Chapter 1 – Keeping Shop …

There are several advantages to living over your place of employment, the least of which is the shortness of your commute.  I can hear the sounds of the city starting another day and I think about calling in sick.  Zeke reaches over and nudges me.

    “Time for work, isn’t it?”

    I groan and roll out of the warm cocoon, dumping The Devil’s Spawn off the bed as I went. My dog always sleeps on my feet and he is not happy at having to move.

    “I hate my boss.” I mutter as I head into the bathroom.  “And make the damned dog get off the bed.”

    “You are your boss, so that’s a problem for a therapist.” He grins at me and rolls back over.  The dog curls up against his back and looks at me, daring me to move him.  It isn’t worth the effort this morning.

    Zeke makes a good show of sleeping in, but I know that he will join me in the shower within moments of my soaping up.  He has the most uncanny knack for stepping in just as I’ve closed my eyes to shampoo my hair and he always scares the crap out of me.  After almost ten years, I still haven’t gotten used to it.  If I didn’t love him so much, I’d have killed him a long time ago and hidden the body under the boxes in the basement.

     Showered and cardiovascular exercise over…yes, he scared me again…I pull on clothes and go into the kitchen to make tea.  Zeke follows, pulling on his t-shirt as he walks in.  I stop to enjoy the view.  He’s gorgeous in a totally unselfconscious way; tall and lean, with long dark hair and those killer blue eyes.  He seems to have no idea how very sexy he is, but as usual I’m thrilled I’m the one who gets to enjoy the view.  He comes over and wraps his arms around me, kissing me quite thoroughly to distract me while he steals the cup of tea I have just prepared.

    Since we’ve also had this particular morning ritual for as long as the scare in the shower, I just let go of it and pick up the other one I have already fixed.  He puts the bread in the toaster and then goes outside to bring in the paper.  He is such a major news addict that I am considering an intervention but since it’s not gotten to the point where he takes more than one paper, I figure I can live with it.  We eat our breakfast in comfortable silence and both of us slip pieces of crust to The Devil’s Spawn, usually known as Vader.  He is a Schipperke, a Belgian breed with no concept of how small they are—about 15 pounds or so.  Vader looks like a black fox with no tail and acts as if he’s a Great Dane.  He is smarter than a lot of children that I know—and some adults.  He is my baby and he knows it.  He adores Zeke but he is fiercely protective of me.

    Feeling closer to something human, I put my cup in the sink and prepare to go downstairs to open up the shop.  Zeke kisses me and goes into the front room where we have our computers.  He is the techno wizard for the business and I am the customer service side.  Sometimes I think that it’s not a fair division of labor, since he seldom has to deal with irate customers.  He is, however, very good at tracking down people who write checks that their bank account cannot hope to honor.

    I walk down the stairs, leaving our private nest of happiness to enter the public market area.  I am once again struck by how much I really do love the shop.  I have worked hard for a long time to get it to where it feels right and has all the things that I am supposed to be selling and it reflects that.  My shop is a wonderful place, even when it’s empty and still, as it is this morning.  I straighten things on the shelves as I reach over to pull the shutters away from the windows.  The sunlight streams in and joins the UV light bulbs that I use in every light fixture.  If I’m going to be stuck inside all day, I want as much natural light as I can get.  I unlock the door and flip the “Closed, please call again” sign over to “Open, Come on in”.

    After turning on all the display case lights and firing up the computer that serves as both cash register and inventory control, I go into the dining room and move the gemstone display closer to the window.  This in turn means that I have to shift a lot of other things in the room.  Since I do this as a regular routine, it’s not that big a deal.  Working through the first couple of hours of the morning, I am just a little surprised that I don’t have to stop and help any customers, which is not good.  I do take the opportunity to dust very well.  I leave the doors open when the weather is warm and that makes stuff get dirty fast.  With fall in sight and fewer warm days, I’ve been taking advantage of it as much as possible.

    To keep as much of the inventory as clean as possible, I have all the books in barrister bookcase as well as display cases for the clothing.  I figure that it’s totally appropriate since a lot of the clothing would look right at home in a museum.  The entire wearable stock pretty much falls into one of two categories: historic or VERY artsy.  Many of the local renaissance and reenactment groups have discovered my shop as a source for their costuming.  This is probably one of the few places in this area that has an owner who knows what size bodice is required for m’lady to look like a queen and not a bar wench.

