Maine for Christmas and New Year, New Plans

January 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

I can’t believe it’s already more than halfway through January. I wrote earlier about the Christmas crush, and it certainly delivered. We were busier than ever at the shop, and we must’ve sold more small, gifty items than ever before. I’m grateful for our busy seasons, but Christmas can be exhausting. With Christmas falling on a Friday this year, I decided to close the shop through the entire weekend and spend some time with our families.

Madison and I spent the night of the 23rd at my Mom’s house for a lovely dinner party. She and my stepdad hosted, and my brother Colin, my dad, and a few others were able to make it. Dinner was delicious, my mom’s house looked beautiful and we exchanged a handful of gifts.

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Not the best pic, but my mom’s china cabinet looked very festive with lots of greenery my stepdad had cut the day before.

On Christmas Eve day, Madison and I (along with our dog, Sylvia) did a few last-minute errands and got out of town and headed up to Maine. The weather had been so unseasonably warm that week of Christmas, and it led to an extremely foggy commute up north.

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Dude on a bicycle on 12/23!

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This was the parking lot at a rest stop in New Hampshire. It was twice as foggy as this looks, if you can believe it.

I love going up to Maine where Madison grew up. I love my in-laws a ton, and I love where they live just as much. It’s a little town called Turner about three hours from Boston.

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No joke–this is the view from Madison’s childhood front yard.

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That little ribbon of fog was picture perfect.

Madison’s mom made us so much delicious food, and we ate and exchanged gifts and took a couple of small to midsize hikes along the way. It was fantastic.

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This little waterfall was just a few minutes up the street from the house. Madison, her dad, sister, and I took the dog for a walk up this way on Christmas Day.

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I had to climb down for some better shots of the waterfall. It was great.

The next day we did a 3.5 mile hike around the Androscoggin River Trail.

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Madison and Me 🙂

The most amazing part about our 3.5 mile hike? Madison’s sister Taylor came along, less than four weeks after she underwent successful heart transplant surgery. The initial hill we had to climb was a bit dicey and she said she wasn’t sure if she could make it, but we took a break and she was able to soldier on. She’s been doing so well and getting stronger every day. It really made for an awesome Christmas memory, seeing how far she’s come this year.

In the title of this post, I wrote new year, new plans. Why? Because I am really looking forward to getting back into vintage and furniture and the large pieces that are my passion in this business. Sure we will always carry small gift type items, but maybe not as much as we did this past Christmas season. My favorite part of doing what I do is finding those extra special pieces that tell their own story, and that simply doesn’t exist with lots of the smaller vendor-ordered items. This means you can expect lots more vintage and antique Americana, with a stronger emphasis on furniture than in the past. In addition, I’m excited to plan a lot more extra-curricular events at the shop in 2016.

So stay tuned, and feel free to give me a shout (justin [at] pioneergoodsco [dot] com) if there’s something you are looking or would like to see in the shop. I am always on the hunt and always on the lookout.

In the meantime, we’re offering another one of our popular Chalk Paint Basics workshops on February 11 where I teach you how to use Chalk Paint and refinish furniture like I do. Click the link for more details. I’d love to see ya there.

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Pioneer Goods Co. Spotlight from Sailor Abe Films

December 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Spotlight: Pioneer Goods Co. from Sailor Abe Films on Vimeo.

I am so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Dani + Mike, the ridiculously talented duo behind Sailor Abe Films. In a little over a year since I’ve known them, I am proud to call them friends and lucky to have them as collaborators.

You may recognize their name as they filmed our wedding when Madison and I were married in October of 2014. Having worked for major player networks like CBS and Mtv, their talent behind a camera is unparalleled. What blows me away, however, is their storytelling ability. It’s such an innate gift to be able to take the footage they shoot and spin it into a succinct, captivating and beautiful story. Every time they email me with a new film, I can only exclaim, “I’m not worthy.”

When I decided I wanted to film something to tell the Pioneer story, there was no doubt who I’d hire to do it.

I hope you’ll enjoy this profile on me and my brand. If you ever need someone to make you look better than you ever thought you could, you know where to find them. Love you guys!

A Quick Trip Up North

December 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

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The Christmas season is a gift and a curse when you work in retail. There’s hustle and bustle and lots of trying to keep up. By my unofficial count, we had the busiest day ever in the history of Pioneer Goods yesterday. Not in total sales, but by sheer amount of paying customers. It was an onslaught. 

Which is great!

It also means we run through inventory at a torrid pace and after a busy weekend the shop can look rather bare. (Also great, and a good problem to have.)

