Friday, December 25, 2009

A Happy Christmas to All from Narragansett

After breakfast some of the guests got frisky.

Or maybe we just fed them too much and they needed some exercise.

In an amazingly short time they had a new friend.

So we coaxed the whole family into a holiday portrait.

And they returned the favor.

Happy holidays to all,
Innkeepers Seely and David

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gingerbread Season

I was reading The Homesick Texan's entry into the world of gingerbread construction projects - her personal rendition of the Alamo - when I realized that I haven't made my favorite seasonal treat: gingerbread.

I tried and failed making gingerbread houses in the past. To be honest, I didn't have the patience for the work. In those days you never ate the houses so I really wasn't motivated.

I did not invent this recipe. It was one of the first things I made as a naive bride in 1976 out of my brand new Joy of Cooking . That whole book was so exotic to me in those days. Now it is just a well thumbed, cover falling off semi-antique that I wouldn't give up for a newer edition no matter what the bribe.

So give this a try or just come on over and help me take care of my treat. Silly Dave who loves so many things with ginger won't touch it.

Gingerbread (Joy of Cooking)
Preheat oven to 350, grease a 9x9 baking pan

Melt 1/2 cup butter, cool slightly then beat into 1/2 cup sugar and 1 egg until fluffy.

Sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon each ground ginger and ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. (optional: nutmeg or allspice.)

Combine 1/2 cup light molasses, 1/2 cup honey, and 1 cup very hot water. (optional: 1 tablespoon grated orange peel)

Add the sifted and liquid ingredients alternately to the butter mixture until blended. Bake about 1 hour.

Enjoy plain, with a dusting of powdered sugar, or with lemon curd sauce.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do you decorate for Christmas?

We do dress up the inn a bit for the holiday season. It usually starts with the purchase of a nine-foot tree for the living room. Seely does lights, I string popcorn and we both share ornament hanging duty.

We hang wreaths on the front door and all the doors to the guest rooms. Penguin sentries stand guard on either side of the front steps to keep grinches away. Frosty the Snowman and his main squeeze, Icilla, point the way to the side porch steps, so guests know how to find the entrance from the parking lot.

The most time-consuming and coldest duty is putting the outside lights up. It usually takes me one entire afternoon to find the boxes in the basement, untangle the strings and test them to weed out the duds.

In past years we have done some pretty elaborate light shows involving shrubbery, the penguins and all the porch support posts. With utility costs rising and power consumption politically incorrect, (and the fact that the new bushes aren't big enough yet) we took a more minimalist approach this year. Six strings only (two along the roof line, four along the porch rails and handrails by the steps. I set a personal record by getting the whole thing done in two hours, 18 minutes.

The decorations stay up until the first day without guests in the New Year. It takes pretty much an entire day to take everything down, pack it up and stow it away for next year.
Posted by Innkeeper David

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 2009 Tree has Arrived

We like Christmas trees and for our 34 years together have always had some version in our home. Once we had the inn we felt obligated to get a tree that touched the ceiling, almost 10 feet worth of tree that is. Fortunately for us the nearby Highland Farm has a huge selection of trees, natural decorations, roping and such. We walk past the carefully pruned high end trees, smile at the pretty mid-priced options and head straight for the bargain trees - $24.99 this year - and always find a tall, straight beauty within moments.

This year Seely actually spotted the tree from Route 1 as we were driving up to the place. Most of the time we are looking for something tall and skinny with three nice sides as we stand it in the corner of the living room. This year we have tall and fat with four nice sides. We'll be decorating it next weekend if anyone wants to come by to help. And the Farm will have plenty of trees if you want to pick up your own bargain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Kitchen

The stove is dead. The floor isn't getting any prettier. The new stove is in the wings. Everyone who thinks this is the time to put in a new floor raise your hand. Everyone who thinks that putting in a new floor found on Craig's List at half the price of retail is a better idea raise your hand. The rest of you, go read some other blog.

Now don't get overly excited. We aren't shooting for a show place kitchen here. Most of our guests and readers have nicer kitchens than we want or need. Karma often presents itself on Craig's List. This time it was in the form of a high end thick vinyl flooring in a flagstone pattern that was remarkably similar to the flooring we had selected for our kitchen in Houston. The price was right. The size was right. Seely's drive almost to New Hampshire to pick it up on a sunny Sunday afternoon was quite pleasant.

The first day we removed everything from the kitchen floor: knee wall, cabinets, appliances, and plumbing.

The second day the old flooring and subfloor were removed and the new subfloor was put down.

On the third day of fun the vinyl was rolled out and allowed to rest (as were the workers.)

The fourth day we brought the cabinets and appliances back in and waited for the plumber to move the sink lines. The plumber didn't actually arrive until the fifth day which was a very good thing since we had guests that evening and were beginning to worry about how we were going to cook breakfast without a sink.

And that's how you get a new kitchen floor in five days. After the stove arrives the cabinets will be placed in their final positions and we'll have some new photos.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where do you get your recipes?

