learn each other...I love it! There have been many, but I wanted to share a few here of the very special and memorable projects that stand out to me. Yes, of course for the work and the end product, but I think just as much for the experience itself in learning others. I've come to realize, that a custom sign is never about just a sign...

I had a customer last year who had requested a sign. I didn't ask questions except for those aimed only at trying to arrive at what the customer was really looking for...preferred font styles, colours, contour, size etc. Once the sign was ready for shipping, she shared this wonderful story with me as to how the sign idea came to be. She was a mom to two growing-to-be-very-independent, teen aged kids who, as all mothers know of kids coming into that age, develop a sudden dislike for hanging out with their parents. They outgrow the need to be tied to Mom and Dad, having their own friends and different interests, and the times that they choose to grace the rest of the family with their presence, become more and more rare.

Natalie's family had decided to plan a vacation together to Quebec (they were from NY)...after all, who knows how many vacations can still be taken as a family when your kids enter 'the age'. After a lengthy travel and full day, they were tired, hungry and giddy and having dinner that first evening in a restaurant, they spotted a writing on the wall that read in French "life is too short...eat your dessert first". Soon the giddies turned to bellyaches and tears in their exhaustion and at that moment, Mom was all too suddenly aware that this could very well be the last family vacation they would have together with their children as 'kids'. And so to capture the moment, was born the idea to have a sign created for her breakfast nook, reading those words that had them so in tears with laughter, to serve as a reminder to the entire family, of the togetherness they enjoyed and shared as a family in this one moment in time that would forever be in her memory. Of course being the sap that I am, I bawled like a baby (perhaps hormonal...everything with me these days is!)...it was a moment in her life that I as a mom to a 22 yr old could so relate to. I knew where she was in her thoughts and what she was feeling, and it was such an honour to know that I had in some small way, created by hand what a mom was feeling in her heart. To anyone else, it looks like a sign, like any other sign...but not to me, and most certainly not to her and her family. This was her moment frozen in time...  

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Another I have to share, was from a customer in South Carolina with a very interesting background, who told me of the history before we began the whole creative process. She first sent me photos of her incredibly grand kitchen which was beyond words and nothing short of gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! It included a skillfully crafted island, complete with turned legs and great detailing, faux finished and antiqued to perfection in a steel blue colour but with a very unique wash as a final touch...the entire piece a true scene stealer. Her history goes something like this...

The Cafe des Trois Renards was a hotel/restaurant that her grandparents owned in Tassin-la Demi-Lune just outside of Lyon, France. Her mother's family moved there after being forced to leave their beloved Algeria, during the independence in the 60's. They had owned a cafe in Algeria for decades. The French government of France tried to provide equivalent businesses for these exiles, hence "Les Trois Renards" which her grandparents ran until their death. Years prior to that, when she was a child, her mother - who came to America as a French war bride - took them to Europe to meet her family. Even then at a young age, she recalled being smitten -- with her grandparents, with the country, cafe, and customers. She returned year after year following that introduction with so many bon souvenirs, and this would be one to pay homage to her heritage and her parents, serve as a momentum to all they endured in their journey to rebuild their lives, and allow her to proudly display a piece of her history and all she had grown to cherish and hold dear to her.

With matching colors via e-mail and websites, we were able to come up with colors and techniques so as to not have the sign match identically to the island, but rather compliment it and the kitchen as a whole, and give it the attention and spotlight it so deserved.

Thank you so much Monique, for allowing me to play a part in that. It was a true pleasure. This creation was approximately 24" x 40".   

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Another 'custom' story I have for you warmed my heart beyond words being the romantic that I am. The sign itself is going to look really similar to the first 'custom' sign pic I've included in this posting, but the story...be still my heart, read on...

I received an email on one very cold January day in Canada, from a lady who wrote the following..."My husband and I have set up an "antique" bistro table and two chairs in a sunny corner of an upstairs room in our home. We have lunch there on cold but sunny days. Some say this is a little eccentric, but at 75 and 86 years of age, we feel perfectly justified. We enjoy our beer, Camembert and baguette in this cozy nook".