Last week on one of my off-days, I got in the truck and hauled up to one of our northern New England neighboring states (I’ve gotta keep some of these places to myself) to do some proper antiquing. It’s my favorite part of doing what I do for a living. You never know what you will find and that in itself can be a real thrill.

There’s a spot my mom showed me back when she and my step-dad owned a lake house. Once you’re off the highway, it’s a scenic drive with lots of farms.

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This one was always near collapse when we used to visit the lake house. It finally gave in a year or two ago.

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The collapsed farm borders a very old cemetery which appeared particularly ominous on this Tuesday morning.

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There’s a pair of sister shops I really like and often have good luck finding lots of treasures. I only had about two hours, as I had to meet a client back at my shop around 4pm. Normally, I really like to take my time and spend a couple of hours in each shop, carefully looking everything over once, and making a second loop through to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Working quickly was probably for the best though, as I didn’t have a huge budget to work with.

Another fun thing that happens when I’m shopping in the boonies is seeing the reaction from the shop keepers as my pile of antiques grows. I don’t fit the demographic of their usual customer and even with my smaller budget this day, I was still buying 10 or 20 times more than the average shopper. Needless to say, they get a bit giddy. They’ll sometimes ask me my story, but more often, they just try and play it cool. A lot of times they think I’m decorating a restaurant for some reason. What can get annoying, however, is once in awhile one of the shop’s dealers might be lingering about and will start trying to give me the hard sell on their crap. Nothing turns me off quicker than a pushy sales pitch. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often.

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Lots of stuff that’s right in my wheelhouse.

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And lots of stuff that isn’t, like these Hot Wheels above.

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I love the creaky floors, the musty smells, and the quirky older country folks who populate these shops. It’s all part of the charm. Almost every shop you visit has locked glass cabinets as well. I must be lazy, because I’ve never purchased something out of one. It always feels like a hassle to go up front and bother them to come back and unlock the cabinet. They’re also usually filled with smaller, more particular collectible items which I don’t much care for anyway.

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I grabbed the bookends you see on the right. They already sold! Sometimes stuff doesn’t even get to set its roots in my store.

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They don’t even keep the heat on in this basement area. It didn’t deter me much, but the other few people I saw were in and out.

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This needlepoint sampler from Chelsea was amazing. The ’61 is for 1861 so it was fetching big bucks at $175. I found a much better deal on a different one from 1981 that says something about God and friends and is somewhat adorable. You’ll have to come to the shop to see it, because I don’t have any pictures of it.

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I picked up a bunch of old books, and while I love the old leather bound covers, I can’t get enough of how beautiful the inscriptions on the inside are. That handwriting in the top photo is especially lovely.

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Before I knew it, two hours had come and gone and I had to hit the road to make it back for my meeting at 4. This pheasant and chippy high chair were just a couple of things I found. For now, they’ll have a makeshift home at Pioneer Goods until somebody else decides to give them new life and a place to stay.

I was so pressed for time/distracted with antiques that I nearly forgot to eat. I had a cup of coffee on the way up, but figured I needed something for the ride home. I had a premade gas station Italian sandwich wrap and it stunk! This is not how I normally eat, but the pickings were slim considering where I was and how much time I had. Lesson learned.

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Back in Boston before I knew it, but I’m still not used it being this dark at 4pm.

Importance

December 4, 2015 § 2 Comments

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Our two table set up before everyone showed up

 

 

Oh boy. What a week-plus it’s been. Thanksgiving was a fantastic affair. We hosted at our house this year, as we’ve finally moved to a place that could accommodate a crowd. Members of both of our families came, and we were able to pack 16 people around two tables for a tremendous dinner. We shelled out the big bucks to eat ethically, and picked up a Misty Knoll Farms (VT) Turkey from City Feed & Supply in JP. At least we know he lived a good, happy life, unlike those poor souls who end up at the Butterball factory. I love to cook, I make a mean roast chicken, but I’ve never cooked a twenty pound turkey in my life. I heard more than one person say it was the best turkey they’ve ever had. (They are family, so maybe they were being kind)

When I toasted to our crew and gave gratitude, I expressed that we were all in different places last year, some of us more so than others. I was alluding to my dear sister-in-law, Taylor, who lives with Madison and me. Taylor went to the hospital the day before Thanksgiving last year with end-stage heart failure. She’s 25. I won’t go into great detail in the interest of privacy, but if you know us, you know the story or you’ve seen the posts on facebook and instagram. Taylor was given an LVAD (left ventricle assist device, or heart pump in layman’s terms) and was listed for transplant. Tuesday of this passed week, Taylor got the call that a heart was available. Nearly 24 hours after that call came in, she had a new heart and her surgery was complete. I can’t describe how grateful we all are for life, health, and the selfless organ donor and their family who had to experience the ultimate grief and sacrifice for Tay to get a second chance at a heart that works the way it’s supposed to.