Because I am strictly a self-taught cook, most of my breakfasts are borrowed or appropriated from various sources. Magazines like Cooking Light, Gourmet and Southern Living have all made contributions. The innkeepers on our web group are also very generous about revealing their creations.

Like most cooks, I do have a tendency to make small modifications geared either towards my own taste or based on what I hear from guests. Because of my own insecurities about my culinary skills, once I fine-tune a recipe to the point that I'm getting regular good response, I tend to stick with it. I have 6-8 recipes that are reliable standbys -- easy to prepare, can be cooked within a half hour and will hold for 20 minutes if the diners show up late.

For guests with special needs like diabetics, vegans and those with allergies, there are a number of good websites that offer suggestions on substitutes for existing recipes or specific entrees for those who can't tolerate our regular dishes. Seely often gives me a hard time because she wants to offer guests more variety, so we fine tune a new recipe or two every winter.

Here's one of recipes that we did create on our own:

Irish Jack Eggs

8 large eggs
1/2 cup of half and half
4 oz grated pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded hash browns

Beat eggs and half & half in a mixing bowl, then pour into 4-6 oz. greased ramekins, filling each about 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle in the hash brown and pepper jack to taste. Depending on the size of the eggs, it usually makes about 8 servings.

I do the prep the night before and refrigerate it. In the morning pop as many as needed for a sitting into the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. The mixture will rise like a souffle and, if served immediately, will have a fluffy texture with a spicy kick.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Kitchen

We've done a lot to this building over the years. Our focus has always been on the guest areas and the basic infrastructure (roof, boiler, the basics.) Our kitchen is another matter. There are limits to what you can do with a 14 x 14 ft. space that is broken up by four doors and four appliances while respecting food safety guidelines and the balance in the bank account.

Beth, our beloved sister and Marketing Director, will have us committed if we publish any photos with this post. Words alone could give you nightmares.

The first two years we invested in a stove and dishwasher but used the existing counter. We had an old metal desk on top of a small rolling platform that we used as an island. I added a larger top made from clearance Formica and scraps of wood from the garage. It was ugly but functional. (Over time it also moved about until we found the most practical placement.) Counter space and storage were extremely limited.

We had a very small, stainless, standard double sink. Within a year we found a used sink that was bigger and deeper but also stainless steel. That lasted for several years until Seely saw the sink of her dreams on Craig's List. On Long Island, NY. Since she was going to visit Beth in Baltimore anyway it was just a little side trip. The treasure is an old porcelain double laundry sink with deep wells. It has amazing character and utility for $50.

Over the years we have gone through four dishwashers. Household dishwashers just aren't meant to run six to ten loads a day. Seely found a bargain commercial dishwasher on Craig's List that should last pretty much forever.

We have had two full sized fridges, several under the counter fridges, and under the counter freezers. Some died, some were sold, some went to the basement. Over the years the appliances migrated around the kitchen but we finally have a layout that works. We now have an undercounter fridge, a full size fridge (no freezer) and a full size freezer in the kitchen. Since they are all commercial (even though we got them at auctions or Craig's List) we hope they last a long time too.

Our Amana stove died recently. It was an OK stove, the oven was too small but the burners were nice. Our next stove is a commercial Garland but it won't be picked up until November 30. It is gorgeous. I will show you its photo after it is installed (just don't tell Beth.)

The one thing that we have avoided is dealing with the floor. The yucky, commercial vinyl tile floor that didn't look clean even after you got on your hands and knees with a steel wool soap pad. The floor that is one of the big reasons no one is allowed to see the kitchen. Should I tell you how I really feel about this floor?

To be continued.....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Corvette Club Caravan

A few years ago a New York Corvette Club stayed with us. Very nice people to say the least. And the cars sure made our parking lot look nice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In mourning

Narragansett, RI. Today we mourn the passing of our late Amana range. After 11 years of adequate service she will be entering the gates of the recycling yards of China to be reborn as some kind of inferior product. She is survived by her close colleagues in the trade, Commercial Convection Oven, Convection Oven, Jr. , Conveyor Toaster, the Waffle Iron Twins, and her special friend, Rice Cooker. This leaves a huge gap in our Breakfast Team.

Actually it has been five nights of guests since the carcass was hauled away. The other appliances have produced perfectly nice breakfasts but it is time to get a new stove. Dave is out of town which, with guests in residence, is limiting the time I have to shop. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Center Pieces

Fall chores include cleaning up the pond and pulling plants out to overwinter inside. As I was working I found myself regretting that the days of sitting beside the waterfall relaxing and watching the fish were pretty much over for the year. "AHA," I said, "Let's bring the pond inside!"

I had plenty of vases tucked away for our Romantic Roses Package. The nickle feeder fish I put in the pond last year had spawned at least 30 babies that seem to be thriving. The water lettuce and water hyacinth had to come inside. For $0.00 I have unusual and amusing center pieces.

I love seeing the fish play tag in the trailing roots.

