Friday, June 1, 2012

Who is Peg?

Who is Peg?” Periodically, this question appears on the Friends Of Susan Branch Facebook page. “ I have been pondering this question these last three years….and I guess it is time to officially introduce myself. My name is Peg Ackerman and I am a HUGE Susan Branch fan!
The girls at the Studio call me ‘President’ of FOSB. But, actually I am the ‘facilitator’ of Susan’s Facebook page, Friends of Susan Branch. I would have never guessed that being a loyal groupie would lead to such a wonderful gig!

I first met Susan at a book signing for her book, Girlfriends Forever, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. The year was 2000. I received a postcard announcing the event and went straight to the calendar to jot the info down. Much to my dismay, I discovered that we would be on the road home from vacation on that day and would miss it!  “Not to worry!” my husband said. “We’ll leave the day before…we can’t have you missing your chance to meet Susan!” We left Yosemite and, of course, all I could talk about was the book signing!

The next morning, I reported to Vroman’s Bookstore along with many other fans and patiently stood in line to have my book signed. While we all waited, the gal in front of me began to talk to me about Susan and her books. We chatted for awhile and then, she (her name is Suzan) asked me, “Did you bring your camera?” I caught my breath…no! I told her I didn’t think photography was going to be allowed and left my camera at home. Now, anyone who knows me at all knows that I have a camera with me at all times. I was so disappointed I had not brought it along! Suzan said, “Why don’t I take a picture of you and Susan? I can mail it to you!”  And so she did! And, I want to say right here this is the cheesy-ist, groupie smile anyone could have on their face! 
Susan and Me at Vroman's Book Store ~ April 2000
Like many FOSB, I have ‘followed’ Susan from the beginning; I saved the artwork that was sometimes featured in Country Living magazine. Each one-page article was actually a recipe, hand-written and decorated in her watercolor style. 

 I sent her fan mail – little letters and cards, shortbread at Christmas and, when she once wrote about her cat, I sent her a copy of stories about our two labs, Annie & Pete.  Back in the day, Susan sometimes wrote back! What a surprise to get a little card from her…and, of course, I’ve saved every one!

2004 brought us word that Susan’s Autumn Book, was about to be published. I was browsing in Vroman’s when I ran into Anne, a long time employee. I asked her when Susan’s book signing was scheduled. It wasn’t an issue of ‘if’ – but when!  Anne replied that Susan wasn’t coming to Vroman’s for a book signing! I’m sure the look of disappointment on my face surprised her as much as I was surprised that Susan wasn’t coming! I couldn’t believe it!

When I returned home that afternoon, I sat right down and wrote to Susan, telling her how disappointed I was that she would not be coming to Vroman’s Bookstore for a book signing of her new Autumn Book.  A couple of weeks later, I received a note from Susan, saying, “Oh yes, I will too be at Vroman’s!  12 noon – September 1, 2004!”

September 1 came…and at 11:00, I hopped into my little v-dub and drove all of five minutes to Vroman’s Bookstore. Thinking I was more than early, I took my time and headed upstairs. I was surprised and excited to see that many others had had the same idea!  There were dozens of fans already sitting in the front rows of the seating area. I quickly found a seat and it wasn’t long before we were all talking about the Autumn Book and Susan. We shared our charm bracelets, chatted about fall, ‘acorn fever’ and how it was our favorite season.  This time, I took my camera, and one of the Vroman’s employees graciously took a picture of me with Susan.    
Susan and Me
From those first book signings, I have had the pleasure of seeing Susan at other ‘official’ events. My husband and I drove up to Arroyo Grande when the Heart of the Home shop opened in May of 2006.   
Susan cutting the ribbon at the grand opening
at the Heart of the Home

When her new fabric line, “Martha’s Vineyard”, was introduced, we were there for the launch! Her first Quilt Challenge not only inspired me to get out that sewing machine but to actually enter a little quilt!
Now, if it hadn’t been for Susan and the opening of her wonderful shop, we probably would not have explored the central coast. On our first visit to Arroyo Grande, my husband and I quickly fell in love with Pismo Beach, Cambria & Morro Bay. They have become part of what we call paradise. I have never had a problem getting him to return!

In fact, it was the summer of 2008 that Charlie had planned a surprise birthday trip to Pismo Beach. He had worked out the details and special side trips to the Monterey Aquarium, Hearst Castle and, of course, shopping at the Heart of the Home. Reservations made, Pete was signed up for dog camp, and the other out-of-town details were all in place. I emailed Kellee at the studio and to let her know we would be dropping by to say hi.