Why do I bring this up on a blog that’s connected to a business? Because Taylor’s fight has put things in perspective at a time when maybe we could all use a little bit more. Thanksgiving means Christmas is coming, and in the world of retail, it’s a necessary beast we have to tackle every year. For the behemoth retailers, Black Friday kicks things off while we little guys settle for Small Business Saturday (at least such a thing exists). Here in Boston, it was a dreary, cold, and rainy day and there weren’t a million people lining up to walk the streets and #shopsmall. Oh well. The night Taylor got her new heart, we also held something called The South End Stroll, a holiday shopping night for those of us in the South End of Boston. It was cold and rainy again. While I heard some shops had better nights than others, it was a certifiable bust at Pioneer Goods. Double oh well. It’s corny, but Christmas really ought to be about family and not buying crap. (But if you insist on buying crap, we’re at 764 Tremont Street)

This business is my life-blood, except oh wait–it’s not. My family and friends, and my health and my perfectly working heart that I’ve taken for granted my whole life are my life-blood. Big blockbuster sales and shopper events that go off like gangbusters along with those that fizzle are just the cost of doing business, but in the end, they don’t matter. It was near impossible for me to post anything to social media to try and promote my business with all that was going on. I physically couldn’t. I also couldn’t write another blog post until I got this off my chest. I love my sister-in-law so very much and while we had a down week by the numbers, she provided the best week I can remember in forever.

Oh, and if you’re not an organ donor, become one for chrissake.

The Holidays

November 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

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I made mention that I planned to begin decorating the shop for the holidays, and I caught some grief from certain folks. I’m not sure what drew their ire more, that I used the term ‘holidays’ instead of Christmas, or that I planned to begin decorating prior to Thanksgiving. I don’t much care either way, and believe me, I’m rarely concerned with being politically correct. When it’s Christmas day, eve, or a Christmas party, best believe I’ll be wishing you Merry Christmas.

Is it me, or does it seem like complaining is at an all time high? I think part of that feeling comes from joining Facebook a year or so ago which I had to do to set up a business page. Facebook seems like nothing but complaints and political opinions. I dunno. I even saw an Instagram post last night from one of my favorite bloggers taking aim at when people write positive things on sandwich boards outside their shops. Hm. I’ve learned a lot about folks who I previously assumed were level-headed, kind-hearted people. I’m not saying they’re bad, either, but people certainly like to get worked up. And believe me, I’m not saying people need to stop or do as I say, because heaven knows that would be awfully hypocritical of me considering the topic. I know I’m going to continue to try and make a better effort to be kind and keep my shit to myself.

With that, I was able to do a big store revamp and do some light holiday decorating. Besides the first year I was running the Maison Decor shop on Harrison, I haven’t decorated heavily for Christmas, or any other holiday for that matter. It’s a lot of work, most of the stuff gets packed into boxes and takes up space in the basement, only to be dragged up again next year. I like adding lots of cut greens for a subtle, earthy festiveness and I always use the big old fat colored Christmas lights in my front window. Those suckers are awesome.

I posted some good looking shots of the interior of the store to Instagram and people seemed to dig ’em. After what has been a slower month than usual, people came out in droves this past weekend and our sales were blockbuster. I met so many awesome people and the second best way to my heart (after buying lots of our stuff) is to tell me how much you love the store. Still gets me every time. I heard that quite a bit last weekend, and I had neighborhood regulars bring their friends and loved ones in to show off the shop. I’m humbled by that, I really am. There was even a lovely lady who came in with her sister and her son early in the day only to return later in the afternoon with her husband to show him what he had missed. I love that!

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Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

What Is It Like, Having Your Own Store?

July 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Years ago when I was still taking classes at UMass-Boston and tending bar at night, I decided that my dream job would be to own a shop. At the time, I imagined my dream shop would be clothing and apparel based, like an Urban Outfitters. I even wrote a detailed business plan to figure out what kind of money I would need to actually make it work. Once the hard numbers were staring me in the face, it looked an awful lot like a pipe dream so I continued to chip away at school and make drinks for money.

