"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Room of Her Own

Does your secret heart yearn for a place that is yours alone? Where no one will intrude? My dream writing room promises to eliminate all my excuses.

As I write this a carpenter is putting the finishing touches on a 10x12’ writing room in my backyard, complete with a set of solid wood, double pane French doors that I found twenty years ago at a garage sale for $30, and a vintage leaded glass window I found at Edna Valley Antiques.
This little room, like Julia Cameron advocates in The Artist’s Way is my way of reclaiming creativity after a few years devoting too much energy to caretaking my mother-in-law and newly-retired husband. Everything in my little room will resonate creative expression because I’m a crazy woman seemingly incapable of compromise.
My husband thinks the white beadboard will make the room seem smaller, but I’ve carried a picture of wainscoting for so long that I’m intractable. Painted that very light green that changes to peach when the setting sun infuses shadows in the room, this room will ooze creative charm. The wicker furniture will be glossy white with airy cushions. A tole-painted makeup mirror from the forties will have a place of honor, its relic lightbulbs left unwired since the only lighting will be a battery powered, faux mariner’s lantern hanging from the open beam ceiling. 
Here it is the day I finished
We began calling it my writing room when it wasn’t a room at all, but a storage shed built by a college construction class and delivered on a flatbed trailer. It was a disappointment from the first day, its lovely eaves chopped off for some indiscernible reason so that it set like a forlorn outhouse in the pasture, slowly rotting from moisture until I asserted my claim.
My husband and I rolled the shed into the back yard on steel pipes, then jacked it onto concrete pyramid blocks. We built a free-standing deck to meet the requirements for a non-coded room and rebuilt the roof with real eaves. I hired a carpenter who shares my vision for small rooms and used lumber.
When Eric is finished I’ll paint it. I’ll seal the deck and rails. They’re old-growth redwood from a small barn we tore down years ago. I’ll polish the vintage brass hinges and doorknobs I've been collecting with this project in mind. I’ll install antique glass pulls on the leaded glass window and shine the crank-open window—the only thing in the room that is new—an Anderson crank window with a view of the creek.
Granddaughter Ava and Annie the hen
Every day is a delight, listening to the hum of the Skil saw, the splat, splat of the nail gun. The process makes my heart happy—not the bursting happy when something surprises, but the savoring joy that occurs when life is good.
 My writing room has become a metaphor for taking control of the things in my life that I couldn’t change even if I wanted to. It’s become a playhouse for me in middle-age, a replacement for the one built for my three sisters and me by our father so that—ironically—we could practice our homemaking skills. (Now we’re burned out and we wonder why we didn’t spend our childhoods riding horses or something.)  
Unlike previous projects there's no rush to completion. (see note)  The process is a journey, not a destination. Paying for it out of my writing income is part of my agreement with myself. Staying true to my vision is giving me a room of my own.
 Truth time. I'm such a liar! I wrote this last year and the act of writing it made me realize how anxious I was to finish it. I stayed up nights sanding and priming. I'm happy to say the room has already seen a novel born within its walls. Stay tuned for the particulars.
 My advice is to do what you have to do. Claim the bathtub, climb a tree, slide into Starbucks, but find a place of your own. In high school, with a family of nine, I used to climb into the front seat of the car bundled in a blanket and read. I didn't do this a lot, but the barn was too drafty and sometimes just I needed a place of my own.

So where's your secret place? Tell us where you go to create. 


Monday, January 9, 2012

$2,500 For a Wedding? But Wait 'Til You Hear!

The guest list came to 150 guests. When I told my daughter that we were spending $2,500 TOTAL for her wedding, she thought we were nuts. But we did it and I have the receipts to prove it.

First the background: My daughter is a Peter Pan. I’m a Wendy. That’s the nature of our relationship. I was born to annoy her, apparently. But this time she was living in Seattle and she had only enough time to drive in the day before the wedding and had no money to contribute. Best of all, she said the magic words, “I trust you!”

