Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
From Seed to Bloom
Determining where to build the writing shed was a process of listing the pros and cons of the two possible sites. On the pro side of placing the shed in the rear corner of the lot, the shed could be bigger and could be fashioned to look like my Grandpa’s dog house. However, on the con side of this placement, the shed would be further from the house and less accessible in inclement weather. I also wouldn’t be able to see the writing shed from the house and I really wanted to be able to see it.
The other location on the side yard, right behind the garage, offered easy access and a view of the shed from the kitchen, which were definite pros. At that location, the cons included the sizing and design of the shed. In order to comply with the City’s Building Codes, the building would have to be three feet from the lot line and six feet from the garage. That left just eight feet for the width of the shed. We also had to keep in mind the distance from the overhead power lines which would mean we would have to move the shed back a bit. Doing that would take some garden space and that was a con.
Another thing to consider – electricity. Running power from the garage to the rear of the lot would be more difficult and expensive compared to running power the six feet from the garage to the side yard location.
In the end, I decided easy access and being able to see the shed from the house were more important than building a replica of the dog house. This writing hut or writing shed (I call it both) would be uniquely me!
Here are some pictures and explanations of the building of my dream shed – oh “Dream Shed” has a nice ring to it. Just don’t call it a she shed! Enjoy.
#1 – September 17, 2016
The post in the middle of the yard represents where the door to my writing shed will be located. My son-in-law Colby is shown working on the footings. The placement for the shed is behind the garage. There will be a 6 foot wide area that will serve as a walkway to the garden and deck in the back, back yard.
#2 – October 8, 2016
Colby, Sam and Mac worked on the weed barrier and rock foundation today while I was working at the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event. Sara cleaned my house! I really appreciate my kids and grand kids helping me out today. The shed will start looking like a shed soon.
#3 – October 22, 2016
Colby hasn’t been able to come work on the shed for the past couple of weeks. But today he is back and getting the floor on the shed. Hooray! More Progress.
#4 – October 22, 2016
Colby is getting a lot done today: Insulation and subfloor!
#6 – October 28, 2016
This is what the shed looked like before we went to the pumpkin patch. And pictures of the shed after we returned from the pumpkin patch. I have a better idea of the size of my writing space.
#8 – January 14, 2016
Colby mudded the drywall today and he told me to leave the heater on for a while. I went out to turn the heater off – it was the first time I had been out there at night. I liked it. The walls and ceiling are well insulated and the shed was warm and toasty. Because the shed is so close to the garage, the walls had to include a firewall. The walls will be covered in ship lap.
Here is the finished product!
The Writing Hut
People look at a picture of my writing hut and they say “Oh it’s a she shed”. I say “nope – it’s a writing hut”. Then I go on to explain that my Grandfather “Carnation Joe” Green had a little house in his backyard that he called the “Dog house”. I loved that little house – I found it fascinating and vowed to have my own little house one day.
Grandpa explained to people that he called his little house the “dog house” because when he was in trouble with Grandma Lil and in the dog house – he would actually go out to the dog house until she got over whatever had made her mad. I don’t know if that was true but Grandpa Joe always said “Don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story”.
Grandpa Joe lived in a small craftsman bungalow, built in 1926 here in Fremont, just a block from the home he was born in. He lived in this tiny home with his wife and three daughters. The three girls shared a bedroom in the attic – which got pretty hot in the summer. When the girls became teenagers in the 1940’s, they took over the dog house, as a sleeping cottage, during the summer months. The windows provided good cross ventilation and a cooler sleeping spot.
After World War II, with housing shortages, a young couple lived in the little cottage until they could find a permanent home. (The man who lived in the house would later become the Fire Chief in Fremont.) The cottage had a fireplace for warmth in the winter and open windows for cooling in the summer. There was electricity in the little house but there wasn’t a bathroom or running water – I often wonder how that went for the newlyweds.
Over the years, the little cottage became a storage shed. A place to hide away unwanted furniture and household items. Eventually old lawnmowers and garden tools found their way into the cottage and the structure’s purpose changed but still it remained a backyard constant.
Grandma and Grandpa added a great room onto their little bungalow in the 1950’s. The north wall of the great room contained four floor to ceiling windows. The little cottage was the focal point of the window framed scene with trees, bushes, gardens, a stone grill and bird bath completing the composition.
On snowy winter nights, you would find my grandparents sitting in the great room with a fire in the fireplace. The lights inside turned off, the outdoor spot lights strategically placed for effect and glowing brightly. They would quietly enjoy the wide screen show before them – the natural beauty of their private winterscape.
