Poetry: THE CARTOGRAPHER’S WEDDING

This I share for Dan. Our friend Melanie Bassett read this favorite poem at our wedding 24 years ago last New Year’s Eve.  We were, against all odds, still hopeful for a good married life after my three failed marriages and his divorce after eighteen years and four hardy, smart and challenging McMullen children. He was nearly 52 and I was 40. It’s hard to be hopeful when you’ve seen more failure in your relationships than anyone ever warned could happen. Those failures want to force cynicism into our hearts like cement hardening us, making it more than a little difficult to hang on to any part of our innocence.  But we tried: I put on my brave-flowered dress and Dan matched my call with his tuxedo, Father Charlie donned his robes, and we try and we continue to try, and we have succeeded.

Dan Garter

Our Wedding

Our Wedding at Father Charlie’s House in Pacific Grove, CA


The Cartographer's Wedding by Sam Hamill_1981

THE CARTOGRAPHER’S WEDDING


Nobody knows what love is anymore —

not the groom in his rental suit

flushed with desire, not the bride

blushing in her one-day dress and flowers

smouldering with the fires of expectation.

Nobody knows, and I least of all.

.

Still, we are here, against all reason,

the products of that ancient spoken

or unspoken vow.  To the east, across

nearly insurmountable summits caked

with snow, the Great Plains rise

and fall while we continue to remain

steady as November rain, having grown

accustomed to a cold that never freezes,

to a shade of deep, spectacular green

intact, season after season. And so we find

ourselves outside in fog, in hoarfrost,

in rain or snow, living as we do

.

at the edge of a continent or a dream,

living perhaps with our hearts

not in our hands, but on our lips,

although they are seldom spoken.

(Friendship hereabouts is assumed

like an old mackinaw or a blanket.)

.

But that time comes, and it will come,

when you try to recite the names

or find the odd, almost familiar faces

that move beyond the old events, like fog,

that made you what you are.  The years

that disappeared like falling stars

are lovely to remember.  And there will

be time aplenty for flowers on a grave.

No, nobody knows what love is.  Nobody

understands the past.  Saddled with

all the hopes that will outlast

a lifetime’s dedication, we,

.

groom, bride, friend and friend–

we step into the day amazed to find our-

selves among companions eager to weather

the winds of change that turn us

heavenward, poor fools together,

never to learn what love is, we

.

who map the country where it lives.

  Sam Hamill, Fatal Pleasure,1984

 Breitenbush Books, Portland


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BEING ORDINARY: What’s the Point of Trying to Be So Special?

I keep wondering about that.  I have a fairly ordinary, normal life.  This is my most prized accomplishment.   I make dinner for my husband most nights.  Because I love him so much I cook from scratch.  That involves baking and fresh garden vegetables and cooking with those things I have canned from our garden.   I enjoy planning our garden during the winter and combing over gardening websites for ideas, amassing the seeds, bulbs, corms, peat pots and supplies I need to get a jump on the short growing season we have in the Pacific Northwest.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I like living well and my definition of that is fairly simple.  For us, living well means living in a fairly well-organized, clean home that delights the eye with both its beauty and its utility.  Home is a wonderful place to be for us.  The few times that I have been able to travel have been a great joy to me.  I want to travel more than I have.  I look forward to it.

I don’t much care for whiners, I appreciate folks who are solutions oriented and rather than complain, do what they can to improve on any given situation.  When I say that, I have to also say that many really HORRIBLE things happened to me in my life.  I don’t like to be called a victim.  I don’t like to be called exceptional either.  I don’t like to be called a survivor because what happened to me isn’t like being pinned under tons of rubble for ten days before a rescue crew pries the rubble apart well enough to extract someone who when they survive will return to life in a country where they live on $500 or less each year.

