August 19, 2013

Blogger Retreat 1.0 - 48 Hours of Fabulous

Thursday, July 25 started off quietly but didn't stay that way for long. It was already unlike a normal Thursday because my husband was home from work. So before the day got busy, we enjoyed some yummy iced coffee in the backyard together.

We talked a little about what the weekend would bring...what the kids would do, what his plans were. Then came the questions he'd been dying to ask for days:

"So let me get this're going to the airport to pick up a complete stranger and driving her to Lynne's? By yourself? And even Lynne has never met her?"

"You got it, " I replied, boldly.

"So no one has met her? Are you sure she's actually a 'she'?"

"Well not really, I guess. But if she isn't I'm sure I'll know that before she gets in my car, right?"

He nodded, but in retrospect, I'm sure he was having visions of The Crying Game and wondering what had gotten into me given my introverted nature, inability to make small talk and general preference to spend time with people I already know/love vs. a group of people I've never met. But the last time I disappeared for a weekend with people I barely knew was also with Lynne Knowlton. And that turned out great, so I guess he decided to go with the flow ;)

The next thing I knew, Ann Garvin and I were in my car, heading out on a two hour journey that felt like a mere 10 minutes. Turns out Ann is a lovely, caring, pee-your-pants-hilarious kind of that I'm now proud to call my friend :)

So...where were we going?

Lucky us - the hosts of Blogger Retreat, Lynne Knowlton and Lisa Smith, invited us to join them at a three day event to share business ideas, social media best practices, fabulous food and lots of belly laughs. I had a head/face/neck-ache for two days afterwards because my face was stuck in perma-grin the entire time. I even did the ugly craff - you know, the cry/laugh that leaves you unable to speak or even breathe? Yeah that happened. A lot.

How I was lucky enough to be invited, I'll never know. But I want to go back:

We were absolutely spoiled by beautiful weather and delicious food prepared by chef Derek Paterson from the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto (who really should write a cookbook - tapping my toes in anticipation!) and his lovely assistant Tristan Knowlton (Lynne's daughter).

Thoughtful touches included a gorgeous gift bag for each of us courtesy of Anita Griffin of Brizo Canada - one of the event sponsors) and candies, soaps, water and custom-made luggage tags at our bedsides.

Our round table talks/presentations (let's be real - more laughing) happened here - in the barn:

And also by the pool:

What did we talk about? Who attended? Well, I can only share this fabulous collage of head shots by designer and photographer extraordinare Courtney Price - aside from that, we decided what happened in the treehouse/barn stays in the treehouse/barn. 

From top left to right: Lynne Knowlton, Norma Thiessen, Lisa Smith, Lisa Ferguson, Ann Garvin, Anita Griffin, Courtney Price, (me), and Kathy Sandler

At some point during the weekend I'm sure my husband was wondering if I had gone missing. The days were so packed with food, fun and near constant learning, that my head was too full to remember to call home. Perhaps it was not having to worry about someone being hungry, needing clean baseball pants, or more groceries...but even though we were busy, this was the first time I had relaxed in ages.

Mostly, it was being in the company of these wonderful, generous, intelligent and crazy-hilarious women that made me feel so comfortable that I didn't even miss home. By the end of the 48 hours we spent together, I had seven new friends and a completely different outlook on how all of my past work experience is leading me in a new but strangely comfortable direction. I feel energized about my opportunities for the first time in ages.

Thanks to YOU, my new friends, for helping me get there :)

April 01, 2013

Undiscovered photos and Vivian Maier - street photographer

It's possible my absence around here (although I did post two days ago ;) ) has tipped you off, but lately I'm feeling a little social media'd/internet-ed out. This "look at me" world, obsessed with enumerating "likes" and "friends" has a tendency to drain the energy from an introvert like me sometimes. Often, instead of interacting, I just want to browse the work of other artists, authors, chefs and photographers.

I'm especially drawn to street photographers. Probably because I can't imagine having the guts to just walk around shooting photos of strangers all day. What if they don't want their photo taken? What if they catch me and yell at me? Yeah...what if?? If I follow that question through to an answer, it probably wouldn't actually be that bad. But the act of seemingly invading someone's privacy both creeps me out and fascinates me at the same time. So far, I've been too intimidated to even try it.

When my dad died, my mom gave me his cameras. One of them is a Yashica Mat-124 G which is a medium format film camera. It intimidates me a little so I've never used it .

Recently I realized it has a roll of film inside with six exposed images. Six shots my dad took that we have never seen. I can't wait to get them printed because to me, seeing them will be like peeking into my dad's experience for a moment....will feel like having a new conversation with him....something I can no longer do. It's exciting and emotional at the same time. First I have to expose the other six frames which I started doing this weekend. I'm rushing this step a bit because I want to take that film out and develop it, but I'm also having fun shooting with a totally different kind of camera.