I have many memories of the “Dog House” from holidays at my grandparents' home and staying with them during college. After they passed, I lived in my Grandparents home for a few years. I had many days and nights of gazing upon the quiet beauty of this private garden and knew that one day I would build my own dog house – a retreat for quiet contemplation.
So no – it is not a “she shed”. The seed was planted years ago, just one block away from the greenhouse where my grandfather was born. The memory of his little dog house kept safely in my heart until it could be planted and grown in my own backyard.
My little house – a space I have dreamt of having for over 60 years. A space that I sketched and resketched hundreds of times. A space that holds dear the memory of my grandparents and love of family. A space dedicated to creativity and wonder. My very own retreat – my very own writing hut. Oma Sue!
The Cabin on Big Island…
It’s weird, but I often find myself reflecting on memories of time spent at the family cabin in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I think my mind goes there as a continuation of my fascination and fondness of small homes. Our family cabin was located on the Platte River, in an area known as Big Island. I believe those times spent at the cabin on Big Island were formative; and I know that as I told the story of the three frogs to my granddaughter, I envisioned the ponds, the river, the frogs that we chased, the sand, the mulberry trees and the abundance and diversity of bugs. I also know that those same things entered my mind as I sketched some of the illustrations for the book. This excerpt about the cabin, is from a writing of a larger essay on memories of days spent at the family cabin. I may share some of those personal cabin memories in the future – we’ll see.
When I was a kid in the late 50’s, the family rented a cabin on Big Island - right on the Platte River. The “family” was Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lil, My mom Alyce, Dad Bill and my brother Billy and me. My mom’s sister Joey - her husband Mel and their two children Cindy and Lynny also shared the cabin.
It was a summer cabin with an outhouse - plumbing was available in the kitchen. Not that it was so much of a kitchen - there was an old hand pump and cast-iron sink on the west wall of the larger front room of the cabin. As I recall there weren’t any doors on the cupboards in the kitchen. They probably weren’t so much cupboards as they were shelves and a work bench. The lower work bench portion covered in frilly flowered curtains.
We had to bring some water with us or fetch it from the river to prime the pump. We were warned to never ever drink the water - it was dirty, dirty, dirty - but we could wash our hands with it and we boiled it to wash the dishes. That didn’t seem right. We would always take a jug or two of Kool-aid or lemonade when we went to the river - we had to ration it out to last the whole time. (I know they made coffee - wonder what they used)
My least favorite thing was the outhouse. The outhouse, just back by the rear lot line, was both disgusting and frightening. The smell disgusting, the lurking spiders and potential for snakes, frightening.
The nighttime trek to the outhouse was often made in complete darkness as flashlights had a way of disappearing and pathway lighting didn’t exist. It was a treat to have the light of the full moon to help guide you to that truly disgusting and frightening place.
Anyway - you entered the cabin through a screen door in the center of the front covered porch. The screened in porch was big and easily accommodated a large picnic table to the left. A double window was located on the wall, behind the table, and opened to the kitchen. A single bright light bulb hung just outside the window and provided the only light for the entire porch.
There was a wooden door as entry to the cabin. To the right of the door leading into the cabin was as much porch space as on the left. That portion of the screened in porch had no lights or furniture. It was more of a no man’s land in my mind - a dark place of mystery hidden in the shadows - all kinds of spiders lurked in the shadows. There was no reason to go to the right side of the porch - all the fun and food and light was on the left - that was a known area - no secrets or danger lurked there.
When you walked into the cabin, the kitchen was on the left and the living space on the right. In the very center of the cabin was a huge stone fireplace. The front half of the cabin was like a great room but not so great big – it was more like pretty small. On either side of the fireplace was a bedroom. The bedroom on the right was completely open - the one on the left had a bit more privacy as a partial wall separated the kitchen and bedroom and behind the dividing fireplace was a simple closet - the only closet space in the cabin. This is where you would find the life jackets - river swimsuits - fishing gear and maybe a broom and dustpan.
As I mentioned before, the kitchen occupied the west wall of the living space. Next to the old hand pump and sink was a tiny stove and oven - in the bedroom nearest the kitchen was a refrigerator. There was that work bench counter that ran from the sink to the front of the cabin with that pass-through window conveniently located at the front of the cabin.
There was a little table in the kitchen just under the pass-through window. You could reach into the kitchen from the porch and retrieve plates or bowls of food which was great fun for a little kid.