I don’t mean to deny or minimize the things that happened to me.  I suffered through my difficult childhood in Southern California.  The weather is pretty good there.  I still got to hike in the hills and go to the beach.  When you’re wearing a bathing suit at the beach, social class and poverty isn’t all that apparent to others.   It is hard to characterize such a childhood as something one survived.   When you live through hellishness sometimes it simply occurs as the way life is.  You don’t know at the time that other folks aren’t going through the same sadness, the same loss of innocence.  Certainly I didn’t know what it was to have a normal, ordinary life.

I was sexually molested, raped, beaten, blamed for the sexual activity by my relatives and the mental abuse was very difficult.  I didn’t have a lot of friends because we kept moving.  I was isolated in a variety of ways.  I spent nearly a year of my teens in juvenile hall or in a receiving home for kids who were waiting for foster care.  I went through five foster homes between ages fifteen and seventeen.  I ran off to Denver with a conscientious objector from Camp Pendleton and waited to turn eighteen so that I wouldn’t have to be bossed around by screwed up, careless adults anymore.  That decision was made after the guidance counselor rather importantly informed me that I was not living up to my potential.  It doesn’t matter if I was right about them.  It was my experience that the responsible adults in my life weren’t paying attention to what was in front of them and what was important to me was not on anyone’s radar.

I have a GED high school equivalency certificate.  I took the test about eight years after that trip to Denver.  Denver came after having changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school.  I still did well in every part of the GED test, except math, where the discontinuity of my education reaped its grim reward.  I got only 45% of the math questions right, but I was in the high 90th percentile on every other subject in the exam.  I was always curious and read a lot and I think that accounted for my scoring well otherwise.   I talked my way into University of Maryland as a special student with those scores and no SATs when I was 25 years old.

Symons Hall U of MD

I also have a doctoral degree in religious studies and a Juris doctor degree from a small law school in California in 1995.  I am still paying off educational loans.= (Note: paid off in 2012)  I earned all of these degrees and debts on my own.  No one in my family had the means or any interest in helping me go to college.  It was up to me to make of my life what I saw fit.  Maybe it was up to me a little sooner than that idea occurs to others; but it dawned on me at some time during college that we really are all on our own, and that is a good thing, to learn to make ourselves happy.

My education is one source of great happiness to me.  Education makes me feel rich.  No matter how much money I do or don’t have, the intellectual tools and experiences I have as a result of all of that work cannot be taken from me.  If I owe taxes, the government cannot take from me what I have learned.  They can put a lien on my house, but they can’t take the store of information and skills that I have collected.  Being able to solve problems and figure things out is one of my hard earned skill sets and I’m keeping it.

Wherever I go, having done what it took to educate myself both academically and socially I feel prepared.  No matter who I may meet, whatever the accomplishments of another, they didn’t do it coming from a background like mine and I feel like the challenges I faced and mastered gave me a confidence that puts me beyond commonly used measures.  Folks might be smarter than me, and often are, and they can be more accomplished in some way, but they are never worthy of more respect than I give or demand for myself.  At some point, I no longer felt any need to ‘measure up’ because there is no ‘up’ from where I stand.  And because of a few stellar people who crossed my path I learned the importance of kindness and generosity, in addition to the practice of respect, so I’m good.

And yet, all this post childhood educational work made me happy to be sort of ordinary.  Being ordinary is also an accomplishment when the life you were born to is one that asks you to suppress your gifts and become invisible.  Learning to write so that others could get on the same page with me, that was an accomplishment.  Perhaps I don’t write like a published literary genius, but being capable of being understood by a wide variety of people, that is an accomplishment that brings me tremendous joy.

I don’t think anything that I have done is particularly extraordinary, even though I have done lots of things no one would have expected.  I was not trying to be better than anyone else, I was, and continue to try to be better than myself, to expand my understanding and experience.  Sometimes I have done things faster than some of my peers, but it was because I had some goal in mind for myself.   I took more classes than I was required to in law school out of curiosity.  When I was about to graduate I realized I had taken about one extra class per semester.  I took more classes than anyone who graduated with me.  Even then I had a garden and I cooked for my family because I was in my forties when I did my graduate studies, and families need to know that you appreciate them.  Food is a wonderful source for the demonstration of love.   And sometimes, just lolling around without any purpose with someone you love is the best tonic on earth.