That's what Works for me on Wednesday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shoehorn Architecture

One of the first priorities for remodeling was to have one bathroom for each guest room. The Age of the Shared Bath was pretty much over for Americans who were exploring B&Bs. The challenge was how to make the plan work out.

Now the easy way out would have been to call an architect to figure this out. Yes, a real professional with experience and knowledge of all the building codes known to mankind. And a fee schedule to match. So much for that idea.

Instead Seely cleared areas and used Dollar Store sidewalk chalk to outline the new walls. Then the fixtures that were purchased at a going out of business sale in Houston were placed in the new "rooms." The plumbers explained code and adjustments were made. One sink swapped with another to make the best fit for the spaces. Once Seely and the plumbers were satisfied with the layout, walls went up and plumbing began in earnest. In the end, even the Building Inspector was happy.

For the most part the "fly by the seat of our pants" design plan worked out well. Some of the baths are on the small side, some have whirlpools, all have showers and none of them look alike. Although three of our rooms have baths down the hall no one shares with anyone. Some guests are nervous about the "down the halls" until they actually stay here and realize that it isn't a big deal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What can we do in the winter?

Because Narragansett is a beach town, guests often ask what people do when they visit us in the winter. Some veteran visitors remember the days when the year-round residents rolled up the sidewalks after Labor Day.

While many of the shops go to reduced hours and some close in February, most of the best restaurants stay open so you can always find an excellent meal. The Towers, our big event venue overlooking the beach offers dance classes and live music on Thursday evenings.

While you wouldn't want to take dip in the ocean without a wetsuit, many people enjoy a brisk walk at a time of year when beach access is free, and you don't trip over someone when you skip away from an incoming wave. For those who like extreme competition, there's a surfing meet in February and the Polar Bear Club takes its annual dip on New Year's Day.

Both shore and boat fishing continues year round. Your innkeepers will happily take the catch off your hands or help you find space in the guest fridge to save it for your trip home.

It's not too late to enjoy the local Corn Mazes craze. Several mazes are an easy drive away and can be a fun diversion. The associated farm stands are always a good stop. Although the foliage is just past peak you can still enjoy a lot of color in the local nature preserves.

One of the best things about our state is that nothing is very far away. When you stay at our inn you are 15 minutes away from sporting events and concerts at URI's Ryan Center. Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello were among the headliners last year.

Newport is only 20 minutes minutes away, with high-end shopping, fine dining and clubbing. Special events like Christmas in Newport, First Night and the Winter Carnival draw visitors needing to unwind from all that holiday stress.

It will take about 15 minutes more to get to Providence, but the RISD and Brown museums are worth the trip. There are original productions at the Trinity Preparatory Theater, touring Broadway shows at the Providence Performing Arts Center and live music at dozens of clubs in the downtown area.

For more information visit: South County Tourism, Art Tix, or the URI events list.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Little Thing That Meant a Lot

One of my favorite guests was newlywed from a small town in Kentucky who stayed with us for four nights a few years back. Her father had made the reservation, and she and her new husband were clearly traveling on a budget. But money was the last thing she was worried about. She couldn't have been older than 23, and she had once of those radiant personalities that make you want to smile whenever she walks into a room.

When I was fluffing their room on the first morning of their stay, I noticed a set of a half-dozen or so sheets of computer paper stapled together with the words "My Honeymoon Journal" printed neatly on top page. At lunch I mentioned to Seely what a shame it was that she didn't have something a little more sturdy for such important memories.

Like any good customer relations specialist, my partner sprung into action. She headed down to the Dollar Store and bought a small diary with a bright flower print on the cover and left it on top of the homemade journal as an alternative.

The next morning at breakfast our new bride was ecstatic, and made sure everyone in the dining room knew how thoughtful their hosts were. She promised us everyone back home was going to get the whole story so they would know where to stay when they visited New England.

And she was as good as her word. She wrote a glowing review on trip advisor, bought souvenir mugs and in the following year we got two more reservations from that little town. Not a bad return for a 10-minute shopping trip and $1 purchase. Of course the smile on our newlywed's face would have been enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What about my allergies?

Probably THE most frequently asked question on a regular basis is about special orders for breakfast. Because we have a small kitchen without commercial appliances, our policy is to make one dish for the whole house.

There are exceptions, however. Obviously we don't want to feed a guest something that would trigger an allergy or violate religious restrictions. We always ask both at the initial reservation contact and at check-in whether there are foods that guests can't eat for health or philosophical reasons.

As long as you give us enough notice, we will do our best either to modify the whole house menu or prepare a special dish for you. David has used rice flour for folks with wheat gluten allergies, soy milk for the lactose intolerant and has prepared kosher meals for one of our favorite regular families.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for a special menu was a wedding group of Vegans (strict vegetarians that avoid all animal byproducts of any kind). There were 20 people in the party and the only dish we serve with no meat or dairy at all was our coconut French toast. That worked fine with fresh fruit, whole grain bread and and diced, seasoned potatoes for one meal.