We had 4 chairs at the inside table. It was an old drop leaf table and the chairs were shaped like a pine tree - at least more of a triangle shape than a boxed rectangle shape. As I recall the chairs and table were painted a light green. The refrigerator was in the corner of the second bedroom - sitting at an angle - a big circle motor area perched on top of the refrigerator made it look obsolete even in the 50’s. The refrigerator was not conveniently located but we felt lucky to have there to keep food cool for the weekend.
Each bedroom had two double windows. The windows opened from the middle and into the room. There were screens on the windows to keep out the bugs - but the bugs usually could find another way in - it wasn’t that hard. The outside of the windows were shuttered - with hinges at the top. One of the first things Dad would do when we got to the cabin was prop up the shutters on the outside of the cabin. Mom would start carrying in the food and supplies and we kids would run to the river to check out the flow. After checking on the river, we would return to the cabin and open up all the windows. The place needed to air out. It always smelled musty and stale - but in no time the breeze took the unpleasant odor away.
The bedrooms each contained a double bed with a lumpy mattress resting on iron bed frames. There was a single chest of drawers in the bedroom to the right and a small mirror hung over the chest of drawers.
There was a television set in the living area. It was a small set with clunky dials and a twisted antennae. You could sometimes get a show - but more than likely it was just static and snow. There was a couch next to the television and a rattan type loveseat on the wall next to the front door - no cushions - it was not comfortable.
The whole cabin was sparsely furnished - and we always brought clean sheets when we came for the night or the weekend. Every night before I crawled into one of the double beds, my Mom would pull the sheets and the blankets back to assure me there were no bugs or spiders sharing my sleeping accommodations.
If we had lots of overnight guests at the cabin, I would awake in the morning, not in the bed, but on a large quilted comforter on the floor. For some reason, this always surprised me.
The cabin is a place that holds many memories from my childhood. I’m sure it also fed my life-long fascination of small spaces. The summers spent at the river were times of creating family bonds, times of adventure, an opportunity to go camping without totally roughing it and times of great fun.
Some of my favorite childhood memories of my mother are her cuddling up in bed with me and my brother and reading us a story. When I became a mother, I continued the tradition of reading to my children and years later reading to my grandchildren. My youngest child Ramie loved to hear stories of when she was a baby. She could lay in bed, in the crook of my arm and listen to stories for hours. She wanted to hear stories about her sister and brother and what had they been like as babies. She wanted to know about my childhood and what was it like for her Dad growing up on the farm. Any little bit of information was wonderful - it was like she was catching up.
When Ramie became a Mom she read to her daughter and I read to her often as well. When Railee got a bit bigger and started spending the night with Grama, she would climb in my bed and ask me to tell her a story. That little stinker wanted to know about her Mom, her relatives, all our lives before her arrival - she was just like her Mom wanting to know what she had missed.
Gradually Rai started giving me prompts - asking me to tell her a story about a thumb or a mirror - the prompts were somewhat unusual. One night she surprised me with a normal prompt and asked me to tell her a story about three little frogs. This is the story that I told her that night, before she finally drifted off to sleep. I hope you enjoy the story I developed for my sweet Rai and I hope you share the environmental message with your little ones.
Those three paragraphs serve as an introduction in my first book – “Tell Me A Story Oma Sue, About Three Frogs.” That simple explanation outlines one very important aspect of my writing – family. I love my children and grandchildren very much and I wanted them to have a unique memory of their Oma Sue.
Oh, I know that they will remember me. My oldest daughter assured me that they won’t forget how I always stood in the street and repeatedly shouted “Bye – I love you” as they drove away after spending an afternoon or weekend at my house. Me shouting at the moving car, they rolling down the windows and shouting back, has been going on for years. That kind of crazy shouting, you can’t forget.
I also wanted them to have a tangible object – something they could hold in their hands and maybe one day share with their own children and grandchildren. So, family was the main motivation for producing my first book and remains the main motivation for most everything I do in this life.
A second motivation for producing the book was my passion for keeping Fremont beautiful. I worked for over three decades as the Executive Director of Keep Fremont Beautiful, Inc. I dedicated most of my adult career to improving everyone’s waste handling practices and encouraging our citizens to take greater responsibility for improving the environment. You don’t just turn that aspect of your life and personality off when you retire – at least I didn’t. The book is a continuation of my education efforts at Keep Fremont Beautiful.
It is my hope that the message contained in my first book will be shared far and wide. It is also my hope that children and the grown ups in their life will take personal responsibility for disposing of trash properly, reducing litter and respecting our shared natural areas and the wildlife who live there.