Every life has its challenges.  My life started out with more of them than most Americans.  Even so, most of the time I find that I forget everything I surmounted in the past and my life is merely about what I am going to make for dinner tonight and that feels like having a tremendously privileged life.  I am free of worry about having enough money or food.  I can think about things I never knew existed or had time to consider as a girl from a family who got food stamps.

I read Heidegger, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Sartre, W.E.B. DuBois, Shulamith Firestone and so much more.  None of which I could discuss with anyone in my family to this day.

I read poetry endlessly for a few years and fell in love with both Frank O’Hara and Sam Hamill.  I learned to meditate and to teach meditation and spiritual practices.  I learned to share the stillness I had found within.  If I had followed the expectations of my family I probably would have been a waitress for a long, long time.  And certainly, it helped me pay my tuition to be a good waitress who could remember a lot of disparate information.  But that would have been it:  I would have missed the opportunities of my life.  I would have struggled with poverty and would have missed all the things that I love the most:  All the ordinary pleasures, all the normal day to day things that come of being who I am.

I would have missed my ordinary life.  In the same way that the low expectations of my family would have held me back, I feel that so much striving to be special is an equally and tremendously crafty thief of our day to day lives.  For a long time I struggled to excel at things that other folks simply did with greater ease than I can.  Other people were intrinsically more interested in the law than I was.  I wasn’t fascinated.  Other people were more interested in being heroic than I was.   And I tried to find work that was centered on my greatest skills, but there really wasn’t anything that required that skill set but me.

And so I found work that took advantage of my best skills, not all of them, but enough that at the end of the day I had time to use those other parts of me to amuse myself and benefit my family.  And the stress of striving for some acknowledgement of my specialness began to die away and I was left here living in this wonderful home with this wonderful man who appreciates my intelligence and creativity and who could listen to every awful thing that happened to me without awe or false sentimentality so that I could have an ordinary life and put away the burden of being special.   It’s nearly impossible to relax when you’re busy trying to be or avoiding being special.

My husband, Dan McMullen, has been more transformative in my life than anyone else I know. The way that he stuck with me through thick and thin helped me understand myself in ways that nothing else could.

I’ve done all kinds of spiritual, psychological and ontological work and he has done some of it with me, including even being an excellent student in classes that I have taught as a minister myself.

There is no substitute for being loved from the hair on your head to the soles of your feet, inside and outside and even when there is stormy weather in the relationship. Dan has never, ever made me feel that I should doubt his dedication and love. That kind of love leaves me free to develop myself as fully as I am able.

Dan the Man

This song is for him…



Ray LaMontagne

SHELTER

I guess you don’t need it
I guess you don’t want me to repeat it
But everything I have to give I’ll give to you
It’s not like we planned it
You tried to stay, but you could not stand it
To see me shut down slow
As though it was an easy thing to do
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
And I will shelter you
I will shelter you
I left you heartbroken, but not until those very words were spoken
Has anybody ever made such a fool out of you
It’s hard to believe it
Even as my eyes do see it
The very things that make you live are killing you
Listen when all of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonnado
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
If you shelter me too
I will shelter you
I will shelter you

Life With an Architect: Thanks For The Laundry Room

Our laundry room used to really suck.  I am not an ungrateful person.  I had a laundry room.  I didn’t have to go to a laundrymat unless I was washing the blankets or quilts that fit our King size bed.   I thought it sucked that we had all that space and no place to fold or hang laundry as we got the job done.   It is still the same long narrow room.  It no longer has a recycled plastic accordian door, unpainted drywall.  It’s just not at all ugly anymore.

I don’t really like to fold clothes in the rest of the house, but I couldn’t really do much in there about folding and hanging the laundry.  We moved into our house five and half years ago.  So I did wait for this remodel for a while.