Going through this process reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago. You may have already heard of Vivian Maier but if not, spend a few minutes and watch the Youtube videos below. Her story and her photography are fascinating. She has rightly been referred to as one of the most important street photographers of the 20th century. one ever saw her work until after she died in 2009. Here's her story:

**Apparently with the iOS 6 update, embedded Youtube videos can't be seen on iPads anymore. Boo!! So I've attached some ugly but necessary links to these videos for anyone reading on an iPad. Scroll down for video links and the rest of the post...**

Finding Vivian Maier trailer:

Vivian Maier: Street photographer and nanny:

You can also follow some of her work on Instagram: @vivianmaier.

I love learning about people who do something for the sheer love of the thing and not because they need anyone else's praise to make them feel better about their work. I guess that's why I'm so fascinated with Vivian Maier's story. To be so talented, to have recorded such a vast amount of visual history of the streets of New York and Chicago and to not have shared it with I'm  torn between admiring her self-confidence and feeling sad that no one else could appreciate her work while she was still alive.

I can't wait to see the rest of the documentary film "Finding Vivian Maier".

March 25, 2013

A little spring colour

Small point of clarification....

This is spring:

The grey, budless trees I'm looking at out my window right now are not spring. I have no photo because I don't want to look at its greyness anymore, much less photograph it. So in case you, too, have forgotten what spring looks like, here are a few more reminders to warm you up:

I need some colour!

I need some warmth!

And some flowers. Pretty please?

Hurry up, spring.

February 15, 2013

Van Gogh Chalk Paint

I should probably begin with an update on my "finish all the crappy projects in the closet" goal. It'll be a quick update because I've completed a grand total of NO projects so far. But that's OK - I only said I would complete them this year. And we're only in month two of 2013 ;)

For my next project I'm going to paint another piece of furniture. And while I didn't mention it in my post about finishing all the crappy projects, this one technically fits the bill because I've had this little side table in my basement for about three years:

I bought it from someone via kijiji for $10, planning to use it as a side table in our basement, which is completely finished but I don't mention it often because it's kind of a "boy cave" - full of hockey mini sticks, Wii games, Tae Kwon Do equipment etc. I don't go down there much ;)

However, we've recently re-organized it a bit. Our boys are getting to old for a lot of their toys and we've gotten rid of a lot of the stuff that used to make the place look like Toys R Us barfed all over the floor. This little table is completely open inside and will make great storage for board games, cards etc. once I'm finished.

Shortly before Christmas, I won a contest held by Elsinore at Splash of Charm. I was the lucky recipient of a can of Van Gogh Chalk Paint and a container of Van Gogh Beeswax Furniture Finish:

Van Gogh is a Canadian chalk paint line and I think they have some really pretty colours.
I chose "Lipstick" which is a beautiful red, but I also love the look of Muse, Chivalry and Laundered Money.

I'm planning to get this table finished over the weekend so I'll be back next week with my review of the paint. I love to support Canadian companies where possible so I'm hoping I love it!

January 18, 2013

It's Not About the Dope - Why the Lance Armstrong Story Matters

My almost 12-year old son was one of Lance Armstrong's biggest fans from the age of about four. He would invite the neighbourhood kids to join him in the "Tour de Whatever-Street-We-Lived-On-At-The-Time" and spend entire summers wanting to wear nothing else but his collection of yellow t-shirts - his own mini version of the maillot jaune. We introduced him to cycling (or rather, I did) because since the 80's, I've watched the Tour every year. Every stage, every broadcast minute even before Lance was involved. My brother used to race and most of our family became fans of the sport as a result. That was back in the days of Laurent Fignon, Greg LeMond and Steven Roche.

I've always found competitive cycling intriguing, in part because it's just so tough, but also because of its many unwritten rules around honour, ethics and sportsmanship that make it different from most others: the yellow jersey is never attacked on the last day; the yellow jersey is never attacked if he has fallen or had a mechanical problem; if two riders are vying for a stage win and one of those riders will be in the yellow jersey after the stage, he generally gives up the stage win to the other rider...the list is quite long. And fascinating for such a competitive sport.

My interest has waned in recent years because rampant doping is making it tough for me to believe in the sport at all anymore. I became skeptical of Lance's innocence a few years ago when almost all his rivals and former teammates were being caught doping. Yet still, last April we stood on the Champs-Élysées in Paris and tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in July, bikes whizzing by on the cobblestone street, taking in the excitement of the final day of the world's toughest sporting event.