     The shop itself is actually a converted old house.  I’m not sure how it escaped destruction when all the new buildings came in but when Zeke and I went looking for a place to open up our business, there it was.  It was sad and forlorn, looking like a fading dowager in the midst of all the young debutantes…so we got it for a good price and with just a little love—and a lot of hard work, the dowager perked back up.  We kept the look of the house, but modernized it into the 21st century.

    We live in the upstairs rooms, having taken a bunch of tiny little bedrooms and combined them into basically three rooms: the bathroom, the bedroom and our living space—any one of which is larger than any of the bedrooms had been.  There is still the attic over us, but I haven’t had time to do much more than get it clean and empty.  It is merely a large open space, which comes in handy when we have crowds of friends over and can’t be outside.

    Downstairs, each room is used for a different type of merchandise.  The front door opens into the entry/hallway, and all the other rooms open off of this.  I block the stairs up to our part of the house by using them as a stepped display of clay pots in various sizes.  It doesn’t stop Vader from roaming as he sees fit, but it does prevent human animals from going up.  Zeke has put in a motion sensor across the landing (above Vader’s height so that he won’t set it off all day long) and that is the first switch I throw as I walk down each morning, putting it into action as I leave the area.

    It sets off an audible alarm if the beam is broken—as several children and a couple of insistent adults have found out.  Zeke set it up to play a recording of his wonderfully deep voice saying in a sad and mournful voice: “You have entered a forbidden zone.  You have 15 seconds to return to safety or we will release the Schipperke and he will attack you.  Have a nice day.”  The scary part of the recording is that he arranged it to play VERY loudly, from every speaker in the place, along with whoops and whistles.  The whistles send Vader into a frenzy.  No matter where he is, he goes like a bat out of hell to the stairs, barking and carrying on.  (Zeke spent about an hour training Vader to respond to it…as I’ve said, he is a very smart dog.)  It’s very impressive and no one who hears it makes the mistake of trying to get past it again.  If that line of defense fails, well…Zeke has also wired us for video, and there are spy cameras all over the downstairs.  If he put them upstairs, I haven’t found them yet.  As long as my sex life doesn’t show up on the Internet, I’m not going to worry about it.

    I have put a coat rack and umbrella stand right by the front door—and they even get used occasionally.  I have the checkout desk in one corner, where I can stand at the register and see most of the doorways.  That way I can see if there is someone who is looking for some help while still keeping tabs on the front door.  I also have a mirror strategically placed that lets me track anything behind me.

     I have painted and decorated the entire entryway to look like a forest, right down to a pathway of stones set into the floor.  Each doorway is hung with leafy garlands so that you step from the “forest” into that room.  I have placed silk plants where live ones won’t grow but since there is a mixture of both, it all looks real.  I even have some smaller trees placed along the stairs to give it more of a forest-y feeling.  Thank goodness Vader is so well trained or he’d try to mark his territory on them!  The green on the walls extend up onto the ceiling, but there are little patches of blue and white that look like the sky peeking through.  I have tacked silk leaves here and there on the walls for more depth and realism, which seems to work.

    Turning left from the front door, the dining room holds anything that needs a lot of light to be seen clearly as there is an enormous bay window as well as a pretty fabulous crystal chandelier.  The chandelier was quite a find and took several months of serious cleaning and wiring to make it into the sparkling work of art that it now is.  I have used dining room furniture to display all of the rocks, gemstone or otherwise, as well as the statuary and anything glass, pottery or metal.  We were lucky enough to find a massive oak table that is the centerpiece of the room, drawing the eye to both it and the chandelier.  It has enormous ball and claw legs and weighs a ton.  I don’t move it very often.  I use buffets and china cabinets to hold merchandise, replacing wooden doors with glass ones or just removing the doors completely.

    Customers get into the kitchen either by going through the dining room, or by going in the door that is further down the left side of the entry way.  The candles, herbs and oils are all there and it has been totally redone.  We had to completely gut it out because it hadn’t had any modernization since about the Civil War.  It is a fully functional kitchen for cooking even though it is a part of the store.  I give classes in making soaps, lotions, creams and candles, along with various other ways of using the herbs and oils that I sell.  Got to show the customers how to use up what they’ve bought so they will come buy some more!

    I have used a mixture of old and new things in decorating the kitchen to great success.  The appliances are all top of the line and very technologically advanced—but hidden behind wooden panels that make them look like they have always been in this old house.  I found an awesome apothecary’s chest to keep most of the herbs in and the pantry holds all of the necessary equipment for the classes out of sight but within reach.  I keep all of the “sharp” merchandise in the kitchen, using a variety of knife blocks to display daggers of all sizes.  The swords are hung on the walls out of immediate reach and require Zeke’s long arms to get them down.  There is also a door to the backyard in the kitchen and in warm weather I keep that open for cross circulation of any breezes that might blow.