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The cabinets are recycled.  They were once in the kitchen as upper cabinets, but they weren’t convenient for me so we took them down and saved them for this project.  Dan refinished them and created the network of shelving that wraps around the corner and the panel that covers the plumbing behind the washer.  He has a little more trim to put up on the shelf beside the washer.  This is because when he got close to having figured out and refinished all those cabinets and had built the shelves, our 5 year old Maytag DIED a cruel and expensive death.  So after much research of rebates, efficiency, repair frequency and pricing, we bought this hot metallic red number.  The slight difference in size and configuration caused a bit of trouble in fitting everything.
Now I have good storage for my vases, the laundry detergent, bleach and all that other stuff is behind closed doors within reach of the washer.  Nice. So Nice!

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Since we first remodeled, we painted that door red and added better storage. See pictures below.

After all that work with the vertical grain fir cabinets was accomplished, there was the building of the folding surfaces.  We used a two sided plastic laminate from the Ikea, and with the help of the gigantic equipment our neighbor has in his cabinet making shop Dan fitted the entire design to the wall, attaching it in the back and leaving space for a laundry sorter beneath the table plus other additional storage.  The main table is six feet long.

Did I mention all the painting!  There is no window, so the sunny, but not too bright yellow keeps it modern, bright and clean looking in here.


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The shelves are also from Ikea.  The brackets are the same design as the wall hooks we put up over head for dividing our hanging laundry for each person.  Some of the track lighting that Dan installed to bring light to every spot that we need it while doing laundry shows in this photo.


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Here’s a closer look at the cabinets & shelves.  It’s so nice not to have to cram vases in here and there wherever I could find a little space.  Now when I bring flowers into the house I know exactly where the vase I want is located.  One more little instance of suffering has been averted!

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The laundry room is on the bottom floor of our home at the foot of the stairs and is just beyond the Field of All Buddhas.   Of course, it seems appropriate to me since it is as if it was the Compassionate Buddha, or was it that fat, laughing Buddha, as Dan that ended another minor source of my suffering (in the laundry room) and it is he who I have to thank for this indulgent wonderfulness.


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To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.

Albert Schweitzer


Thanks Honey Bunny!

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Life with an Architect: Why Dan is THE Man

Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul.                                        Ernest Dimnet

I asked Dan to hang this chandelier in our entry hall for my birthday.  It had been in the garage for two years.  There were other projects that came first, it was not his fault!  But one thing leads to another and now he has refinished and repainted the walls (twice) after having replaced some of the drywall because he found some mold that had been painted over by prior occupants.

The window and door trim has been sanded down and is being refinished and one of the doors is fitted and being finished to match.  The tile is almost ready to grout.  But geeze, he had to break out a lot of heavy, old, poorly installed tile and haul it out, level the floor so that it matches the room next to it for future tiling, and really, it turned out to be quite a lot, but, it is becoming more and more beautiful.    When I bought this chandelier to match the other two and the rest of the lighting I had no idea what would transpire …

Chandelier & New Beam

Like this project, which came first:

Chandelier in the Dining Room

Or this one, where he custom built a deep pantry cabinet with pull out shelves and built in microwave, which meant he had to run wiring and made it possible for us to store more than you can imagine:

Pantry & Microwave cabinet

 Or later when he installed this lighting in the kitchen:

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The kitties like to keep track of what he is doing:

kittyboys supervise

That door is new and will be stained to match the stairs and trim.

The tile is almost all in:

Tile no grout There are just a few to set on the risers and then the grouting will begin.  That is a cat door he built that goes to the kitty boys private latrine.

Cat door Dan never has any projects.  Really.  So while he missed getting the entry hall done for my birthday on November 6th, I have no complaints.  If you hear me complaining, slap me, please.

I nearly always agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson, but in this he is wrong:

“Art is a jealous mistress, and if a man has a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider.”

Monday 11-16-09 Update:

Risers tiled 111609 This is a really messy process, but all that mortar does clean up with water.

