What I Discovered In the Coverup

A couple of days ago I had a small medical procedure that involved sutures near my ear and included a head wrap bandage that left me looking a bit like Jacob Marley’s Ghost in the Dickens classic,  A Christmas Carol.

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Moderately vain woman that I am, I wrapped one of my long scarves around my head to hide the bandage and set off from the doctor’s office en route to my stepmom’s house which was a significant distance away.

It should come as no surprise that the one time I wanted to scoot home unnoticed, I missed a turn and had to stop for directions twice. I ended up driving through a very rural part of Georgia where I began to consider that a headscarf worn to conceal a bandage might make people see me not as stylish, but perhaps something to be feared.

I’ve wrapped many a scarf around my head to protect my hair from the wind or sun and added sunglasses at times in a playful attempt to emulate a variety of film stars such as Sharon Stone or Elizabeth Taylor, but never have I worried that I might encounter hostility or suspicion because of what I normally consider a fashion statement or something to protect me from the weather.

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I’m generally not easily intimidated, I served in the military in the late 70s and early 80s and because we live in a world where women are more likely than men to be victims of violence or harassment, I learned early how to suss out situations where I might not be physically safe and how to avoid them.

I viewed it as living a state of awareness rather than one of living in fear.

I thought I was pretty good at it until the other day when I sashayed out the door with my scarf-wrapped head on my way to the car. It was not until I stopped the first time for directions and drew a couple of odd looks and no help at all from the two men at the gas station that I began to consider my head scarf might be an issue. It’s possible they didn’t know where the major highway in question was in relation to the gas station, but I left feeling like something was off in the exchange.

Given the open hostility and racism modeled and encouraged by Donald Trump at his rallies and in his Twitter messages over the last eighteen months, for the first time I became aware that there might be more ways to feel unsafe than I am accustomed to.

The next time I stopped was at McDonald’s where I was able to get coffee and directions from a nice woman behind the counter. I will admit that the lingering look of an older white male ( mid 50s like myself ) made me wonder if he was trying to decide if I was one of those immigrant people Donald Trump thinks need to go back to where they came from or a dangerous Muslim with malicious mischief on her mind.

Being a white female raised in the Christian faith in America, racism has never been part of my personal experience in that it has never been directed at me.

Safely in my car having found the right road back, I thought about the brief taste of the anxiety I’d felt and wondered about the  people who deal with fear and dread every day due to clothing that reveals their religious faith, or those whose skin color marks them as other to some of the more radical and angry groups of largely white audiences mobilized and encouraged by the hate speech at Trump rallies and the folks who are his supporters. I’m not saying all Trump’s supporters are the same, but how could anyone pledge their allegiance to a man who at best insults everyone and tries to eviscerate those who challenge him.

The big question here is not whether I imagined the odd look or the possibility that someone might say or do something ugly to me because they thought I was a Muslim, but how did America go through such a radical transition in such a short period?

We are a nation of immigrants with only a small percentage being native to this land and if I was afraid to be mistaken for a Muslim woman, how do those who need to dress in the ways of their faith feel about living in a country where the words ” Freedom of Religion ” no longer truly mean Freedom.

I’ve been more afraid for America than I can remember having listened to the reactions and praise for Trump’s ideals over the last few months.

More than fear, I have felt a level of grief I had not expected watching people lose themselves to their darker sides and behave openly in ways that are shameful and embarrassing for those Americans who appreciate diversity and who honor the struggle in all of us to be better together than a nation divided by bigotry and hatred.

I will be holding my breath tomorrow as I watch the election returns and want to say to every person who has truly felt the fear that I probably only imagined, my vote will have been cast for the candidate I believe can lead us back to a stronger  better nation where there is a place at the table for everyone no matter what they wear on their head or where they may have originally called home.

One indivisable nation because that is who we are when we are at our best!

Keeping Company With Poldark In America

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It’s the wee hours of cool morning in October as I write this and if the weather follows the direction of the last few days, I shall be peeling off the added layers rather quickly. Such variations in Georgia temperature are no surprise to me and I am looking forward to mild days well into November as is usually the case. I’ve been working and sleeping at my daughter’s house for the last few days. There are always projects to be done and I enjoy doing what I like to call my “gifts of service.”

Evenings are generally quiet when I sleep over at my daughter’s house. By choice she doesn’t have cable TV or internet service so I tend to read or watch something from her DVD library at the end the day. I’m usually knackered from a hard day of clawing back her backyard from the woods that try to reclaim it or picking up the castoffs from the “ Circle of Nine “ as I like to call the tall pine trees that guard the East end at front of her property. Never in my life would I imagine that so many pine cones could fall from a group of trees along with loads of pine straw and broken bit of tree limbs and sticks. This time of the year it’s a challenge to get the grass clear of debris long enough to cut the grass.