     Back out in the entry way/hallway, there is a unisex bathroom of respectable size.   I combined the old powder room with the hall closet to make it, since I hate having to climb on the toilet to close the stall door.  At the front right corner of the house is the living room which is used for any merchandise that doesn’t quite fit into one of the other rooms.  I often keep seasonal things in there so it gets changed around the most.  Because of this, it has the least complicated decorating scheme of any of the rooms.  This also offers me the greatest ability to make it look very different each time I rearrange.

    Headed towards the back of the house between the living room and library, the clothes in their glass cases live in the parlor.  There is another room immediately off of it which has been made into a fitting room.  I have no idea what it was originally used for, but now works quite well as a private place to get naked.  I have tapestries hanging in both rooms to give it that authentic medieval feeling, along with a small display of shields we found in Ireland a few years ago while on vacation.  I even hung what Zeke calls the “Scarlett O’Hara drapes” on all the windows in these two rooms—heavy green velvet with a matching fringe that just begs to be made into dresses.

    And at the back corner of the house is the library, with those previously mentioned barrister bookcases, the kind that have glass doors to protect the contents.  There is a fireplace in one corner that we have outfitted with a very believable holographic fire—Zeke is such a techno-geek!  The whole Edwardian library look is filled out with a pair of red leather chairs and a table placed in front of the fire, which has a great portrait of someone’s severe-looking uncle hanging over it.  I have no idea who the man is but the price was right at the auction and it looks so good over our fireplace that I am glad we got it.  We have “cheated” and put false books across the top shelves so that they look full—but they are hiding a great portion of our records.  There is no point in having storage space go unused—which Zeke has been pretty smart about doing throughout the house.  Things are arranged so well that it doesn’t take long to find whatever we are looking for and nothing feels crowded.

   There was an old conservatory on the back of the house that we cleaned up and I have made into a sitting room.  I put hot tea out there in the winter, iced in the summer.  Husbands or boyfriends can sit out there while their women try on clothes or someone can just hunker down with a book that they are particularly interested in.  Vader especially likes sitting out under the elephant ear palms and looking adorable, which is usually good for serious petting when he suckers someone into believing that look.  You can only get to the conservatory through the library so I have made flower-shaped signs that lead people back there.

    The conservatory both overlooks and leads to the backyard.  Zeke has worked miracles with what was a wasteland when we moved in.  He did some serious back-breaking labor to create a dynamic, growing place that is a retreat for us.  He planned it so that no matter what the season, there is always some kind of plant to see out there–even in the starkness of winter, there is green.  There is a wonderful herb garden to one side of the yard, laid out as a labyrinth, which thrills the children.  The waterfall and its pond are one the most popular areas of the garden.  They took a mere moment to plan and then a couple of years to get into place.  They’ve been there for four years now but I never tire of watching the flow of the water.  I can see it from any window on the back of the house and I like to watch the droplets of water, falling from the rims of the rocks as it moves just fast enough to drop, almost in slow motion, into the pond.

    There are various plants growing around the pond, tucked in between the rocks and floating in the water as well.  We also have koi and they are enormous—as well they should be, big piggies that they are.  I let the kids throw food to them and the fish have apparently been taking lessons from Vader on looking cute.  I never thought a damned carp could look appealing, but these scaly scavengers have somehow managed to do so.

    Zeke built a brick path from the house leading to the gazebo that is at one edge of the pond and I have planted pansies on the edges of the walk and down around the pond.  People have asked us for use of the gazebo to get married and we are considering offering that as a service.  I’m not quite sure about doing that because I really do cherish being able to go out there and not have it feel like the world has gone through it—unlike the house, which frequently feels that way.  Zeke just points out that money is money, and we can choose who uses it and when it will be used.

    We haven’t done as much with the front yard, mostly because while the backyard is enclosed by a lovely, tall brick wall, the front is very much open to the street.  We see no reason to work our fingers to the bone doing things that would be enticing to vandals.  So we’ve made it neat and approachable, but haven’t spent a lot of money on the same type of gewgaws that we have put out back.  I have put some cheap wicker furniture on the front porch, and a couple of plants but nothing irreplaceable.  So far that has worked.