Wood trim The wood trim takes multiple steps of measuring, cutting & mitering,  sanding, staining, finishing, sanding, finishing, sanding, finishing and finally nailing and filling the nail holes so they disappear as much as possible.  I am thinking that this will be done sometime this week.  I hope.

Appetite, with an opinion of attaining, is called hope; the same, without such opinion, despair.                                     Thomas Hobbes


Results FIRST posted 05-24-10

Skylights at dusk


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One of the reasons we wanted to remodel this area was so that we had a place that was worthy of this painting.


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Click on any of these photos below to enlarge your view.

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Life with an Architect: Soul of Beauty and Love of Craft

Our beautiful new Master Bedroom Suite

A great deal of inspiration for what we’ve done came from Sarah Susanka’s series of Not So Big House books.  My husband, retired California architect, Dan Edward McMullen and I don’t think folks need McMansions to prove something about themselves.  Dan’s been inspired, since his days in UC Berkeley’s architecture school, by it’s Dean at that time, William Wurster, whose residential design was noted for its simplicity. We believe people live well and best in homes that fulfill their needs in a variety of ways. Our home has 2186 square feet.  Not a tiny house, but certainly not a behemoth.  We have sufficient room for visitors and for each of our activities, including my home office.  We’ve been doing nearly all the remodeling work ourselves–that is an imperial “we”–over the past seven years. Last Christmas we resolved to get this done, and it is!

In a basic sense, we needed a better way to store our clothing.  We needed new flooring.  We had a wonderful bed already.  We needed better lighting.  On a personal level we wanted a suite that restored our souls, launched our days in peace and which included art works properly treated and displayed, and enough ‘white space’ to allow both the eyes and our minds to rest, whether our eyes were open or closed.

This room preexisted those ideas and our remodel was meant to bring it into line with those ideals without breaking our budget.  Good rooms have thoughtful details and a high level of craftsmanship, and this one certainly does.

You can find out more about Sarah Susanka’s work and philosophy at http://www.notsobig.com/ 

MBR1
The walls in this room were already textured, and so they remained.  The paint was expertly done after some corrections were made to the wall to make sure that they were straight and plumb.  The closets would never have fit well if that work had not been done.  Retexturing in those areas was a bit tedious, but those changes are invisible to the eye due to painstaking work.  The color is called Oriental Silk and is a cream color that has a hint of warmth.  It’s Behr paint available through Home Depot and we learned that Behr is highly rated by Consumer Reports for durability, and standing up to cleaning.  That research means we won’t have to paint again for a long time.  We’ve used it for ceilings throughout our home because of the way it warmly reflects light.
The paintings in front of the closet are by my dear friend, currently visiting her home in Spain, Maria Gracía Brunsó, who goes by Grace when she is in San Carlos, California with her husband, architect Miquel Aymerich, a friend and colleague of Dan’s.
The chandelier, bed side lamps and sconces are Robert Abbey Beaux Arts designs.  We have smaller models of the chandelier in our dining room and entry hall.  We have pendant lighting over the island in our kitchen.  This kind of consistency gives a smaller home a feeling of peace.  The light from the shades is warm, like candle light.
MBR2
The art works are important to us.  The painting just outside this door was done by Pacific Northwest artist, Mary Moore Baileywww.marypaints.com; the pastel of the coastal foothills above Skyline Drive not far from Pacifica, California hangs over the bed,  by JoAnne HorsfallBeasley who died in 2006. We bought it just before moving to Bellingham at the end of 2004 from The Main Gallery in Redwood City.  We also purchased two of the Raku pots in the next photograph at the gallery from potter Jeff Carlick. The small, lidded Raku pot is an early example of work by our brilliant nephew, Tim McMullen.  He is one three partners in Silica Studioswhere they provide both gallery and studio space.  They also teach.  It’s a great place to learn on every level!  The large plate in the center is by Gene Buckley of Stony Clearing Studio here in Bellingham.  We also have pots by his wife, Cheryl Lee, one on the table through the doorway under Mary’s painting.
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MBR4
 The rocker is an Arts & Crafts antique that was in bad shape when I got it, but Dan refinished and reglued and clamped it and we recovered the seat with a German upholstery leather remnant we bought on ebay.  We got enough to cover 6 dining chairs and a Morris chair & ottoman.  We enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes of being self-sufficient. The floral painting is the first purchase in our art collection and is also by Mary Moore Bailey.
The small carpets are Safavieh Anatolia.  The floor is Kentwood American Cherry Natural Elite, an engineered wood floor with a 25 year guarantee. The baseboards and door frames are clear vertical grain fir, hand finished to match the doors and closets by my husband, Dan the Man McMullen.
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Firecat and Honey Boy test the new floors.
MBR5   The watercolors on the right were painted by Dan in 1959, when he was at UC Berkeley studying Architecture.  On the left is a eucalyptus grove above the Greek Theater, and on the right is a bridge over Strawberry Creek, both on the campus. These paintings represent so much about Dan’s life as a student and later as an architect.  Their peacefulness makes them perfect for our room.