Lest you think this post all about gardening and projects, I wanted to talk about how I’ve been keeping company with Poldark in the evenings lately. I sent my daughter the first season for her birthday and had no idea I would be watching it while I was here. John and I are keen Poldark fans having watched the original series from the 70s before Aidan Turner made the character Ross Poldark, his forever, for a new generation of viewers. Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, it follows the lives of the Poldark family and the miners who live in Cornwall during the 18th century.

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While there is much more to Poldark than just the male lead, according to the news media a great many women seem to be quite taken with Aidan Turner’s good looks and moody portrayal of Ross Poldark. While I can appreciate a smoldering look and nice set of abs myself, it is the coast of Cornwall and the wide open sky over Bodmin Moor in the first season of Poldark that has me longing for my Cornish home. Even I am surprised to find myself getting a bit teary watching some of the outdoors scenes set in places that look so familiar, and when I mentioned it to my daughter last night she said, “ You’ve only been away for six days! “

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I didn’t tell her first feeling of homesickness began when I was watching the series after she’d gone to bed on day two of having my feet back on Georgia soil.

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Two days!

While I may not be “ Proper Cornish “ as a native might say, I can see that I’ve put down roots that have grown deeper than I had realized.

Earlier this year, John and I put our home on the market after a trip to Tenby in Wales. John grew up there and has always loved it and wanted to move back. While I enjoy our visits to Tenby, I found it a bit busy for me with its normal population of 5,000 or so. The number rises during tourist season and one would think 5,000 a laughable amount for someone who once lived in the city of Atlanta with its millions of people rushing about. That said, it was on a visit in early March that I told John I thought we should consider a move after having seen a house for sale on a quiet street within walking distance to the harbor.

Tenby harbor is often photographed and is a lovely place to live, but in the end it is not Cornwall and after having our house on the market for three months with a lot of interest including a full price offer from a couple who after a second viewing thankfully decided the narrow lanes from the main highway to our village would be too intimidating, we mutually decided not to sell.

The house I’d admired in Tenby sold within two weeks of viewing it and after that we realized there was a shortage of available homes there that would meet our needs, we then shifted to villages near the sea and on the coast path in Cornwall. Again, the properties available were priced so high and required so much work along with a fair amount of isolation for daily travel that we decided to stay where we are.

Sometimes one only needs to move forward with an idea of “ what if we moved to … “ to realize that the best place is the one you already call home.

John and I both have been rolling stones when it comes to houses, with similar histories of never have lived one in place for long. Before moving to Cornwall, I had never lived in the same house for more than four years. Funny to think that at 47, four years was my max time in one house. John has been in our house for almost twelve years and is quickly reaching a new record himself.

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Deciding to stay where we are was an important decision for us both and represents in a way a next level of combined commitment. While our commitment to each other has only grown stronger since meeting in 2008, our love of different locations such mine for the Isle of Skye and John’s for Tenby has always held a whisper of possibility. Committing to a future solidly grounded in Cornwall and in the village where we live has sense of two trees with separate roots now growing together in the same direction.

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If you’ve not seen Poldark, I would encourage you to lay on your hands on the first season before seeing the second which is available in US as well as in the UK. My photos of Cornwall though they be a good representation cannot show you the wind off the sea or give you a proper sense of the weather changes that happen on Bodmin Moor that make it both welcoming and slightly hostile at the same time.

There is a rugged beauty to the moor and the sea and coast Cornwall that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate. If you cannot see it in person, the Poldark series can give you a better feel for the area we are so fortunate to call home.

Lastly, a note of thanks for all who have welcomed me back to blogging and your kind thoughts about the words and images found here. I’m a bit rusty, but I am sure I will find a pace that works even if it’s not the two postings a week I’d hoped for just yet.

Darkness Into Light

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When a blogger disappears if you’ve been reading them for any length of time you notice when they’re gone especially if they just drop out of sight without warning.

But when it happens slowly over time with posts becoming less frequent, you may not even realize they are gone until one day you can’t remember the last time you saw a post of theirs pop into your inbox or show up on your reader list with something new.

I have watched that happen to quite a few bloggers and a couple of years ago, I joined those  who slipped away with barely a word of explanation.

So here it is.