Another bit of background: Months before she entrusted me with the task, I had found a stationery store/giftshop in its final three days of a closing sale. I stripped the store clean—invitations, plastic wine and champagne flutes, napkins and a ton of ribbons. I had them sitting in bags all around the house and when the call came, I wasn’t about to waste my treasures. 

Fair to say, I wasn’t wild about the groom, but that’s another story. We saw this as a chance to demonstrate the power of common sense. Actually, her father named the amount we’d kick in and he wasn’t about to budge. I had to agree; if they wanted a bigger wedding, they could contribute, but it seemed they didn’t care that much. “Surprise us!”

Did I mention, she wanted to get married in six weeks?

More than a vote of confidence, I saw it as a lark. I was a fabulous money manager. I had no fear. But now it seemed that my daughter was “untrusting” me.

Back to the phone call. 

“Twenty-five hundred dollars!” That’s how much the dresses cost that I’ve been trying on.”
“Then you better go back and try on some more,” I replied calmly, hoping the sweat on my brow wasn’t obvious across the phone line.

(Truth in disclosure—this all happened in 1993—we had phone lines back then.)

The next day she stopped at a fabric store that was going out of business and bought 10 yards of silk dupioni at $16 a yard. The clerk recommended a seamstress—who made her a stunning dress from a Vogue pattern for $200. It had rosettes and a bustle, and they cut it shorter in front for a lawn wedding.

In the next week my hand molded around the phone. I checked event centers. Nada. The wineries wanted a fortune. After calling around for a few days I discovered that if I joined the Historical Society for $50, I could use the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens for a couple hundred dollars. Right in my budget. (I checked it out for this article. It now costs $2,900. I knew my deal was too good to last.)

Problem--the gardens were booked every Saturday in August. By some stroke it was still available on one Sunday, but the gardens were open to the public until 3:00. The decision took ten seconds; I booked the wedding for 2:00 and decided the guests could arrive early and tour the adobe for free if they wanted.

But Sunday was still a problem. The rental agency wasn't open to deliver the tables and chairs. We couldn't get them on Saturday because there ...was...a...wedding! It was like I was hearing, Don’t ask, don’t tell.
"What...are...you...doing with the ...Saturday tables?"
“Oh, we’ll Pick them up on Monday.”
"What if we..."
"We won't be picking them up until Monday!"
“UH HUH. Well, can I just rent tablecloths?”

I chose dark green cloths. They matched the lawn and I didn’t have to add any decorations. Now committed, I held my breath. This wedding planning business seemed to depend on luck and blind faith. But I was feeling lucky.

Let’s see—what's next? Photographer. I phoned around and got several bids for $700-$1,000. Yikes! (Remember, it was 1993 and there were no digital cameras, only studio photographers with film.) I decided to let that one go for the moment.

On to food. The caterer was over my budget. My daughter wanted Santa Maria style BBQ and his price was $15 a plate. So I asked him how much it would cost to just barbeque 15 tri tips, some linguicia and Swiss sausage appetizers? He was a friend of my husbands. He said Free. I said $100 and he’d pick up the meat for me. He said okay and agreed to toast the French bread and warm the beans—as a favor. What a gentleman.

I went to Vics, our local redneck diner and asked the chef if he could prepare four gourmet salads in my stainless steel commercial bowls. Sure--$25 each. Same for the homemade beans.

The week of the wedding I made dozens of deviled eggs, bought veggie trays, did a buffet of appetizers. Laid everything out on cookie sheets. Truth in disclosure—at the time I owned a take n’ bake pizza restaurant. I used my commercial refrigerators to store the deviled eggs, salads, and lots of the bubbly. (I happened to win a raffle at a winery where the prize was a case of sparkling wine. I added a case of mixed whites and reds and got a discount.) The lucky streak continued.
My daughter had always wanted to ride in a carriage for her wedding--but to rent one was $200 delivery. I phoned the Apple Farm. For $60 an hour I could book the carriage if I was a guest. So I booked a room for their wedding night. When it was time, the carriage driver drove across town (20 minutes), took all the children on rides around the block (20 minutes) and spirited the wedding couple back to their hotel (20 minutes.)