A couple of years later, my mom had backed into retail herself through a fortuitous meeting with Annie Sloan (the creator of Chalk Paint decorative paint). Annie had encouraged my mom to open a store, as her interior design/DIY/blogging background was the perfect fit for the types of people she encouraged to carry her paint. Soon enough my mom became Chalk Paint stockist and had a home boutique of her own. Less than a year into her new venture, she realized that nobody had claimed the Boston territory for the right to sell Chalk Paint. I soon awoke to a phone call (I was a bartender, I slept in late a lot) from my mom explaining that she’d like to claim the territory, open another store, and have me run it. I already had a taste of working with the paint on some projects with my mom, so I knew how great it was, and  I thought we could fill a void in Boston’s retail scene. My mom’s brand is Maison Decor, named for her penchant for French decor and style. Though not my style, I was happy to jump into a family business and start working for myself. Soon enough our little Maison Decor Boston outpost had less French appeal and began to take a hard turn toward rustic Americana as I put my personal stamp on that shop.

Maison Decor Boston

Maison Decor Boston

After a couple of years of trying to blend our styles and realizing that my creative vision had become paramount to my professional happiness, my mom gave me her blessing to venture off on my own and start Pioneer Goods.

Pioneer Goods Co. on a rainy weekend this July

Pioneer Goods Co. on a rainy weekend this July

Early this year, my mom decided to retire from retail and do what makes her happy which is interior design and blogging. She couldn’t be happier and things have seemed to really take off for her. Though Pioneer Goods is it’s own shop, we operated as sister stores and had each other’s back where we needed it. Now that her shop is gone, I’m truly on my own.

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I sometimes have people tell me that I have their dream job. I’ve heard it from people with worse jobs who make less money and I’ve heard it from ballers with big, successful careers. I recently had a lady stop in to chat last week and pick my brain in what I thought was an innocuous discussion about my experience as a retail store owner. By the end of our conversation, she revealed that she was thinking of opening a shop of her own. “I just decided that’s what I want to do.” Great.

Here’s what I can tell you about owning a store of your own: The highs can be incredible, the lows can be extremely low, and you will never work harder in your life. I think a lot of people think you get to hang out at this cool place and shoot the shit and listen to music as people come in and pay you money all day. Sure, that happens sometimes, but that just isn’t the reality of most days. For starters, I often remind myself that unless you’re a supermarket or gas station, you’re essentially selling stuff that nobody truly needs.  In order to get people to enter your door (even that’s harder than you might think), part with their hard earned money, and spend it on something that looks nice is to perform a miracle. When you have winters as brutal as this past one, people don’t shop. When you have absolutely gorgeous weekends as we’ve had most of this summer, I can’t compete with the beach. But when everything goes right? It’s magic. Spring and Fall are typically our busy seasons and I come home most days beaming at the people I’ve met and the sales we’ve done. It’s fantastically gratifying. Pioneer Goods is such a reflection of who I am that I can’t help but take it personally when we perform well and when we perform poorly. When people come into my shop and have real experience, and they linger and they inspect every single item while smiling from ear to ear, those moments are priceless. I’m honored when people photograph my shop and share it on social media. I’m humbled when people say they want their entire home to look like my shop. All of those things quickly make every ounce of sweat I pour into this place worthwhile.

A quick little story to sum up the way I feel about having my own store took place last week. I was driving in to the shop, thinking about how now, in our mid-summer slow season, I wasn’t exactly loving our inventory or how the shop was looking. Believe me, there are times where I crush it and the store couldn’t look better. There are also plenty of times where we are making do with what we have until new inventory is sourced or ordered. This day was one of those downtimes. “Oh whatever, it’s slow nobody will notice and nobody important will be in anyway,” I thought. Cue ten minutes after we open and suddenly my store is filled with what felt like twenty hipsters who were going over everything with a fine-tooth comb. My friend Heidi, who was in the shop at the moment, shot me a puzzled look and genuinely asked, “Wait–what day is today?” Through the crowd, my friend Richard emerged. Richard is a visual merchandising manager for Anthropologie and was bringing his visual team into my shop for an inspirational field trip. I died! I was equally honored and embarrassed. I always look to Anthropologie as the gold standard in visual merchandising, creativity, and what a retail experience should be. I was humbled they’d consider me for any shred of inspiration, yet all I could think about was how lacking my store was as they were poking around. I’m always my worst critic, so I’m probably exaggerating how underprepared the shop was for such a visit.

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In the end that’s really what it boils down to. You do great work that rewards you and gets you noticed or admired even, but you’re also only as good as your last day. I haven’t even touched on the challenges of being your own accountant, book keeper, cashier, manager, handy man, and on and on. Don’t even get me started about hiring people and trying to find good help or waste your time bitching about the amount of emails I have to sift through on a daily basis. There’s always more work to be done, better work to be done, and there is zero guarantee that you’ll succeed. But when you do, there is nothing better in the world. 