I went through a phase where every time I sat down to write I would have a series of thoughts running through my head that were not very positive, things such as who really wants to read this stuff, there’s so much out there being said, why waste time on my blog, what’s the point anyway … and loads of other negative self talk.

I had been feeling a bit of this before our car accident in early 2013 when we were hit by a drunk driver in Wales and afterward it grew like an unchecked water leak leaving a dark stain over everything. My sense of security was severely affected by an event out of our control and became disinterested in things I had enjoyed and I could not find my way back to something that had once given me a lot of pleasure.

I dipped my toe back in the water a couple of times only to shake off the possibility of writing here again by distracting myself with something else, usually something sugary that only made me feel worse.

My post accident neck pain got worse rather than better and I began to have severe and debilitating hand cramping with such frequency and intensity that I found myself Googling motor neuron disease and other scary topics.

I never considered that the initial diagnosis of whiplash would turn out to be two ruptured discs or that my growing desire to isolate and withdraw from activities I once enjoyed would lead to a PTSD diagnosis. After an MRI and several talks with surgeons along with two clinical psychologists who shared the same PTSD opinion, I had more insight into why so many parts of my life were affected.

Having reread the above, I feel like deleting the whole post as it seems like one big  “poor me ” moan which is not really my intention. I share it not only as an explanation for my absence, but also in hopes that it might help someone else who like me doesn’t see a problem until it becomes life changing.

My neck and the limitations from the damage are what they are. I don’t expect to be able to do any rock climbing again and I can no longer hold my cello bow or do simple things such as moving hangers along the rack when shopping or blow drying my hair without resting when my hand spasms. The list is longer, but I won’t add to it here.

Additionally, there is always the chance that my right hand will go into spasm when driving the car for long and it can happen after only a few miles. While distracting, (think severe charlie horse in your hand) it becomes a big issue when driving a car with a manual transmission like we have because pulling over is tough with only one working hand. I’ve found ways to hold the steering wheel so it puts less pressure on my neck and now it happens less often when I drive, but I’m never sure when it will occur.

I’ve also found ways to do some of other activities that were affected by the accident and have been trying to move forward, but last December when I realized that I was going to have to let go of the idea of ever being back to normal, I did go through a bit of grieving. Saying goodbye to things you enjoy because someone decided to drink and drive still makes me angry. People say, ” At least you were not killed or seriously injured … ” and yes, I am certainly grateful for that, but make no mistake this accident was caused by the selfish act of one person. It has had a lasting impact on my quality of life and I’m not over it!

In a few weeks I will be in America seeing my stateside family and friends and when I return I will be starting a 12 week course of treatment that has had good success with people suffering from PTSD. I had not heard of this type of therapy before the accident and I’m keen to try it.

EMDR : Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a fairly new, nontraditional form of psychotherapy that has been useful in treating post-tramatic stress disorder seen after military combat experiences, physical assault or car accidents.

According to WebMD,  it is sometimes used experimentally to treat:

  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictions
  • Anxiety, such as discomfort with public speaking or dental procedues.

Knowing there is something I can do to try to eliminate the anxiety I feel as a passenger or  when driving, particularly when on two lane roads helps me feel more consistently positive again, which is my normal state. I will probably do an update on this subject sometime in the new year when I’ve had the recommended 12 sessions. Wish me luck and I promise not to abandon GOTJ without warning again. My plan for posting is to aim for two posts a week and go from there in frequency.

Thanks for still being there and please say hello in a comment if you feel like it.

Noting Time – 29 Years of 8:03

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Facebook tells me that today is my daughter’s birthday as if I could ever forget.

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It’s been 29 years since I heard a chorus of voices saying  “8:03″ almost in unison. Throughly exhausted by a 52 hour labor, I remember thinking, ” So what if it’s 8:03 ” before realizing a half second later that the medical team were noting her time of birth.

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Her time of birth may have marked the beginning of her life, but in many ways it was the beginning of mine as well, a life where others might come and go, but this little being would be a constant in my thoughts and heart no matter what. It is interesting even now how three little numbers still carry such meaning years after I heard them in the moments when my daughter was taking her first breath.

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Not more than a few days ever pass without me glancing at a clock and noticing the time as 8:03. Call it coincidence if you like, but particularly now that my life is no longer ruled by the clock and my schedule my own, I always feel a bit more connected to my daughter and the memory of her birth day when those numbers pop up.

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Children grab on to your heart as soon as they make their way into the world and no one tells you how difficult it will be to let go after years of hanging on so tightly. These days, I’m better at negotiating this shift in our relationship and while I sometimes stumble, I regain my footing faster now and can avoid the parts of the path that are no longer mine to walk.