Remember the photographer? Well I forgot about hiring one until four days before. After panicking, and phoning everyone I knew with a camera, I redialed a professional who had seemed nice and asked him how much he would charge an hour. $25 dollars. So I hired him for four hours. He came to Grandma’s house, took the getting-ready pictures. Then he drove to the gardens and took photos until his time ran out. And gave us a 25 photo book of prints as a gift.

On the day, the entrance to the gardens looked like a fairyland: Tiny gardens separated by hedgerows, bricked walkways and shaded pergolas. Hundreds of flowers tended by volunteers. It was magic. We hung garlands of ribbons on the pillars at the garden gates and let the ribbons festoon in the breeze.

The children? Well, instead of a bridal party we stopped all the children when they arrived and asked them to wear a wand of ribbons in their hair (girls) or on their wrist (boys). They went down the garden path in front of the bride waving their fairy wands.

 The bride’s younger sister was lovely in a strapless dress I made of Ashley chintz (technically a floral upholstery fabric. Remember the fabric shop that was closing out at the start of this story?) I made it with a generous zipper allowance. After the wedding (and before they left for the honeymoon) I removed the zipper, reset it and viola! Off went the bride on her honeymoon in her new dress.)

When we arrived at 8:00 am, the day of the wedding, there were 12 tables and 126 chairs stacked and waiting to be picked up. We took the bride's name off and promptly set them out again. I hired two of my pizza employees to don fancy aprons and keep the food refreshed so I could concentrate on the guests. We put the wine and beer near the buffet table and let everyone imbibe while the photographer took pictures.

My husband trailered an antique “hit and miss” engine onto the gravel area and cranked homemade ice cream in a five-gallon ice cream maker while the male guests stood around palavering like old farmers.We offered three varieties—maple nut, vanilla and strawberry. The cake—we ordered a lovely professionally decorated cake for 25 people and offered sheet cakes to go with the ice cream. (Served in little dishes I bought from the stationery/giftshop that was going out of business.)

During my early phone marathon I made a strategic decision to hire a magician/juggler instead of hiring music. The day of, I saw grandfathers and children "oohing" together while the magician tossed flaming clubs in the air. Other guests strolled the gardens. Some played croquette or used the over-sized wands in tubs of soap to make soap bubbles. Everyone was wearing weinerdog balloon hats and unicorn knobs. Contented ladies were discussing the adobe they had toured earlier. 

The young people danced to music tapes on a system we borrowed from someone (not my job.) A family friend sang. A former priest performed the service. The sun shone through the pergolas and people couldn’t stop telling me how it was the most fun they’d ever had at a wedding.

My stress level (as I remember) was about a 5—although there were a couple of spikes--like realizing the bride had forgotten to order the flowers. We ran to the market and bought a few bouquets and laid them around on the green tablecloths. Punched some into the lattice backdrops. Whatever. The place looked grand.

When we realized we had nowhere to put the gifts, someone found an empty wheelbarrow behind the shed. We draped it with something white and the gifts spilled onto the lawn as though we’d planned it.

At the end of the day we cleaned up. Collected the disposable cameras. Stacked the chairs and tables. Two hours later it was like we’d never even been there. (We even retaped the Saturday bride’s name back on the tables like we’d found it) and closed the gate as we left.

That night we joined our daughter and her groom at a local bar for a nightcap. I was more dead than alive, but we all agreed that it was the perfect day.

And the receipts—including the hotel room, our gift to the couple, came to $2,519.60. I swear. 

The only problem with the wedding came afterwards. The guy at the store where we took the photos managed to misplace the photos. The staff looked in every drawer. Not there. Never showed up. But at least we have the memories.   

My daughter had some photos, but she tossed most of them after the divorce. We cut the groom out of a few and she looks gorgeous. Like a...bride!