For the second morning, Seely did an exhaustive intenet search and found a vegetarian fritata that used polenta for the crust and combined a half-dozen veggies (black beans, sprouts, sun dried tomatoes, peppers) into what looked a bit like a pizza with everything on it. We served the usual fruit with hash browns on the side and even the guests that weren't Vegan found it "better than the usual stuff they eat."

Just one word of warning for those seeking special orders who don't make their needs known until they arrive at the table: Be prepared to wait. Finding out at 9:15 that someone can't eat the cheese in Asiago scrambled eggs, means that we have start your special order with no advance preparation, so it won't get to the table quite as fast.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One Small Detail

The first summer we were open for guests, 1999, was a unique experience because we were still renovating parts of the building even as we began our new careers as innkeepers. The dining room wasn't finished yet, so we served breakfast at a small table by the window in the living room at scheduled times, since no more than four could be served at a sitting.

When breakfast was done we whisked away the dishes, put a fresh cloth on the table, topped with a vase and we had a living room again. We then changed out of food service attire, put our construction clothes on and went back to renovation work. We had two rooms open in May, two more open by Fourth of July and were working on the Whirlpool Suite, which had been rented for the first weekend in August.

With the deadline looming, we began working until well past midnight, taking care to do the quieter tasks while the guests slept. We were still painting in the bathroom the day before the guests arrived, but by 3:30, a half hour before check-in, we were congratulating ourselves for getting everything ship shape.

That is until I opened the windows in the Suite sitting room and realized that we had neglected to put in the screens. One window didn't have a screen to start with. The others had been taken down to be scrubbed and rinsed, but we had neglected to put them on the list of things to be done before check-in so they were leaning up against the garage where I had put them to dry.

Since we had no air conditioning in those days, opening windows was essential for air circulation and cooling in the evenings. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were quite content to spend their evenings indoors with the warm bloods. Fortunately, the guests headed for dinner immediately after arrival, allowing us enough time to haul out the ladder, put the screens up and hammer few nails into the window frame to hold them in place. If the guests noticed either the deficiency when they arrived or the improvement when they returned, they were polite enough not to mention it.

Eventually we gave up on restoring all of the original windows and installed energy efficient (and bug proof) units. And everyone except the mosquitoes has been happy ever since.

Posted by Innkeeper David

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where should we go for dinner?

Being an innkeeper is a deep responsibility. A frightening responsibility. Especially frightening when people want guidance to the "best" place to eat. What if they don't like the foods I like? What if they are more into ambiance than flavor? What if they go to the place I tried to discourage them from using and then complain that it was a waste of time and money? What if they hate the place I suggest???

Unlike a hotel concierge that often gets kickbacks from the restaurants I don't have any vested interest in any referrals. Heck, I doubt that most of the places I send the guests to enjoy have any idea that a Blueberry Cove Inn exists in Narragansett, RI.

So how do we decide which places are "guest worthy"? We offer a basket of menus for guests to browse through which helps. We sometimes hook them up with the restaurant's web page. We encourage guests to bring home menus if they try something we've never heard of. We quiz guests about their dining experiences. But, best of all, we actually get out once in awhile to try new places and revisit favorites to make sure they are still on the ball.

Just this week I went to the Midtown Cafe in Wakefield, RI. Yes, it is all of a five mile drive but you won't be disappointed. Located in the heart of the shopping district (which deserves its own blog) the window tables are a great spot for people watching. The interior is fresh, clean and wide open without being austere. Selecting just one item off of the lunch menu was difficult especially when I could glance at my fellow diners and see all kinds of yummy things being served. (One had the most beautiful grilled veggie plate I've ever seen and I don't even like some of the veggies being served.) I settled on a hanger steak sandwich with an incredible horseradish mayonnaise. The biggest surprise was the side of rosemary roasted potatoes. Cut like fries but roasted into sweetness they aren't something you see very often. As this was a business excursion I was compelled to try dessert. Although tempted by the chocolate offerings I fell in love with the raspberry and almond tart. The presentation was beautiful but my cell phone camera wasn't co-operating so you have to take my word for it.

Most of our restaurants are open year round. (A few take January off and very few close after Columbus Day.) Most of them offer specials or prixe fixe options. Come and visit and we'll try to hook you up with a good dining experience.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Does your landscaping?

This is an example of a question that caught us completely off guard. Most of what we've done with the grounds has been piecemeal, one project at a time work that gets squeezed in during the few spring weeks when it's warm and dry enough to be outside but not yet hot enough to attract beach-goers to the inn.

Seely's mom, Gert, gets the credit for most of the front gardens and the line of blueberry bushes that helps screen the parking lot. When you drive by the front of the inn or come into the driveway, the first flora you see has mostly been selected and organized by her. Gert comes for visit every other spring and, after a day or so of brainstorming, takes the truck and heads out for a full day combing the garden stores for decorative shrubs. It helps that she is a life long gardener,a former volunteer at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, MO, and that St. Louis is actually in the same planting zone as Narragansett.

