And…Here Comes the Bride!

But backing up just a bit…

A wedding aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a US Liberty Ship docked by Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, is the stuff of dreams. Planning and executing such an event is a joyous nightmare!

When I offer to come to San Francisco for two months to help Jenny and Kennen prepare, I have no idea what that means, but am elated when they agree. I float on a bubble of happy anticipation as I comb Craigslist for a place to stay. Lodging secured, I pack, say goodbye to Minnesota, and the adventure begins.


SS Jeremiah O’Brien, US Liberty Ship from World War II

My first assignment after settling in is a visit to the site with Jenny to assess décor possibilities.

The massive, gray ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf basks like a giant whale in the Bay. It houses a maritime museum but is otherwise very much the same as it was during its working life. A narrow gangway leads from the pier to the deck. The stairs shake and lurch as we begin our ascent. Far below the churning sea is visible in the spaces between the treads. My stomach lets me know how unhappy it is to be put to this test so early in the game.


Location of ceremony and dance

Once on deck, Jenny takes the lead pointing out a raised platform where the ceremony and dancing will take place.  The Bay unfolds before us, and the city skyline is jagged on the horizon behind. There isn’t much I’ll need to do to improve upon the setting. We take some measurements and photos, then head downstairs to the dining room.

The ship’s galley has all the ambiance of a Legion Hall. I begin mouthing Hail Mary’s while hyperventilating. Breathe, Sherry, breathe. It’s great advice, but the space isn’t speaking to me. Actually, that’s not true. The room is sticking it’s tongue out and laughing in my face! Every self-doubt I’ve ever had rises up to taunt me. “I have two months!” is the only consoling thought I can muster, while wondering if two years would be enough.


Ship’s galley where dinner will be served

I’ve always admired designers who can step into a space and, with wild gestures, eyes glazed, seeing what isn’t there, wax eloquent as they announce ‘the vision.’ My eyes glaze, but it’s not with a vision.

Days pass, but finally an idea whispers to me. That’s all I need, just one thread of possibility to hook into. Then a torrent of  inspiration pours forth. I’ve been given a budget. I scour Berkeley on foot for items that will give form to the intangible images in my head. When I’m not roaming the streets, I search online, sourcing tulle, lights, and ribbon, in quantities that make my heart fibrillate. I run through the plan with Jenny and Kennen and get the green light. All systems go. Gulp.

The following weeks are a blur of Ted Talks. Assembly line workers possess a high tolerance for repetition and monotony. My vision for adorning the space requires hours of tedious crafting.  I’m not fond of crafts, but I’m hopelessly fond of my youngest daughter. So, tuned in to Ted, I while away the hours making centerpieces.



The bouquets come together at the rate of about one every four hours. Two a day is my limit, and some days I only manage one. But they’re finally complete and it’s time to begin the chair back decor. I make a sketch for approval before beginning the second mind-numbing craft. By this time, Ted nauseates me. I graduate to Dr. Who. It takes 42 episodes to complete 87 ribbon swags. Thank you, Dr. Who.

P1040553Saint Melody, my landlady, notices my deteriorating condition and calls in the troops. A group of her friends gather to assist, and fingers fly. The lone male in attendance keeps us hydrated with green apple martinis. Bless him! When they leave the last project is under control. I have two days to spare.

It feels like I’ve been handed a get-out-of-jail-free card! Those two days are spacious and free, but my nights are filled with stressful dreams. The pieces are ready but the puzzle isn’t assembled. That has to happen in the four-hour window of time we’ve been granted access to the ship the day before the wedding.

While I’m behind the scenes doing my thing, Jenny and Kennen are multi-tasking robots. They interview caterers, party outfitters, DJ’s, photographers, liquor suppliers, day-of wedding managers, clean-up crews, and interface with the ship event coordinator. They taste-test food and create signature drinks. A week before the wedding, Jenny flies to New York for a four-day business trip. Kennen finalizes the flow-chart that will ensure everything gets done, creates a seating chart for guests, and that’s just the bit I am privy to. I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. My respect for their teamwork and the ability to keep it all together without melt-downs is immense.

D-day arrives. Everything is at the ship, waiting for me. I’m terrified.  One by one my help arrives. I outline the plan and I am blown away by the cooperation, focus, and determined energy harnessed for those four hours. They accomplish the impossible. What a team!







Time’s up. We stand back and survey the transformation.  Even the cranky old codgers whose job it is to care for the ship day-to-day, appear dazzled.