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After 29 years, it occurred to me this morning that I’ve been thinking of 8:03 as something that connected us when it really marked the beginning of a life that while linked to mine through love and DNA, was really one separate from me. Funny how 29 years and an openness to change can shift one’s perspective.

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I’m clock watching now as I always do on her birthday waiting for the time to reach 8:03 in Georgia. While I won’t be there to see her blow out any candles or watch her make a wish, with my birthday four days before hers, I’ve got her covered because my birthday wishes have been about her health and happiness for years, 29 to be exact and this year was no different.

So here’s to Miranda, and to a year of having her dreams come true.

Happy Birthday, Miranda (at 8:03 )

Lisa Taylor Huff – A Bold Soul

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Before I decided to begin a blog of my own, I spent several years following the blogs of others. One of the very first had a snappy title and a focus that appealed to me and I was hooked from the beginning.

When I found her online, Lisa Taylor Huff was 45 and taking concrete steps towards a long-held dream of moving to Paris to live and work as a writer.

She struck me as the very boldest of souls and I checked in regularly from my life in Atlanta, reading and watching as she made plans to leave New Jersey for a Paris address.

Having spent time in Paris I could easily see the appeal of the city and given that I was head over heels for the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I understood how one could dream of a different life and set out in a new direction to get it.

It wasn’t long before Lisa was in Paris and in the time it would take most people to settle in, she’d met and married Georges and made a new life she loved, adding wife and step-mother to all she already was. By then I was planning my own wedding and move to Cornwall, England having met my Brit born husband-to-be online as she had Georges.

Lisa and I exchanged an email or two as bloggers often do, and I kept on reading, following online and watching as she achieved each goal towards a fully integrated life in France.

I celebrated when she became a French citizen, understanding intimately why having a dual citizenship was important as I had added a British citizenship to my American one not quite a year earlier. I enjoyed her excitement when she voted in France for the first time remembering how connected I felt when I voted in the UK.

Based on recent comments, I, like most her readers thought her cancer would be a difficult blip and that she would be back at her desk sharing her adventures after a time. I was shocked and saddened to see death take her so quickly.

It’s as if she stepped out the door with her next blog post unfinished and there is nothing more.

I’ve been rereading her blog posts since hearing the news of her death on Monday. I cannot imagine the pain her family must be going through.

Her beloved husband, Georges wrote a tender last post to her and for her on her blog, The Bold Soul.

There is so much there that is good and I urge you to see for yourself especially if you are at a place in your life where you feel stuck.

Lisa lived her life as if everything she envisioned could be hers and then set out to make it so.

I won’t forget her.

To Normandy And Back – Sgt.Hugh Lee Stephens & Me

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Some blog posts are harder to write than others as my drafts folder would illustrate if you were able to poke around in my unfinished business, but this story is one I’ve wanted to share since last year and as it’s Memorial Day, today seems right.

In 1943 my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens went off to war to fight and die like many others. Thanks to the letters he wrote home and the historical work of others I found online, tracking his journey from his basic training days to a field in France was not as difficult as it could have been.

Once I realized that I could follow his path from the USA to England and across the English Channel to France using the APO addresses on his letters home, I tracked him to a field near Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves where he died.

I am including a link should you wish to do a similar search. The list of APO’s used during 1942-1947 can be found by clicking here.  You can see an example of a different APO numbers in the return addresses on the letters below.

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After I found the APO guide, I began to search his letters for information that led me to his unit and confirmed I had the dates were correct that placed him at the battle at Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves .

July 19, 1944 - There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit's activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

July 19, 1944 – There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit’s activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

 

July 21, 1944 - Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

July 21, 1944 – Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

I could go on and on about the history lesson that came from my research and my excitement at learning more about my great-uncle Hugh’s last days, but none of it would be complete without sharing the physical journey that John and I made last fall when we crossed the English channel and made our way across France to Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

We knew we had found the right area when we saw this sign. I took a couple of photos of it because it shows what the field looked like when American troops tried to take it from the German soldiers.

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Even though we were very close, we had problems finding the field. it was not as well-marked as we thought it would be and we didn’t see any people at first in the hamlet near the field.

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John and I circled round the area on foot several times and then a man came out of a house to speak to us. We were clearly not the first visitors he had directed and the chance meeting was more special as he explained to John in French that he was there when the Americans lost what they called ” The Island ” because it was a marshy space that was almost surrounded by water due to weather conditions.

