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It's 19 days before the launch party and I'm sitting in Cracker Barrel having breakfast with Pat. I'm bragging my head off about everything I had put into place to recreate the key settings in Dear Heart, and then Pat asked a question that wiped the self-satisfied expression right off of my face. "So," she said, "did you turn your front porch into a little cottage in the woods?"

It's hard to describe the look I gave Pat, but it was probably a cross between horror, panic and thoughtfulness. Horror, because I realized that I had overlooked an important stylistic element, panic, because I wanted to say that it wasn't worth the trouble, even though I knew that it was, and thoughtfulness because I was trying to decide if I had the time and the skills to pull it off.

I'm not even going to tell you what I said to Pat. Suffice it to say that it was something you can only say to your best friend of almost fifty years who completely understands that you are not really going to do what you just threatened to do.

Knowing me as well as she does, Pat sensed what was going through my mind and volunteered herself, her husband, and our lifelong friends, Jill and Jeff, to help.

So now I'm fully on board and Pat and I start planning. It didn't take us long to decide that we didn't have to build an entire cottage -- thank God, but could get by with covering my wrought iron railings with weathered, wood planks, and erecting a roof line over the entryway. After we parted, I started obsessing over where to get wood and what it should look like. It was a problem to be solved, and I'm good at that, so I was rather enjoying the process when I got a voice mail from Pat saying that she had spoken with Jill, they had it all under control, and I shouldn't worry about it. Even as she spoke the words, Pat probably knew that the chances of that happening were slim to none.

I sent Pat and Jill a photo of the cottage as I'd envisioned it, and the measurements of the porch, so they could come up with a game plan for the roof. In the meantime, I went to Home Depot to find out what kind of wood was available. It will surprise no one that, although I didn't intend to buy anything when I entered the store, when I left it, I was wheeling out a cart full of pre-cut planks, and a couple of cans of stain.

Arthur and I started to lay out the planks, just to get a feel for what the railing would look like, and the next thing I know, I'm nailing them onto supports and covering them with stain. I was a woman possessed. But I steered clear of the roof line because it wasn't my idea to begin with, and it was bad enough that I had hijacked the railings when I was supposed to wait for my friends to build it.

The Saturday before the launch party, Pat and Vance and Jill and Jeff arrived bright and early and took over. Luckily, Jill brought some old wood with her which they used instead of the slats I'd selected, which were too flimsy to act as a roof. While Jill and Jeff and Pat calculated the pitch that the roof needed to be, and meticulously measured and cut out the fanciful design, Vance and Arthur wired the wood railings to the wrought iron ones on the porch. Me? I got to do the fun stuff. I set out and arranged the planter box of hydrangeas, day lilies and Shasta daisies, and the Christmas tree I had earlier decorated with heart-shaped Christmas lights and paper "I'll Be Home for Christmas" ornaments. And I hung a poster-size print of the inspiration cottage on the front door. Other than that, all I did while everyone else worked their butts off was take photographs, keep an eye on lunch, and try not to get in the way.

By lunchtime, they had the pieces of the roof cut to size, and a plan on how to assemble them. After lunch, they put together the roof and discovered that there was a gap where the pieces met in the middle. Jill suggested that it could be covered with some sort of medallion, so while they were nailing everything together I went through all of my extra heart stuff and pulled out several options for them to consider. Almost immediately they settled on a light wood cutting board, onto which they decided to glue the letters "D" and "H", which I had purchased for something else but didn't use. Pat came up with the inspired idea of painting them red, and she and I tested all of the red spray paints I had in my cupboard. We quickly agreed on the perfect shade, then Pat painted the letters and I went back to taking pictures.

Jeff decided that they should Velcro the letters onto the cutting board instead of gluing them, and since I didn't have any Velcro on hand, they cannibalized a couple of packs of Command strips I'd purchased to hang the cottage poster and the 'next-stop-Hollywood' banner. Though I only needed one pack of strips for both jobs, I bought six, just in case. Turned out that I wasn't as crazy as Arthur thought I was when I bought them.

Around three, they were ready to erect the roof. Jeff and Vance and Arthur did the heavy lifting, while Pat and Jill and I watched from below to make sure it was centered. Once they got the go-ahead, the men wired it into place and then joined us on the lawn to view their handwork.

It was magnificent. Ok, so it was no Taj Mahal, but it was the Dear Heart cottage through and through. The sheer perfection of it took my breath away, and made me vow not to take it down until a Codes Inspector comes knocking on my door.

When Pat first suggested building the cottage, I called her a crazy ass. Now, all I can say is: "Ha, ha, ha, Pat has the last laugh now."

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy. Just click on the first image to start the slideshow.

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