I was so moved by her mail, as I've so imagined Joe and I at that age, still totally in love, stealing our quiet time in a back room of our home, and imagining ourselves to be anywhere we want to be. To know that I could somehow help to create a sense of romance and sanctuary to a couple who so deserve and enjoy the little luxuries in life and together...was uplifting! I have tremendous respect and admiration for those who have lived and loved and raised families thru thick and thin, and so genuinely thrilled for those who still have such big love in their lives in each other in the end. Ahhhh...it's Henry Fonda/Kathryn Hepburn stuff isn't it? I know it...I'm such a sap... I cried at that e-mail too!

I so hope you are both enjoying every morsel of sun that has seen Pennsylvania in your very own BISTRO and I will never forget you...you know who you are :). We downsized our large BISTRO sign from 36" to 8 x 28" to accommodate their space. This is her creation...  

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I will make this my last for the night, but I CANNOT forget the most wonderful and at the same time, harrowing experience of a custom order yet and she will be laughing when she reads this.

Back in December of last year, I received a request from a customer for something big and something french. Following several e-mails with attached pics of her dining area, we tossed ideas back and forth, back and forth, samples galore of various text styles, sizes, sign contours, colors and in the end, what was the result was nothing short of GORGEOUS!! I couldn't wait for her to receive this huge and wonderful creation just as she had envisioned...it really was exquisite in person and all so carefully chosen right down to the smallest detail. And so, off it went, Chicago bound.

Now Cda Post has this thing where once a package reaches a certain girth and weight, they won't handle it. And so, a major courier (who shall remain nameless but forever embedded in my brain), ensures safe delivery with very careful packaging (according to me) and loads of insurance. Anxiously awaiting for her e-mail exclaiming "it's arrived...and it's GORGEOUS!", I ck my inbox to find "it's arrived, and it's GORGEOUS, and it's DAMAGED!". Both equally devastated, we struggle desperately to find a solution. Following several angry phone calls from both sides to the courier company, we find that our only options are for her to ship it back to me at 'couriers' ridiculous charges, and I reship back to her or...have her try a repair by distance. Finally arriving at the only sensible solution, she and I set out by email and long-distance phone calls, to repair a piece which I would like to think only I can fix :). Well... following many giggles, even more e-mails and oodles of detail and step-by-step instruction, mission accomplished, when I receive her email exclaiming "It's hung!" I attempted to count our e-mails from the onset of Di's project request to the final repair, and stopped at 56!! Then we laughed at the withdrawal symptoms we were both having after no longer having to communicate concerning our beloved sign. This is a pic of our creation...I believe it was in the area of 32" x 44.  

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Truly one of the most wonderful customers and people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing across the miles. During that whole time, and thru all of the mails, we got to know each other, share a bit about our personal lives, our children, husbands and yes...even our dogs!

The more I meet people in this new generation of business online, the more I like it. So many different people, from all walks of life, each with a story who inspire you almost daily, and in your pj's no less! I love my job!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

perfection or perception

PERFECT...

Our two and a half year old daughter Lizzy is coming out with such a huge and rapidly growing vocabulary and using so many of her new words in full sentences. "Now where did Mommy put her purse Lizzy?" while not really expecting her to tell me and merely mumbling to myself out loud, came the tiny reply "I'm really not sure Mama!". This week she seems to be favouring the words "pretty" and "perfect"...but they always come out "pity" and "perkit". I resist the temptation to correct her on each attempt, as I want her to know that it's not the perfect pronunciation of the word that exhilarates me as much as it is to hear her speak and vocalize her thoughts and feelings, to see her face as she hears herself and realizes the interaction with others that language offers her, and to see the immense pride she takes in all of her attempts.

AND NOT SO PERFECT...

I don't mind saying that altho aging means different things to different people, for me, well...I'm just not all that ready. It's especially harder for women to accept anyway I think.  We live in a society where we're expected to look perfect, be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, perfect sister, perfect daughter, perfect everything to everyone and in all things. We all have our flaws...those only skin deep and those to the very core and altho one would think time and experience would bring a whole lot of wisdom and absolute perfection, I just can't seem to get 'perfect' at any of it. We all have our own ideals as to how things should be...our own personal definition and perception of what looking perfect, being 'perfect' in the role of wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter should be. I don't want to be a 'perfect' anything and very lucky for me, as I don't think I ever will be! When I look at others, I can think they should be kinder, they should be smarter, they should be prettier, they should be more loyal, they should be more punctual, but if I do that, then it would also mean that I have to look at myself and expect the same. Hmmm...

IT'S ALL IN OUR PERCEPTION...