Like a lot of people, I was firmly planted in front of the TV last night watching Lance Armstrong admit that he used performance-enhancing drugs to help him win seven consecutive Tours de France. Part of me didn't even want to watch. Didn't want to give him even one more second of my mind time, given the huge disappointment he has proven himself to be. I'll admit I wanted to see him squirm a bit. Wanted him to be in the uncomfortable position in which he had placed so may before him. But because his confession only came after he was caught, that made it a whole lot less satisfying.

Beyond the admission of cheating, there's a much bigger story here and it's one we should all pay attention to whether we are disgusted by Lance's actions or willing to turn the other cheek. The simple truth is that this story is about bullying. We're all shocked when children bully. When groups of teenagers gang up on another young person for no reason other than to make themselves feel superior. But somehow, this decade-long story of adult bullying and mental torture can be explained away because Lance Armstrong was a "winner" and just doing whatever was necessary to continue winning. Or even worse, because he hid behind the shield of cancer and so, made himself untouchable.

Far beyond his lies, his former teammates and employees say he coerced, threatened and destroyed the personal and professional reputations and lives of those who were supposed to be his friends and supporters. Some even claim to have received death threats over the phone. How in the world can we be OK with that and yet tell our children that bullying is always wrong and should never be tolerated?

Comparisons between Lance and Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, Roger Clemens...the list is long....aren't valid, in my opinion because there's a huge difference between those falls from grace and Lance's. Only Lance created a culture of intimidation and threats around his lie. He brought others into his circle of lies to create a society that couldn't rat each other out without threat of personal loss to every member. When an incredulous Oprah asked Lance, "So you sued all those people when you knew they were telling the truth. What IS that????" she finally got to the crux of this story.

Without the intimidation, I really believe Lance Armstrong would have been forgiven eventually. Just like Alberto Contador, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton before him. They were all found guilty of cheating. But none of them tried to destroy the lives and livelihoods of others who dared to "out" their truths. In this story, they are the bullied ones and that's why we have compassion for them, even though they were as guilty as Lance was of the original cheating. Had Lance not carried his cheating to an all-out vendetta against anyone who would challenge him and/or his lie, I wouldn't even be writing this post.

While reading through my Twitter feed last night, I was shocked by the number of people who still don't see that. Who still think what he did was acceptable because in elite sports, "everyone lies...everyone cheats". That a win is a win as long as it's played on a level playing field with other cheaters. Really? Are we truly OK with a society that's so jaded about cheating that we don't even see the sin in it anymore? And even worse....that blindness leads us away from realizing the underlying bullying problem at the heart of this mess?

I have to believe it's because those people don't really understand the sport of competitive cycling or they aren't familiar with this story in its entirety - so they think this is just another simple cheating story. If I don't believe that, I'm left with the understanding that no one really cares about bullying after all. That it's never going to stop. So instead, I will hold up Betsy Andreu as THE example of standing up to a bully no matter the cost. She did what we all tell our children to do. The right thing. She has true integrity - doing what's right even when it's hard. And if we don't celebrate that, then what do we have left in our crusade against childhood bullying?

Last night, my son watched the first five minutes of Oprah's interview and heard his fallen hero answer "yes" to the first few questions about doping before heading to bed. This morning he told me he's "disappointed". We've discussed talking to him about the dangers of idolatry and turning celebrity athletes into heroes. But at the same time, I don't want to crush his childhood fantasies about one day crossing the finish line on the Champs-Élysées, or scoring a game-winning goal in the NHL or discovering the secrets of the universe with his telescope. He has the rest of his life to deal with reality. Now is the time for heroes and dreams. I think we just need to be sure the heroes we choose display the values we treasure. That's why Betsy Andreu will be mine.

January 17, 2013

Dude - You Forgot Your Blog

I took this photo in Amsterdam in April and titled it, "Dude - You Forgot Your Bike". long do you think this bike has been sitting there? And locked up, no less. Just in case someone was thinking about riding it home:

Poor, sad wee bike :(

Kind of like this blog, in fact ;)

For a while now I've been too busy painting and making/eating Christmas cookies with my family to blog. To remedy that situation, I'll share my most recent Annie Sloan painting project. I used a few techniques and paint colours for this one and I think it turned out pretty well.

First some before photos. This is an iPhone photo of a buffet I bought from someone on kijiji last year. I think I paid $50 for it? When you see the close-up shots, you'll wonder why I paid anything for it. I'm starting to wonder that myself...

Someone had a major party and forgot to clean up one night, it would seem. Honestly - how does this kind of damage happen in day to day life?

This next photo is worse:

It's true. I paid actual money for something a dog almost chewed to pieces. What is WRONG with me? Live and learn, I guess.

