Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sheriff's House B&B Update

You may remember a post from about a year and a half ago in which I announced that I had finally convinced my darling husband to let me try opening a bed and breakfast. He thought "Old Jail B&B" had a negative ring, so we ultimately decided to call it the "Sheriff's House." I had many poignant (weepy) moments going through our daughter's room and boxing up items that she had left behind. We called it the "Tower Room" and the room across the hall the "World Traveler Room." The third bedroom on the second floor, which houses our son's high school trophies and memorabilia, became the "Servants' Quarters," not a B&B room but a space where  I could keep cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other things needed for the B&B rooms. Visiting relatives joke about being forced to sleep in the "Servants' Quarters."

I set up a simple snack station in the hall with DS's old dorm fridge and an end table. I contemplated buying a Keurig, but ultimately decided on a water kettle and various packets of instant beverages instead, having read scary things about difficult-to-clean disease-harboring tubes in the Keurig. I was also concerned about all the waste involved in the little K-cups, but having used a Keurig recently at the Howarth House B&B in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, I may be revisiting that decision. The coffee was delicious.

DH and I scoured the countryside for antique furniture and other pieces to make the rooms interesting, and I did a lot of "shopping" among the treasures we had collected from overseas as well. I spent a small fortune on bedding and towels, all white 100% cotton so they can be bleached (something I learned from watching "Hotel Impossible"). I created a "Management Handbook" with breakfast recipes, tax information, etc., cleaned the kitchen as it had never been cleaned before, got a food handler's certificate from the local health department, and we were ready.

I wanted to dip my toe in the business, so I started in November 2014 with two listings on the website and

Within a couple of weeks we had our first guests, a very nice couple who were coming to the area for Parents' Weekend at IU. Since then we have welcomed many IU parents, as well as students, business travelers, wedding parties and an amiable fellow with a vintage Porsche he was taking to a car show at French Lick. All of our guests have been wonderful, and I feel very fortunate that things have gone so well. Thanks to airbnb, I never have to handle money, which makes things easy.

Some months we have no guests; other months we may be quite busy. I think in our busiest month we had 11 room nights, which for a B&B with no staff means that I am constantly washing sheets and towels. I have learned to "x" out the rooms on if I know I'm going to be busy or out of town.

I changed my website from to, but immediately ran into an issue when I couldn't upload the photographs I had taken with my phone. I paid for that website to remain dormant for more than a year, thinking I would get someone to redo the photographs for me, before finally deciding to give it up last month. I'm still contemplating the benefits of having a website. 

All in all, though, the B&B experiment has been a success. Although I do all the cleaning and laundry involved, making the breakfast is a job for the two of us, and it's fun to get up early and go through the many steps to preparing healthful, delicious food and setting a pretty table.

There are some issues: Keeping the lawn respectable is difficult. DH is busy and really too tired after a long hard day fixing icemakers to run the lawn mower. This summer I finally started hiring someone to mow and weed-whack, but at $50 a visit, lawn care costs seriously cut into the very modest profits I make on what is still a part-time business. Another issue: the cotton comforter covers I bought are a real pain to put on and take off after every guest. While I agree with Anthony Melchiorri in principle that everyone should have a fresh, clean bed to sit on and not a spread that was last cleaned when George Bush was President, there has to be a better way. The 100% cotton bedding also wrinkles like nobody's business, which I hate, but there's no way I'm going to try to iron these huge sheets.

We've never put up a sign to indicate that we have a B&B; all our guests so far have found us through We talk often about marketing a little more widely and hiring someone to help if needed, but I'm reluctant to go from B&B "Lite" to a full-time operation. We also talk about turning the third-floor tower room into another B&B room, but that is a subject for another post. There is still a ton of work to be done on the house, and now that we have so many more guests, and a little more money, hopefully we will be inspired to tackle more of it.


Monday, July 4, 2016

On the trail of writing women

My sister Dee and I recently spent five days traveling from Bedford, Indiana through southern New York and Massachusetts. The theme of our trip was "American Women Writers."

We visited Edith Wharton's beloved estate "The Mount" near Lenox, Massachusetts ( I had wanted to visit the Mount for years, having closely studied Wharton's fiction in graduate school. The house and grounds are beautiful, and I confess to being inspired to copy the draperies and the leopard spotted stair runners for my own "castle." We had a nice lunch on the veranda, and at one point I could feel Edith right there next to me, dressed in rustling silks, looking out over her formal gardens and worrying about her husband Teddy, who became more and more mentally unstable during the couple's ten years at the Mount.  

Our next woman writer of interest was Emily Dickinson, and we were lucky to secure a wonderful tour of both her family home and the home of her brother Austin Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts ( Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and, as there were no children in our group of five, she treated us to some shocking details from the diary of Austin Dickinson's mistress Mabel Todd, as well as recent scholarly speculation on whether or not Emily Dickinson had an affair when she claimed to be seeing an eye doctor in Boston. It was all quite delicious and completely at odds with the popular image of Emily Dickinson, virginal recluse. 

The last of the three women authors' houses was Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott's home in Concord, Massachusetts (  We had to race a bit by this time, as our rental car was due back that afternoon in Queens, New York, but once more we had a fantastically knowledgeable tour guide who made us feel that we knew the Alcott girls intimately. Our tour group this time included a family of children, which meant we spent more time thinking about the Alcott girls as children and no time at all speculating about their sex lives, which was just fine. One takeaway from this quick stop is that May Alcott, whom we all know as Amy March in Little Women, was an extremely talented classically-trained artist. Her works decorate every room of Orchard House, and it's hard not to feel that the world lost a great talent when she died at age 39, seven weeks after giving birth to her daughter Lulu.

We had only the vaguest of plans when we set out from Bedford. There were many spontaneous stops along the way (several of them involving food, most notably ice cream). We lodged in three equally wonderful, although very different locations: the Old Library B&B in Olean, New York (, Polacce's Family Resort in Catskill, New York (, and the Howarth House B&B in Fitchburg, Massachusetts ( We booked each one of these from our cell phones--whichever of us wasn't driving was seeking our night's lodging, and I think we both did a wonderful job of finding memorable locations to stay. We took long walks in the morning to explore each place and cement them into our memory. In Amherst we crashed at my niece's group house, which was empty except for a young man from Chicago and his dog. There we got to switch gears a little and fix up the bathroom for my niece's impending senior year at UMass Amherst.

Other noteworthy and serendipitous finds included the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio (, where we had a scrumptious lunch and toured the old hotel, the Smuggler's Wharf in Erie, Pennsylvania (, which offered a lovely view of Lake Erie and a chance for Dee to recharge her cell phone, and the colonial-era Benjamin Patterson Inn in Corning, New York ( We enjoyed the view at the Afton Golf Club (, even though neither of us is a golfer. The food was predictable, but the portions were generous; my chicken Caesar salad served as both lunch and dinner. 

I flew back home from New York on Friday, feeling as if I had been gone for much longer than five days. Dee and I had so much fun on this trip we have already begun planning our next escape.