    The one thing that is out front and has any worth at all is the store sign. It’s a lovely piece of art, mounted across the top of the porch and matched by a lawn sign that sits almost at the sidewalk.  Both were painted by our good friend and artist Gustaff.  He has the legal last name of “NoLastName” because he got tired of trying to explain that he was just “Gustaff, no last name”.  That particular quirk is the most reasonable part of him, but he can bygod paint.  And since he insisted on doing it for free, we let him do the signs.

    It cost us more in food, beer and drama to have him do it than if we had just hired a competent sign painter, but in the end the results were worth it.  He managed to incorporate every important symbol that we wanted and yet the picture is not about symbols but a landscape of incredible beauty.  Even though the name is very readable, it is somehow also a part of this picture.  I wouldn’t get rid of the sign for love nor money, but I hope that I never need to replace it because Gustaff is just too expensive to do have to do it more than one time.

    The name of the shop was a hard decision…Zeke and I had talked long and hard about using our names—but since we weren’t doing a clothing store, “Taylor and Weaver” was useless.  We discussed celestial names (Moon Shine Emporium was the winner of that talk); we bandied about “earthy” names (“The Crystal Singer” was already copyrighted as a book and somehow we couldn’t keep a straight face to call it “My Mother’s Womb”); we talked about how to name it without sounding too New Age.  We might not have ever agreed on any name at all except for Zeke’s niece.  She was about 6 years old at the time and visiting us as we were preparing to open the store.  She had been wandering around looking at items as we stocked the shelves and then she made the statement that gave us our name: “It’s like the Green Man’s trading post, Uncle Zee!”

    Hit us like a thunderclap, and we looked at each other and nodded.  Zeke went to the county clerk’s office the next day to get our business license as “The Green Man Trading Post”.  It’s been a good name and it is descriptive of our merchandise, as we certainly do sell Green Man items among all the other things.  I also have scattered several Green Man masks throughout the entryway, where they peep through the foliage.  Zeke has a great affinity for Him…

    I finish arranging some of the gemstone inventory to my liking and turn to look at the room.  I am always mildly surprised at how just shifting things a few feet to the left can make the whole place look different.  I glance at the clock and realize that it’s almost lunch time—and I haven’t had a single customer.  I go to the door and make sure it’s unlocked and the sign IS flipped.  I step out and look around.  There are people going by, but no one looks like they want to come in my store.  I sigh and go back inside.

    I walk by the smiling Buddha and rub his belly for good luck, hoping that it will work quickly and someone will come in.  I figure I might as well have an early lunch and head upstairs.  Zeke and Vader are already in the kitchen when I get there.  Vader is snarfling down his food, and Zeke is making BL&T’s.  We both love to cook, but I love having him cook for me more so he frequently has the meal ready by the time I can bother to stir myself enough to prepare something.  I pour us each a glass of tea and sit down at the table.

    “I haven’t had any customers yet, but I got the dining room rearranged and dusted.  So I guess it was productive without being profitable.” I tell him.

    “Well, you know that means that you will be so swamped this afternoon that you won’t have time to do anything but wait on customers.” He mumbles through a bite of sandwich.

    “I hope so.  How was your morning?”

    “Profitable but not productive, so we are once more in balance.  I paid the bills, sent out a couple of reminders to our suppliers that we pay on time and they should damn well ship on time.  I am also looking at a new computer since I think this one is at about its limit for processing ability.”

    I am not interested in computers other than to check my email and shop on eBay, so I just look at him and yawn.  He laughs and we continue lunch.

     He is of course right about the afternoon.  I am totally overwhelmed by people wanting to buy this, where is that, can I get such and such—to the point that I make him come down and help me.  Vader runs around keeping tabs on things for us.  He has a real eagle eye for would-be shoplifters.  He stops one girl that I had sort of been watching as she tries to leave.  When I come over to see why he’s barking at her and blocking the doorway, she “remembers” that she put the bracelet in her pocket, and is all apologetic—but pays for it before she gets out of my shop.  If it wouldn’t make him fat, I’d give Vader nothing but filet mignon to eat as a reward for all that he has prevented from just walking out the door.  I don’t know how he knows the difference, but he seems to recognize that it’s all right for things to go out once they are in a bag.  Best security system I could have, besides being almost unbearably cute!

    When we can finally close the shop and put the shutters back in the windows, I am exhausted.  Zeke takes the money from the till to do the count for me and I head up to make dinner.  As I stand there looking at the stove and hoping that something will magically appear on it, he comes up behind me and puts his arms around me.

    “Do you feel up to eating out tonight?”

    “As long as I don’t have to cook it, I don’t care where I have to go to eat it!”

    We head out to our favorite restaurant, conveniently located across the street.

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