 

How To Wax Using Chalk Paint®

July 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

This weekend at the shop I got several queries about how to properly wax using Annie Sloan’s soft wax. I thought it might be a good idea to repost this tutorial from my old blog.

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One thing I’ve learned is that waxing, while relatively simple, creates the most problems for Chalk Paint® noobs.

There’s nothing to it, really, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get the most questions about this crucial step.

First off–YOU ARE USING TOO MUCH WAX!

This is all you need at a time:

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Unlike waxing a car, where the layer of wax will sit on top of your surface, this wax is meant to penetrate the paint. You should actually be pushing the wax into the paint.

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My favorite analogy comes from Annie herself. Treat the wax like moisturizer. Just as when using a hand cream, you wouldn’t use so much that your skin would be all greasy and wet, but just enough to do the job. A little bit goes a long way. I tend to work in 16-24 inch sections and continue on until I’m…

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The Boring Beginning

July 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

Since I opened Pioneer Goods Co. just over a year ago, I swore that I would blog. Well, I didn’t. Part of the problem was starting a new blog from scratch (I used to blog over at Brush & Pail) and getting off the schneid proved to be more difficult than I imagined. It seems silly to just blog about any old thing without doing some sort of introduction first. So, in a mediocre attempt to get something up and on the internet, I’d like to share a bit about me, my shop, and what I’m all about.

I got into this racket because my interior designer mom, Amy, of the fabulous Maison Decor began painting furniture and taught me everything she knew. Soon enough she would open her first retail store, and when she asked, I decided to follow, opening a second Maison Decor location in the South End of Boston in 2012. As the name implies, Maison Decor was rooted in French style as is my mom’s fashion. My brother Colin also worked with us in those early days, but left to begin his career as a project manager for a big construction company.

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The more I started to make my mark and find my style, our second Maison Decor outpost had a French sounding name but a distinctly vintage American look and feel inside. We closed that shop in 2013, opened another Maison Decor in Reading, MA and were humming right along while I casually browsed real estate listings in hopes of leaving to open up my own shop, with a new name to reflect my bent toward all things Americana. I found a spot at 764 Tremont Street in April of 2014, and Pioneer Goods Co. was born.

The spot we settled on had a lot to like, but it wasn’t without challenges. You think Tremont Street in the South End, you think hustle and bustle in one of the best, trendiest neighborhoods in the city. While that remains true, it isn’t really the case as far down as we are at 764. I knew that going in, and I also knew that there had been lots of turnover in this particular location. We took the chance and turned this:

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Into this:

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I still paint furniture (though not nearly as much as I used to), and we sell home goods and gifts with that rustic Americana vibe I keep referring to. In addition to that, I offer interior design services and sell the Chalk Paint that we use to refinish the furniture you see in the shop. I’ve also moved a bit more modern than I used to be, incorporating mid-century modern pieces here and there as well. Things have been good and about what I expected, and I hope foot traffic and awareness continue to rise in our neck of the woods. We also were named Boston’s Best Home Boutique by the Improper Bostonian this month so that was quite the honor!

I married my wife, Madison last October and she just received her Master’s in Public Health from Northeastern University. I couldn’t be prouder. (I also like to joke that one of us needs a real job, and it ain’t me)

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Madison is as camera-shy as they come, but I plan to include her in this blog more than she realizes. Hehee.

While we don’t have any kids just yet, we do have the world’s greatest dog. Seriously. Her name is Sylvia, and she’s a Schnoodle (Schnauzer Poodle mix) who just turned 3. She has such a darling disposition and is so damn lovable.

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We are also excited to be in the process of moving into a lovely three bedroom home in Roslindale as we speak! My sister-in-law Taylor will be moving in with us, too, and her story warrants and entire novel to properly do it justice.

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Taylor had open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (heart pump, in layman’s terms) to help her failing heart work properly this past winter. She is also currently awaiting a heart transplant. To say there were lots of ups and downs would be to do a disservice to how seriously emotional Taylor’s journey has been for her and for us. Thankfully, after some trying times and post-surgery complications, Taylor’s LVAD is working great and she feels better than she has in a long time. We are so happy to be moving in together! Taylor has such an amazing spirit and has kept everybody grounded this whole time. I am so grateful to have her as a sister-in-law.

So that’s the brief synopsis of who I am and what I’m about. I thought it might be nice to give you a peek behind the curtain of a guy and his shop and family. Let’s hope I just keep up with it.