Family, Love Letters, Oregon

Love Letter: To My Family’s Flower Shop on its 30th Anniversary

When I was in high school, we hosted a young woman who was serving as an Oregon State FFA Officer at our house and she asked my Mom a lot of questions about our family-owned flower shop. To one of the questions, my Mom explained that outside of the holiday season, Valentine’s Day and the week of Mother’s Day, it was weddings and funerals that led the core of our floral business. At the time I remembered feeling a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable that my Mom said that, but the guest saw a bit of humor in my Mom’s matter-of-fact answer, and a few days later we received a thank you card that was signed off with “Wishing you many weddings and funerals.”

Looking back, now it makes me laugh and for some reason that story has always stuck with me. When you think about it, owning and working in a flower shop, really means that you get a front row seat to helping people commemorate and celebrate the milestones and memories that make up their story. From new babies, sweet sixteen’s, get well soon’s, high school proms, graduations, holidays, job promotions, break-ups — and yes, weddings and funerals — we get to be a part of it all. And in a small town, where we have generations of families, that carries even more significance.

This year we are celebrating my family’s flower and gift shop, Cottage Flowers, which my grandparents bought 30 years ago and now my Mom owns. I’ve always told people that I grew up in my family’s flower shop — that it was our home base more than any house we lived in ever was. Sure, that might be a bit of an unconventional way to grow up but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If anything, “the flower shop,” which is how we refer to it, is another member of our family.

So, to the flower shop, this love letter is for you:

I didn’t know the very first location on Main Street, but I do remember the location at the Plaza very well. I remember playing in the “silk garden” around the indoor gazebo where we were allowed to make a bit more of a mess. I remember holding tea parties with the glassware and stuffed animals, making Italian sodas when we had a cafe counter and the taste of the carbonated water when you accidentally chose it instead of regular water or Sprite. I remember “making arrangements” with the leftover stems in the trash, my hands going numb from filling water picks and when people camped outside the store for the newest Beanie Babies to arrive. I remember my mom’s back office where I spent every sick day away from school and that the dim back room where we cleaned flowers was scary.

I remember when we moved the store across town to the old armory when I was 10 (I think?) and the true labor of love it was to flip. I will forever remember having to climb along the rafters in the ceiling to thread some wiring for Grampy and being told to “pretend the spiders aren’t there.” I both loved and hated the Event Center that we opened for many years. I loved the big open space to play when it was empty and seeing so many weddings and parties come together there, but I also hated setting up tables that were much bigger than me and being woken up early on Saturday mornings because the wedding from the night before didn’t properly clean up and there would be anxious people waiting to set up for the next one. I can almost remember the exact amount of steps it took to get from the front counter to the back loading dock and can vividly remember the well-crafted process I had for washing hundreds of folding chairs with the pressure washer machine.

As I got older and officially started earning a paycheck, it’s where I learned how to count back change, talk professionally on the phone and that the customer is always right. It taught me how to problem solve, plan a project and manage my time. I remember the exact smell of Comet from cleaning buckets, the sound of the wire service when an order was coming through, the fastest way to clean roses without getting poked by a thorn, being pulled out of school to work on Valentine’s Day and judging people’s ribbon color choices for their prom corsage and boutonniere. Though after you’ve made a few dozen boring ones in a single day, the crazy ones are a welcome change.

The flower shop grew my curiosity and love for telling stories. Every time I wrote a card for someone who’s order I took over the phone, I wandered, how did the woman receiving flowers on her 50th wedding anniversary first meet her husband? Who will this new baby girl that is receiving balloons grow up to be? Why is he sending her an arrangement with a card that says he’s sorry?

It fueled my creativity in a way you couldn’t bottle up and recreate. Yes, I probably inherited the creative gene from my Mom and Grammy, but it also comes from countless hours of watching them work, criticize their own work and somehow make the customer happy on those Sunday afternoons when all that was left in the cooler is three colors of carnations.

It showed me what it means to be a part of a community and the reward of pouring back into your local economy. I mean, I understood the impact of “shopping local” before the hipsters even made a big deal about it.

It gave me examples of what strong, entrepreneurial women can be. I’ve seen them both succeed and take the loss, embrace change, make hard decisions and challenge themselves to see goals through to fruition. Even with their own careers, the men in my family have certainly always played an important role, but celebrating this anniversary is also a celebration of the two women who have put their heart and soul into building a successful business. 

There have been many characters over the years that have played a big part in the flower shop’s story. Whether they only worked for us for a short while or for over a decade, so many of our employees have become a part of our extended family. And to our customers who trust us with their memories, thank you for sharing your lives, challenging our creativity and of course, keeping our doors open.