We have also planted a number of trees (walnuts, cherry, pear, birches and a few evergreens). The original idea was that someday the nut and fruit trees might provide actual breakfast fare for the inn, like the blueberry bushes. However, we forgot to factor in the effect of our year-round residents with the bushy tails. Since the squirrels are much more limber and skilled at scaling tree trunks than we are, they get the lion's share (99.6 percent) of the nuts.

Our most ambitious recent project is the nature preserve in the side yard. When we had to remove a buried oil tank from the premises, we discovered to our dismay that it had been leaking for years, thus contaminating the soil and forcing us to remove all the dirt down to a depth of eight feet from the inn's foundation all the way to the hedge. The company that did the excavation filled the massive crater with the cheapest, sandiest, rockiest fill dirt imaginable. Clearly, we needed to come up with something to make this barren looking quadrant at least respectable.

Seely's solution evolved into what we now call the nature preserve. Seely caught the back hoe guy in a good mood and asked him to dig the pond. Well, if you have a pond you need moving water. The next winter we rebuilt the front porch and salvaged the large rocks from under the porch to build the waterfall. Being totally clueless on how to line a waterfall a salvaged child's slide became the water chute. (The next phase is to cover the slide with rocks and shells to create more turbulence.)

So once you have a pond and a water fall and ten cent gold fish growing into 6 inch beauties you have to put in a patio. Dave was sent out to salvage paving slates from a guy that was tearing his patio out before the state put a highway ramp through his back yard. Presto! a paved apron for the pond plus path of paving stones leading from the front porch to the Hideaway Suite leading right past the goldfish.

We put some bird feeders in the area and now when the guest are at breakfast they can watch the birds feed and hear the soothing sound of running water from the pump.

By now you are are wondering why this post lacks photos. Quite frankly, we completely forgot to take any while the gardens were in full bloom. If anyone has any I would be happy to post them with photo credits. Until then (or next summer) you'll just have to visit to see the grounds.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My favorite new food blog

Eight of my innkeeper friends have banded together to begin a recipe blog called Bed and Breakfast Foodie. They are great and inventive cooks to begin with and exhibit a great sense of humor. Where else would you find a dedicated group of professionals referring to themselves as "eight broads?" They are gearing up for Facebook and Twitter. It's a great collaboration with a big bonus: you can make any recipe for company without needing to practice it first.

In addition to being great cooks, these women have my respect for being astute business people. Our industry is tougher than most travelers would imagine but they have thrived and strive to keep their businesses and lives as fresh as possible.

And that works for me on Wednesday and every other day of the week.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rooftop Rabbit

Several of the memorable events during construction and the early years of operation here at the Cove have involved animals, both wild and domesticated.

But none was more bizarre than what I saw as I returned from a trip to Home Depot late one autumn afternoon. This was at the end of a long day of destruction -- removing plaster, pulling out lath and dead wiring. While the dust settled, I made a run for supplies to be used in the ensuing reconstruction.

I pulled into the driveway at about 4:45, just as the sun was sinking below the tree-line. As I stopped to look at the rosy sky off to the west, a far more interesting sight caught my eye. Huddled in the middle of the roof over the front porch was a rabbit.

I was so stunned by the vision, which would not go away no matter how often or how hard I blinked, that it took me a minute or two to realize that the bunny perched on my porch roof must be Theo.

Theo was a pet rabbit kept by Lawrence, one of the tenants we inherited from the previous owner of the property. What we didn't know at the time was that Lawrence considered Theo to be a free-range bunny, often letting him roam the second floor while he was at work.

The weather that November was unusually warm, prompting the upstairs tenants to open the windows at either end of the hallway, neither of which had a screen. In the spirit of adventure, Theo had apparently hopped out to catch the cool breeze coming off the water.

Or maybe one of Lawrence's floor mates, who wasn't crazy about sharing the public spaces with a furry friend, put him out there. We never found out for sure. But we did institute a new policy limiting Theo to Lawrence's room while his owner was off the property.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Sometimes you just have to get out of the house! There are days when I am actually finished with my indoor chores and then there are days when I just have to flee from the glamor of making another bathroom sparkle. So where do I go when I don't have time to really go anywhere?

The swings. Our first yard swing sits out of the way in a well shaded spot in the corner of the front lawn. I love how the birch trees have overgrown to make a little bower for the swing. Tip your head back to get a lovely view of the sky between the birch bower and the old maple.

It is the best spot to ponder the twisted curves on the old maple tree.

It's a good spot to look out across the Veld - our eastern side yard. It makes me feel like I'm in the country (if I ignore the occasional car driving by.)

It's also a great spot to look at the house but if I look too long I start to think about all the things I am avoiding. You can see the side yard if you twist a bit.

Which leads us to my new most favorite swing, over there, by the pond.

The pond is a work in progress. The slate has been salvaged from several locations around the state. The waterfall is made of rocks unearthed while digging the porch foundations. At some point the slide will be covered with slate and rock.

The otter came with us from Houston. The plants often threaten to take over the pond but provide plenty of food for the dozens of darting goldfish.