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I took the first two photos on the sly as I walked up on John speaking with him so they are a bit wonky.

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The more he talked the more emotional he became as he shared how as a boy he’d watched German soldiers hide under grasses in the fields, in ditches and behind the hedges. He said the Germans were mostly boys by then, a comment which made sense as German forces had been spread thin across the rest of Europe by 1944.

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 He pointed to us in a direction that led to the path to the field.

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There is a small memorial stone at the edge of the field and both an American and French flag.

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Looking out at the peaceful space dotted with hungry cattle and water lilies in a stream that in 1944 helped make the field a slippery mud hole, it was hard to imagine my great-uncle bleeding and dying along side other young men who’d  barely had a chance to live.

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I brought some flowers to leave at the memorial for the men from the 90th Infantry Division, ironic in a way because I had never placed a single flower on my great-uncle’s grave in Georgia.

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As I was taking a moment and thinking some very subdued thoughts about war and death, a cat named Felix sauntered  up to distract me. He was cuddly and playful and relentless in his antics which had me smiling despite the solemn reason for our visit.

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John walked across a bridge and Felix followed part way and sat down. I went past him and down the steps to the other side and he followed me although slowly and in his own time.

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Once Felix was on the other side, he went right to work digging in the dirt like he had something he wanted to show me.  I pushed the dirt around a bit, but didn’t see anything except dirt and rocks and picked up some stones to take back to Georgia when I went back a few weeks ago.

Just before I left, I went to the cemetary in Marietta where Hugh Lee is buried next to his parents, his sister, (my grandmother) my grandfather, and my dad. I carried those stones back so I could lay them on his grave and decided that his mother and my dad should have one too. They were the ones who talked most about him and would have appreciated the significance of our trip to acknowledge his sacrifice.

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 A rock for his grave stone.

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 And two more stones from France rest just above the cross.

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It took me months to get this far and it seems as if it is mostly photographs. I wrote another post about Hugh Lee Stephens that says more about the man and his family life. You can find it by clicking here if you’d like to know a little more.

Choosing A Front Door Color And What It Says About You

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Just so you don’t think this blog is all me having big moan since my return, let me show you one of the projects John got up to while I was in the US for eight weeks.

We’ve had a piece of stained glass sitting in a window that looks out into our driveway almost since I snagged for £10 a few years ago. After John built a frame to make it more secure, it has worked well blocking some of the view of the driveway as seen from our kitchen/dining area window.

I’ve been suggesting we get a new front door for the last year as other projects have been completed. John has done an amazing job on our entry way hall leading from the front door to the rest of the house and I’ve added some decorative touches to his remodel. I’ll include some of these changes in another post, but I thought all that work deserved a new front door to guide people into the house that way.

Living in the country, most folks tend to use a side or kitchen door so wellies and other mucky items can be left behind. As both our front and kitchen door are on the same side of the house, I always thought it a bit confusing to folks who had never been to see us before.

I suggested we create a more obvious front door to take showcase the internal changes and clear up any confusion and while I was away, John took the old door apart to made a new one and he used the stained glass piece to make it special.

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First he took the old door apart so he could use the frame.

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Then he added some tongue and groove wooden pieces and sanded the old frame to match the natural wood.

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After first asking if I minded if he could use the stained glass from the kitchen/dining room window, John took it apart to create a lovely inset for the front door. Then he painted it white.

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We talked about adding more color and he waited until I came back so we could pick something out together. I thought blue might be nice as we have so many pots in that color and we had some paint left over from another project that John wanted to try.

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I painted a little of it on the door and then polled two neighbors who were passing by and both agreed with me that it just wasn’t right. John was fine with it, but then he likes to use what’s on hand while I wanted a deeper blue than the Stiffkey Blue paint we already had.

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HomeBase is our closest home supply store and they only had a limited amount of premixed color choices. After realizing that it would cost £32 for a liter of specially mixed paint that I could choose, I went back to the small area of premixed paint and even though the color on the can looked darker than I’d hoped for, I decided to give it a chance. It was less than half the price of the other and just the right amount.

The first coat is still drying, but I am loving it so far. The pot you see in the bottom right was my guide color and it looks as if it’s going to be dead on. The light blue bit is painter’s tape on the side of the door and on the stain glass so ignore that.

The paint is called Oxford Blue and it’s a HomeBase brand.

I’ve never had a blue front door before and it is interesting to see what different colors are supposed to mean and what they say about the people living behind them.

I’d be curious to know what color your front door is and why you chose it.

(Photo credit for the first four images belongs to John Winchurch)