And so I make a pact with myself to be realistic and human and vow that for every good thing I see in someone else, I will look for one in myself. And for every imperfection I'm perhaps a little too quick to point out in someone else, I acknowledge, forgive and accept one in myself. I figure this way, I can't be too hard on others in my expectations of them, can greater handle life's little disappointments, and learn to love and accept people for who they are, myself included, and forgive the little flaws and imperfections.

This morning, I'm on my way to my daughter's daycare with her strapped securely into her carseat with her blue Elton John-like sunglasses on, a Wal-Mart smiley sticker in one hand, and her beloved Mr. Froggie in the other. We begin to back out of our driveway, but before reaching the end, I stop to check my look in the rear view mirror...smooth a line here, a line there, analyze my lipstick after having grabbed kernels of Lizzy's Corn Pops as we dashed our way out the door. Pretending to be horrified, I said out loud, "look at that Lizzy...my lips are far from perfect" with the conscious effort to remind her of the correct pronunciation of her latest word-of-the-week, to which the little voice from the backseat responded "No Mama...not perkit...pity!". With a heart still smiling as we drove away, I couldn't help but think that perhaps not to anyone else, my perception of my life and this little marvel smiling back at me in the mirror from where she sat perched up high in her slightly tilted Elton John glasses, was as close to perfect as "perkit" gets...I can only hope it's her perception of me.  

Lizzy

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

and more on the weather

OK...I really don't want to use this blog to talk about the weather but it's getting to be kinda ridiculous Mr. Weatherman!! We, in our little area of northern New Brunswick Canada (Campbellton to be exact), nestled away in a beautiful valley surrounded by water and rolling hills, have just hosted our annual community Salmon Festival. I mentioned in the previous posting (and my first) that I had hoped to include some photos in my next post. Hmmmm...well this is what I got...  

and this...the positive thoughts of a two year old :)

and this...
Now what you're seeing in the above photo behind the blue plaid (my husband's shirt), is actually the sky's reflection in the puddle that had accumulated around his behind while sitting in his chair watching our festival parade...and yes, the amusement ride people are in town! While watching the kids and beauty contestants in their gowns and perfectly coiffed dos parade on by in clear plastic rain ponchos, I couldn't help but remember the year I was part of a majorette marching band as a kid in the same parade and had to wear hotpants. Same weather...and trust me, they were anything but hot!

But you know, being the optimist that I am, I looked forward to the sun finally rearing it's gorgeous and bright head this July 7th morning, longing for a run in the sun, just as the weatherman had predicted. Calling for nothing but sunshine and mid 20 temps the rest of the week...yipee!! We can finally enjoy the pool...that is once we drain off the extra 6 inches of rainfall!

Uh...not so fast...he's now also calling for frost and 7 degrees overnight. Hmmmmm...Honey, where did we stash the iceskates???

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Welcome to Canada's east coast

Living on the east coast of Canada, it seems we are always in winter. We see first snowfall every year on or about my mom's birthday of October 6th, and last flurries can be seen as late as May. End of May you hope to see all snow melted, and some hopeful sign of a tulip! Late June/early July normally brings telltale signs of summer, with warmest weeks being the last two of July...yes you heard right...two full weeks of balmy summer weather:)! August sees cooler temps, with last two weeks of August showing signs of Fall temps. September is getting chilly, furnaces are turned on at night. Halloween is darned cold with tights under the Cinderella get-ups and thermo gloves becoming part of the costume, as have boots for walking thru the odd patch of snow, and your furnace stays on until mid May again :)! And I mustn't forget to mention the temps of -42 last two weeks of Jan and first two of Feb!

A magnificent Canadian sunset mid July...  

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Same location mid February...

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Now, first day of summer was officially a little over a week ago, and we are this week in celebration with our annual community "Salmon Festival". The long running joke has been that once the amusement ride people arrive as part of the festival activities, so does the rainy weather and guess what?? This year has proven to be no exception with current temps of 13 degrees and rain forecasted until a week from tomorrow :).

Nonetheless, it's a time of year to gather outdoors, see visiting faces and receding hairlines that are vaguely familiar if one were to retro-age enhance the memory, enjoy live music, and dance in the streets. I hope to have some pics to post a bit later of this year's activities and of a sun blessed area that really is quite beautiful.

Until then, wishing one and all a Happy Salmon Festival! BRRRRR!

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