And now this cozy spot has a swing. A deeply relaxing, close enough to watch the fish, cozy enough for two but great to stretch out on to read a book swing. A perfect place to forget about your obligations (or abandoned chores.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

People visit Narragansett in February??

Many of our peak season (summer) guests are surprised to find out that we're open year-round and ask who stays here in the wintertime. Because they have come for sun, surf and sand, they can't imagine why anyone would be here for anything else.

Rhode Island stopped rolling up the sidewalks after Columbus Day. The beaches are open (free) and are completely different than what you see in the summer. Non-beach activities could take up an entire blog. Most of the local restaurants stay open and are happy to see you.

For a start, there can be weddings here at any time since it's easier to get a church in December than in June. Because we have whirlpool tubs and electric fireplaces in some rooms we are an easy (and affordable) weekend get-away for the romantically inclined. But, if you want the wood burning fireplace in front of the whirlpool in the Hideaway Suite you'd better book well in advance.

One of our most popular winter events is our Chocolate Weekend which is held the weekend after Valentine's Day. Lots of chocolate and snuggles with your sweetie are good reasons to visit but there are always things to do during the day like museums, mansions, festivals, beach walking, and seal watching.

The holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's) usually bring folks to town for big family gatherings where the host house may be a few bedrooms short. And sometimes (don't tell grandma) an aunt or an uncle just needs a few hours away from all the noise and stress that a large celebration with relatives can generate.

The most reliable source of off-season business for us is the University of Rhode Island, located about eight miles from the inn. We take student boarders on the third floor from Sept. to May, and the six rooms that stay open to nightly visitors are often used by parents making a quick visit to see if they're getting their money's worth for their offspring's education. Our Rhodey Ram Special is an added incentive to visit often.

We also get customers coming in for university events (concerts, athletic contests, lectures) and once in a while a visiting professor will stay with us until his term or project is completed. The NOAA research station at the URI Bay Campus frequently brings in coastal management consultants who stay at the inn.

We have enough guests to keep us occupied on the weekends, but not so many that we can't sneak out for a winter getaway of our own when our batteries need recharging. We are never idle though as we tackle big messy renovations when we aren't enjoying guests. There's no rest for the wicked or for innkeepers.

So book early and book often to see what winter at the beach is all about.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Guest room amenities

The Blueberry Cove Inn has eight guest rooms. Over the years we have tweaked the decor, the linens, the menus and the amenities. Some of our amenities are easily copied for your own guest rooms.

Most B&Bs offer some kind of hand soap, body soap, shampoo and such. We also have shower caps (which are much more popular in the winter), hair dryers, and sewing kits. Facial tissues and an extra roll of TP are pretty standard too. I like to put the items on a pressed glass tray or bowl of some kind as they are dressy, inexpensive and very easy to keep clean.

By far, our most popular bathroom amenity is a stash of Q-tips! We offer them in modified sugar shakers to help keep them clean and to discourage people from mindlessly putting a dirty one back in with the clean. (Just pull out the metal shaker part from the top of the container.)

Our second most popular bath amenity is a magnified mirror. One of our frequent guests moaned about forgetting her traveling mirror. A gentleman said that he had trouble seeing the mirror when he shaved. The two comments in one week prompted us to install the mirrors in all of the bathrooms. (This is why we love to hear how we can make the place better. Seely doesn't wear make up and Dave has a beard so it would never have occurred to us that guests would like magnifying mirrors.)

Those are the things that Works for me Wednesdays (and the rest of the week) around here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Honest, Officer: I paid for the sheetrock

For Thanksgiving of 1998 Dave came back to Narragansett from Houston, where he was working to help finance the remodeling. In addition to some quality time together, he got to help out with some construction. This was our second episode of having a "commuter marriage" (the first was when Seely was in grad school).

Our biggest task was to move 20 sheets of wall board from the front porch to the third floor. It was a tricky job, as 8-foot long rectangles aren't the easiest thing to maneuver up two flights of steps and around corners in the hall.

About the time we got to the sixth board we stopped on the second floor landing to take a break. Glancing out the front window, Seely noticed police cars in the road. A few officers were going around toward the back of the house. Two others were headed up the front walk. All had their weapons drawn.

It turns out that one of the tenants we inherited from the previous management had been knocking over ATM machines and Narragansett's finest wanted to relocate him to a new place of residence. We should have suspected something was up when he gave us two weeks rent in advance. (Demonstrating a keen sense of priorities, Seely's first question was whether we got to keep the advance rent he'd paid us.) We never saw him again, though the police did let us know after they picked him up. He would get his lodging from the state for the next 2-7 years.

We attract a much better quality of guest these days.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why does Narragansett have such good waves?

Narragansett, RI has long been a beach and surf town. It has some of the best surfing in New England because of its unique location.

The shoreline of the Narragansett Town Beach south to the Point Judith Lighthouse faces the open ocean. The shore north of the Town Beach faces Narragansett Bay. Beaches to the west of Point Judith face either the Block Island Sound or the Long Island Sound. Rodger Wheeler State Beach which faces the Sound is also protected by the Galilee break water which protects the boats coming in and out of the port.