A week before my birthday, I received an email from Susan, herself, letting me know that she had decided to close her store.  I sat there reading, in disbelief, the sad news with tears streaming down my face. Of course, the reasons were so valid…but, just the same, my heart sank. I had so looked forward to recharging my inspiration and the Heart of the Home was right where I needed to be to reconnect with my mislaid creative inner-self. 

My birthday weekend finally came and we set off for the central coast. We stopped by the Heart of the Home one last time…the closing sale was a week old and there wasn’t much left. It looked like a huge hall that had seen the most marvelous party ever. Now, almost bare with just a couple pieces of furniture and a table with a few miscellaneous items left for sale. But, stashed in my memory are the images of the Heart of the Home that day it opened.
Inspiration was everywhere! Every detail reflected the love and care that went into each display!

Decked out with shelves displaying collections of dishes, fabrics, quilts and books…everything that would make a house a home and Susan, Kellee, Marty, Bonnie and so many others there to welcome us!  A magical place that inspired everyone who came by!

Hilary, Denise, Marty, Bonnie, Judy W., Susan, Kellee, Judy S. and Alfredo,
the magnificent team at Heart of the Home!
Next stop – the Studio! Charlie had ordered one of Susan’s giclees for my birthday and we stopped by to pick it up.  Walking into the Studio, we were greeted by Susan’s sister-in-law, Judy Stewart. She gave us a tour and all I could think was… ‘Now here’s a place to work!’ Desks skirted the perimeter of the room and bright, white bookcases and shelves loaded with fabric and Susan’s books lined the walls. In the middle of the room stood a very long table, strewn with sketches, fabric swatches and new items for the web store. The creative energy flowed throughout the Studio and was quite contagious.

After that trip, I continued to visit Susan’s website for news, inspirational tidbits, and recipes and to shop (of course!).  I kept in touch with the gals at the Studio with periodic emails and little comments on the web page link.

It was in the spring of 2009 that brought an unexpected email from the Studio, asking if I would be available for a conference call later that afternoon. ‘Of course!’ I replied, and a time was set.  Ok. Now, my mind was racing! Curiosity, excitement, nervousness…and a plethora of other emotions intertwined as I waited for the call. Why did they want to talk to me, I wondered? Before I could spend more time pondering the question – the phone rang. Judy and Kellee were on the phone.
Kellee & Judy
After a bit of chit-chat, Judy switched gears and indicated there was a real purpose to their call. She mentioned that she had noticed that I was on Facebook. “Yes,” I said. “I didn’t like My Space very much and thought I’d give Facebook a try.”  Judy continued, “Well, we’ve been talking with Susan, and we were wondering if you would be interested in overseeing a Facebook page for Susan?”

To say I was surprised is an understatement. Really?!?? ME?!?? Of course, there was a long pause as I digested their suggestion. I could hear the gals giggle as I was nervously considering the offer. It was all so exciting and so unexpected! What an honor! Reality was gently making itself known…could I do this? I’m no computer wizard. Still, something told me I should give this a whirl. We talked some more and brainstormed. We worked together, remotely and, on June 11, 2009, Friends of Susan Branch launched on Facebook.

It has been three years since that phone call. Nearly 14,000 Friends of Susan Branch follow Susan on Facebook. They Tweet on Twitter and many of them are now Pen Pals!  FOSB also look forward to Susan’s Willards (her periodic newsletter). In the beginning they were mailed via snail-mail to fans all over the country. Multi-paged, handwritten and water colored missives arrived, hand addressed and in each newsletter there was a little surprise from Susan tucked inside; a strip of stickers, a gift enclosure with envelope or a bookmark. As if the Willard wasn’t enough, Susan sent party favors, too! Susan’s Willards are now emailed to her 40,000 plus friend base. When Willard arrives, FOSB stop and brew a cup of tea before sitting down to read the latest news from Susan.

Susan and me at her shop.

So, who is Peg? That would be me. A fan from the beginning and long-time groupie who loves all that is Susan Branch. A homegrown gal from the ‘50s who loves to cook, garden, read, take pictures, write, Yosemite and the Central Coast. I live in Southern California with my soul mate and best friend, Charlie and our recently rescued dog, Roxie. Our son, Whitney, lives close by in Orange County.