Most importantly, I truly believe the flower shop is why my family is so close. Sure, mixing business with family can be challenging and definitely not for everyone, but for us it somehow works.

Thank you for the random skills I hardly use like making bows, and the practical lessons I use everyday in my own chosen career. Thank you for showing me what hard work and empathy look like. Thank you for teaching me that love, heartbreak, hope and kindness come in all shapes and sizes.

And thank you, for the privilege of that front row seat.

Love, Mandy

P.S. I found a folder of photos from the flower shop I took my first Christmas home after I got my DSLR camera in 2015, and I don’t think I’ve ever shared until now. So here is a little behind the scenes!

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Family, Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market in Bangkok, Thailand

Today I am sharing about one of the highlights of my trip to Thailand that was really unique for my family.

My Grammy started her flower shop, Cottage Flowers, 28 years ago, and has since passed the business on to my mom. I have always said that growing up in a flower shop made for a pretty interesting childhood and really it is the main place that I call home. So when I read about Bangkok’s 24-hour flower market I knew that had to be on our must-see list.

By the way, curious about how this trip came to be or what else we saw? Below are my other two travel journal blog posts from this trip that I have posted so far:

Travel Journal: Wat Pho, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand

Travel Journal: USW South Asia Board Team to Thailand and the Philippines

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market

The flower market was AMAZING and we spent almost an entire morning walking around it.

I can’t really say whether or not every traveler would love it, but if you love farmer’s markets, flowers or produce in any way I would highly recommend it. Plus it seemed to have less of a tourist vibe and I don’t actually remember seeing any other tourists there. I read that the best time to go to see a lot of the market busy in action is early in the morning that we weren’t quite that motivated.

The market is the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok, and also has quite a bit of produce.  I am not going to try to guess how big it is but the wholesale part of the market takes up a large warehouse and some alleys, while the retail stores were in various sizes of stalls lining the outer part of the market along the street. It was really fun for us to walk through and point out the things that were different from how we care for and design with the flowers, and what things were exactly the same. And we couldn’t get over the cheap prices! It was one thing for us to know what a baht converts to in U.S. dollars, but it put things into a different perspective when you applied it to flowers and arrangements.

I took SO many pictures that morning, so it is a miracle that I was able to narrow it down to even this many.

My Grampy and Grammy.

Main entrance.

These were really cool arrangements made of really little (about the size of a penny or dime) flowers. When we were inspecting them a Thai women who was designing one gave us one of the flowers.

Growing up one of reoccurring chores at the flower shop is to refill water picks (for the end of flowers when they are being wrapped and not put into a vase.) Our look a bit different in the U.S. so the women let me take a video. Plus she was so fast!

I didn’t the picture I wanted to in time, but all of those flowers are balance on a trolley cart and we watched this man that was almost shorter than the stack pull it along with it basically resting on this back.

The chili peppers were so pretty!


Part of the vegetable market.

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Stay tuned for more posts covering this trip!

Cheers!

Life Notes

#MonthofThanksgiving – Part 3

Wrapping up my #MonthofThanksgiving by sharing Part 3. Hope everyone had a wonderful month and got a chance to reflect back on a few of the things that they are thankful for. I’m glad that I did. Wishing everyone Happy Holidays, I am pretty excited to finally be on my home in just 12 days! Enjoy.

#Day21 I am thankful for childhood #bestfriends that still support each other though we’re thousands of miles apart#MonthofThanksgiving

Kay, Chole and I as senior's in high school.
Kay, Chole and I as seniors in high school.

#Day22 I am thankful for technology that lets me be with my family on days that being far away stings a little bit more #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day23 I am thankful for faith, hope and love, and being taught to believe in each. #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day24 I am thankful for Caden Eli. 5 years ago today he was born and changed a lot of lives, including mine. #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day25 I am thankful for my roommate Kyla, for being my voice of reason & favorite crazy redhead all in one. #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day26 I am thankful for my mentors, who are there to lift me up, challenge and push me to be better and dream big #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day27 I am thankful for Smurthwaite Scholarship House, my sisters and the memories it has given me #home #smurthielove #MonthofThanksgiving

Seniors back for this fall's alumni dinner.
Senior Smurthie’s back for this fall’s alumni dinner.

#Day28 I am thankful to have grown up in a family business, to work alongside and learn from those I love and respect #MonthofThanksgivng

#Day29 I am thankful for the talent & character that God has given me & the drive to try to do something good with it #MonthofThanksgiving

#Day30 I am thankful that I get to live in this “crazy, beautiful life” of mine #MonthofThanksgiving

– Amanda