Since Narragansett is on the ocean at the mouth of the bay there is a wicked potential for cross currents and undertows which in turn creates beautiful waves. When an off shore storm is brewing, say Hurricane Bill, surfers from far and wide show up to catch the waves.

So watch for our beach to be on TV as it is a favorite spot for the local news stations to catch the waves and the wave seekers alike.

Monday, August 17, 2009

You know it is August when....

the innkeeper didn't notice this until after breakfast:

We all need a good laugh in the morning. Have a fun day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday FAQ: How do I get out on the water?

Narragansett, RI is a beach town that offers more than the beach for your amusement. Many people would like to get out on the water but neglected to bring their personal yachts from their land locked home towns. No worries, we have more options than just taking a long walk off of a short pier.

If you are the have-to-be-in-charge type, you can rent your own jet ski or kayak. We have had guests circumnavigate Jamestown Island by jet ski. They slept very well that night. Bring lots of water and sun screen if you plan to duplicate that feat. For the more natural trip, kayaks can travel either in the ocean or through the many beautiful ponds and rivers in the area.

Surfing and SCUBA diving are popular activities in the area so of course there are several shops willing to hook you up with the waves or undersea world. Bring a wet suit if you have one (or plan on renting one) as the water is a bit more chilly than tropical reefs.

One of the easiest ways to get onto the water is to take a ferry to Block Island. The regular and the high speed ferry both leave Galilee frequently and offer different types of experiences. If you are very ambitious you can take a high speed ferry to Martha's Vineyard for the day. (That would be a very long day though.)

If you are more into sightseeing while cruising hands down one of the best bets is the Rhode Island Light House Cruise based out of Quonset Point (about 20 min. north of the inn.) Make reservations on line as they frequently sell out.

More locally the Southland has been cruising Narragansett waters for many years. Smaller, comfortable boats take you out on the ocean to see the Point Judith Light House and then back up into the Great Salt Pond. It is a delightfully relaxing trip and gives you a glimpse into areas you would never find by car.

Mix a bit of history with your cruise on the Bandarias based in the historic village of Wickford (just seven miles north of the inn.)

Are you more interested in fishing? The Narragansett village of Galilee hosts the third largest commercial fishing fleet in New England. You can join day trips or overnight trips with a little advance planning. Surf fishing is popular too. You can store your catch in our guest fridges (after the boat crew has gutted it for you) or your B&B hosts will be happy to take it off of your hands if you don't want to drag it home

Although the Frances Fleet offers whale watching trips as well as fishing, we haven't had a guest yet that actually saw a whale. They had fun on the water anyway.

Yep, that's Narragansett, something for everyone, rain or shine. Come join the fun!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday FAQs: What do Innkeepers fear?

What do Innkeepers fear? Some consumers would immediately say "a bad Trip Advisor review." That would be regrettable, of course, but it is not our biggest fear.

The loss of your phone service for 24 hours is pretty horrible. We survived that last Monday by forwarding to our cell phones so it certainly can't be the worst thing.

Experiencing cable and Internet outages for three days? Well, that certainly bothered both the guests and the Innkeeper. Dragging off to an Internet hot spot to check email and reservations is a big drain on time.

No, the piece de resistance has to be electrical problems. Brief outages are bad enough but when the cable repair person tells you to kill the power to the whole building because the electical lines from the pole are sending uncontrolled power surges that could cause a fire (and seriously hurt him as he worked on the cable line) you have met your greatest fear. The smell of electrical circuits shorting in the kitchen speeded my feet toward the power panel.

Something totally out of our control that can harm humans and our livelihood.

Especially when it happens on the busiest Friday of the year when I would need to relocate a whole houseful of guests if the power can't be fixed pronto. And there isn't a B&B, inn or motel in the county with an open room because of a perfect storm of Newport Music Festival, weddings and great beach weather.

I must applaud the National Grid for responding within 15 min. to my panicked request for emergency service. I don't know who the workman was, but he ran a new line from the pole to the house in less than an hour.

Thanks to John the Cable Guy for giving me his cell number so I could call him back as soon as the power issue was settled. (I was too rattled to take his photo. He looks like a teddy bear though.)

Our guests were very understanding about the situation. Most people will accept some inconvenience if you can show them you are doing everything possible to fix the problem. And seeing three workers scurrying around, pulling cables and climbing poles gave me credibility when I told them I thought we'd have everything working within hours.

The crisis is over except for repairing the handicapped lift and replacing a few appliances that fried from the power surges.

And that is my excuse for posting Friday FAQs on a Monday. Monday Memories should be out tomorrow.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Let the destruction begin!

After purchasing this wreck in September 1998 the work began. Dave had returned to Houston to continue earning while I started the demolition, lining up plumbers, and rebuilding. Narragansett, RI, is beautiful in September but I saw it only through safety glasses and a massive hepa filter mask. The first of our eight huge dumpsters arrived with a very loud thunk.