I stop holding my breath. That night I sleep like the dead.

The next morning dawns a perfect San Francisco day. The bride is in her suite with her bridesmaids, the hair and makeup artist, the photographer, and me. Breakfast arrives, a delectable array of fruit, quiches, croissants, and coffee.


There’s music and happy chatter as each of us is transformed into our better self.


The photographer is a feisty French woman who is petit in size only. Her personality overlaps the room, filling it with zesty enthusiasm. I lose it when she has Jenny pose by the red wall. Her camera clicks like a machine gun as she whoops, “You’re a stallion! A stallion!” I might have chosen a different word. Goddess seems somehow appropriate. I feel the lump in my throat as emotion wells behind my eyelids.


Then it’s the first look on the mezzanine of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. I’ve never heard of the first look. These past two months have been a crash course in Wedding 101.


After that it’s full bore to show time! We catch the limo bus to the pier for more photos.P1040777 P1040786

I am adamant about the flags even though their viability is questioned at every turn. To my aesthetic, the four fifteen foot white billows  are a necessary counterpart upstairs to the tulle and lights below. Here they form a dramatic backdrop as Jenny gazes, pensive, into the distance. I wonder what she’s thinking in these last moments.P1040787

I catch a kiss, then my camera dies. It’s great timing. I can be present for the rest of the day without the glass eye of the lens between me and the unveiling of a new life. I have no doubts about this partnership. It’s stronger than a ship’s knot. Mr. and Mrs. Kennen Pflughoeft, thank you. I love you.


The Last Supper

My last Sunday Night BBQ in California is a hedonistic, humanistic extravaganza. But you’d never know it to look at the civilized table.


I’m hanging with a heady crowd. These people have multiple degrees, speak too many languages, and love to party. Hanna’s from Taiwan. She owns a tech company and solves computer glitches.

She arrives an hour early, laden with vegetables and protein.  Her chicken, pork, and salmon have marinated in exciting sauces overnight. The prawns bask in a mixture heavy with orange zest. Exquisite! She preps the grill, issues orders to her sous chefs, (we know our place), and Sunday Night BBQ is underway!


Hanna’s a wizard with vegetables. Corn husks are peeled back and the ears smeared with a pesto garlic butter. Husks replaced, they’re secured in foil, and, excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin! Then she slices tomatoes in half, scores the tops, and presses a wicked mixture into them that, once grilled, turns an ordinary tomato into a sophisticated to-maah-to, daaahling!


I’ve had her grilled artichokes, parsnips, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, and pineapple, I think!

The fact that I don’t know for sure about the pineapple is Melody’s fault. Alcohol is Mel’s domain. If I never have another drink it’s okay. I’ve exceeded my lifetime quota in just two months here. Tonight it’s an exotic frozen daiquiri, with lethal amounts of rum, served with the appetizers.


While waiting for the food to cook, the back porch conversation sizzles hot and steamy. Topics range from Syria, Fukushima, and the mysterious herbs used in Ethiopian cooking, to ethnic sensitivities, among other things, which makes total sense in a gathering where none of us are of the same people group.


Later in the evening, Annette, Melody, and Devon break into a tirade of French. Then it’s Spanish…Annette may have Ecuadorian roots, but we were well into the wine by then so maybe it was Peruvian, or Brazilian…anyway, she speaks Spanish really, really well.

And remember Aaron?

P1040631He’s the musician who lives in the little house in the back yard. His band plays all over the world, including Bali. After the babbling in French and Spanish, during which Aaron, Hanna and I, make inappropriate comments whenever it seems appropriate, Aaron disappears. In moments he’s back with an assortment of percussive instruments. He takes the lead, establishes a rhythm, and we rock the house.

Music is the universal language. Shaking my maracas in syncopated bliss, I scan the faces around me, radiant, smiling. Our bodies move to the beat. Then we’re singing, Don’t worry…about a thing…’cause every little thing…gonna be alright… we veer off, adlibbing new words, whatever comes to mind. We rap, reggae, and revel in the camaraderie.

How did I get so lucky? Melody and her house was a Craigslist find, a place to touch down for two months while I tend to the minutia of wedding preparations. I expected nothing more. What I got was a home with a heart, a place in a vibrant community, help with wedding projects, and a steady stream of amazing characters, many of whom will be friends for life. What is this magic bubble I’m traveling in where everything I touch turns to love?

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