Some wood filler, sanding and a bunch of coats of paint later, and now I have this:


(Please forgive the pinkish cast in these photos. It's dark here today so a few lights had to be on to take these)

The base colour here is Annie Sloan French Linen which I love, love, LOVE. But alone it was kind of dull. So I first added a wash (watered down coat) of Old White and then rubbed off most of it, leaving the white just where the details are and in cracks/crevices (not unlike the ones under my aging eyes). Once that was dry, I followed with a very thin coat of clear wax and followed THAT with a coat of dark wax, rubbing off the excess as I worked so the wax didn't make the finish look too dirty.

The top and inside of the buffet are Annie Sloan Graphite. The top got a coat of dark wax to deepen the colour (Graphite is quite blue on its own), followed by a good buffing.

One little tip Kathie Jordan (my closest Annie Sloan stockist) was kind enough to share with me: If you find the wax looks uneven even after buffing, take a clean cloth dampened with mineral spirits and wipe away some of the excess wax until the finish looks even again. Then you can wax again. In my case, I wiped some mineral spirits all over this piece....anywhere the dark wax made the finish too dirty looking. And then followed with some more clear wax and a good buffing with cheesecloth to finish.

I'm pretty happy with this first try. I'm sure with practice I can do better but I think I successfully gave this piece a new life for now :)

Coming up: I bought some fabric with Christmas money that was burning a hole in my pocket...planning on making a modern quilt with that. I also bought an instructional DVD from Slipcovers by Shelley to learn how to make my own slipcovers. I have a few fabric samples so once I choose the winner, I plan to slipcover a chair. Wish me luck!

In other news, I just found the world's biggest cobwebs in my powder room. Apparently more than just my blog needs some attention ;)

December 12, 2012

The Land of Unfinished Projects

I may rename this blog. "House Four" seemed like it fit when I first decided to start another blog, but now I'm thinking "The Place Where Crafty Projects Go To Die" is more fitting.

Are you like me? Do you have umpteen unfinished crafts or home improvement projects sitting unfinished in your basement or closet? I've decided 2013 is the year to finish my unfinished projects. If I don't want to finish them, I'm going to donate them or get rid of them in some way because they just make me feel bad. I hate that I spent money on the materials for these things and now they sit unfinished and, frankly, under-valued in a closet somewhere.

To light a fire under my butt, I'm going to post photos of some of my unfinished works. If I post it, I'll feel guilty about not finishing so here goes:

Project #1 - A 75" x 87" quilt I started in 1999. Nope, not kidding. I was a gainfully employed, married adult in 1999. I know many of you were but wee babes in 1999, but let's just state facts - I'M OLD - and move on ;)

This is the package of instructions for the quilt. My friend Erin, who I took my first quilting course with, bought it for me. Thanks Erin! Sorry I never finished it but...well...I have no excuse.
Anyway...this is quite country in style and not really my colours anymore either, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't finish it and give it the love and admiration it deserves. Don't try to tell me you didn't like these colours in the late 90's because you did. Get over it ;)

So I am more than half-way finished this quilt top. This is the centre of the quilt:

And these are the house and tree blocks that go around the centre (hence the name of the quilt: "Around the Block"):


There is a LOT of cutting and piecing with this quilt. Tiny little squares and rectangles to make the houses and fencing, in particular. But I will endure and finish this quilt! I have all the trees, all the fences and half of the houses made so I'm most of the way there.

Project #2:  A Peggy's Cove cross-stitch (Peggy's Cove is in Nova Scotia for the non-Canadians who might be reading)

This one is actually pretty much "finished". At least the cross-stitching part is. But I haven't done anything with it. So I need to decide whether to frame it or turn it into a pillow. OR just give it away. Decisions....

Project #3: Another cross-sitch - was meant to be the top of a sewing kit box with padding underneath so it can double as a pincushion

This one is close to finished. But I started it before I began having symptoms of arthritis in my fingers so I'm not 100% sure how I'm going to finish this. See? Told you I'm old ;)

This is by no means the full list of unfinished, sad little projects. But before I tumble into the depths of despair over my inability to finish things, I'll show you something I completed the other day! I Pinned a Christmas ornament tutorial a while ago and since I had some glass ornaments and acrylic craft paints lying around, I thought I'd give it a try. And it was so easy I'm going to make more. I love how these turned out. I used multiple colours and they swirled around on their own - the tutorial uses one colour per ornament but I think both are pretty:

These are all the colours I used:

OK I feel better now. I've also completed a few other projects but I'll save those for another day :)
Until then, please tell me you have a stash of unfinished crap in your house?
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