Other Resources:

  • Bedding, comforter, shams & matching shower curtain are a discontinued Arts & Crafts organic print from Pottery Barn.
  • Sheets, wonderful cream Veratex 800 thread count — We splurged on Overstock.com
  • Shaded yellow quilt and shams, a find at TJ Maxx
  • Box spring cover, Matlasse from Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Pillows, 2 sets of Sleep Innovations® Memory Foam Down Pillow online at Kohl’s.  So comfortable!


This is our wedding portrait, December 31, 1990.  You can tell by my dress and flowers that we agreed that we would already be doing things a little differently.  I am the extra mother to these four wonderful additional McMullens.  The handsome devil with his arm draped over my shoulder is the infamous cradle-robber of his class of 1962, Dan the Man, my beloved.
Our Wedding 21 years ago

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Life With an Architect: Our Office is now a Guest Room Too, an Ikea Hacker Chronicle

Testing the common homily my grandmother taught me:

If a task is once begun, 

never leave it till its done. 

Be thy labor great or small, 

do it well or not at all. 

What do you do with a basement room that has retaining walls that interfere with furniture placement?  Hack Ikea’s Expedit shelving to create built in storage, and do a lot of measuring and remeasuring to make sure everything is going to fit!

I don’t have a picture of the room before we lived here, but here is one of the family room before we remodeled it which has the same conditions.

retaining walls

Ugly barely covers how poorly done this space was when be bought it!  About three years ago Dan laid Saltillo tile floors and installed newly hand finished doors in both of these spaces.

Saltillo

First a platform was built over a low retaining wall wide enough to hold the Expedit shelves and mounting strips were installed on the wall and all was painted.  We chose the Expedit size that comes packaged with the desk attached, using one with a desk and two more.  Square Parsons style legs were added to the bottom of the Expedit shelves to create the proper height to add the desk to a lower shelf than usual.

platform

Test fitting the first Expedit unit below.

Test fitting We used the long single five cubby Expedit mounted high enough to leave room for speakers beneath it to create a credenza behind the desk, and added a glass top to the desk. When we have guests, one end of the credenza serves as a nightstand for the Brimnes queen-sized guest bed.

desk completed

On the opposite wall from the office area there is another retaining wall that was about 40″ high.  We used two Lack shelves on either side of a Lack Wall Shelf Unit.  We had to shorten one shelf to make a seamless wall to wall unit.  Because the Lack shelves were mounted on a retaining wall, they were installed up side down to make the mounting brackets work.  A long thin wood shim was also installed along the front bullnosed edge of the retaining wall to keep everything level. We used a small Lack wheeled table as a printer stand and tucked it under the shelf a bit.

Lack Shelves

Now it really is both a lovely office and a comfortable guest room.

Guest room & office

And there is a laptop desk for Dan here too that can double as a dressing table for guests & a secret lair for Honey Boy & Fireboat.

Laptop Desk for Dan

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