Most of the first dumpster was filled with trash, broken furniture, and all manner of abandoned things found tucked away in the basement and garage. That was the easy dumpster.
A few walls were destined to be removed to make way for much needed bathrooms. Taking down horsehair plaster is not a difficult job. In fact, it can be down right fun. Moving all of that plaster from the third floor to the dumpster? not so fun. And so the "Debris Slide" was invented.

The "slide" was a huge tarp that I secured to 2x4s that were lifted by rope to the third floor windows. The bottom of the tarp was weighted down inside of the dumpster. My plan was to toss everything out of the windows and have it gracefully float to its final resting place. Plaster with angel wings so to speak.

Reality check: when you toss heavy plaster down a slide it tends to catch in a pouch outside the dumpster. You then get a great treat because you can pretend it is a giant pinata as you poke the mess from underneath with a broom to try and flip it into the dumpster. If you poke just so you can wind up with all the plaster on your head. If you add a plank to get the plaster farther out on the tarp it works much better. Eventually I learned how to secure the tarp so the junk actually slid the way I hoped. Just a few tips if you ever try this job. First lower the tarp to the ground at the end of every work day so a drunken tenant doesn't try to slide down it. At the very least, take in the plank lest someone try to walk it. Second, don't plan on working if a Nor'easter is starting to blow in from the North Atlantic. Third, be prepared to be the talk of the town.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What's in a Name

Today's entry is a two-parter: Guests fixated on the name of the Inn often ask: Where are the blueberries? Where is the cove?

There are two blueberry locations on the property. The big bush (5 ft. by 6 ft.) that the inn is named after is in the backyard behind the Hideaway Suite. It produces 8-12 gallons of juicy berries every year, so we can have fresh blueberry pancakes all July and August with enough left over to last most of the winter. Since most of our guests don't venture onto the "back forty," it's not surprising that they are unaware of the big bush. (Please ignore the fact that we never got around to mulching inside the bird netting.)

However, there is also a row of five blueberry bushes along the southern end of the main parking lot. Seely's parents planted those after we purchased the inn. It is not uncommon for people who have backed their cars so far into parking spaces that they have to push the bushes aside to get their luggage out of the trunk to ask the next morning at breakfast: "So where are the blueberries?"

One theory is that so many of our guests spend arrival days stuck in beach traffic for hours at a time that when they get here, the only thing they are focused on is how quickly they can get out of the vehicle and find a bathroom. Things like scenery and inn amenities can wait until urgent priorities are dealt with. The other explanation is that most people aren't botantists and just don't recognize the bushes unless they are full of ripe berries calling the guests to "sneak a few."

And about that Cove. It's confession time. There is no actual geographic feature known as Blueberry Cove. When we were trying to come up with a name for the inn we decided we wanted something high in the alphabetical listings that would appear on the web or in travel guides. Since the big blueberry bush was about the only thing on the property that didn't have to be renovated or upgraded, I thought it would nice to include in the name. That it was producing so well despite years of benign neglect seemed to be good karma too. The Cove part came about because when I think cove, I think safe, welcoming shelter.

So Blueberry Cove Inn: An alphabetically pleasing, welcoming and safe place for romantic weekends or family gatherings. And when our web consultant found the dynamite blueberry wallpaper that helps make our website so distinctive, it was a done deal. Thanks Darya.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Gulag Era

I mean no disrespect to those who suffered in the Gulags but as the magnitude of the work ahead of us hit us in the face this became a work camp.

You know how everyone in the family suddenly wants to see your new home even if you have sheets for curtains and unpacked boxes for coffee tables? Well this place was even more of a gawker's paradise.

My parents followed us from TX as we moved the second load of furniture and a car on a trailer north. They should have turned around when the trailer tire caught on fire just out of Dayton, OH and they sailed past us as we were on the shoulder hoping the car didn't catch on fire. Hot tip: if a trailer tire is on fire don't waste your valuable thermos of tea trying to put it out. You have to get the fire department.

The look of horror on my parent's faces as they toured the building the first day was almost comical. They tried to say it had potential but balanced that with questions about whether we could get out of the sale. My sister and her partner were much more supportive but pensive. My brother gagged. Dave's family would visit later while we were under construction and were equally dumbfounded.

What really tickled the family was our willingness to recruit them to do grotty work for as long as we could keep them on their feet with their only reward being a trip out to a nice dinner which they got to pay for. We always had a place for them to sleep but they had plenty of work to do.

And, they came back repeatedly to help. For which we are eternally grateful.

Beth on demolition; Jim hanging Sheetrock in the Shells bath; Dad pulling nails as viewed through new studs; Peg on break; Mom rebuilding kitchen soffit; Peg working on Suite bath; Mom learning to hang Sheetrock. Secretary Sophia; Dad and Dave mud wall repair in the Crow's Nest; Dave cuts hole for new closet door; Matt and Sam demolish the porch steps; Beth painting the Suite ceiling; Mom sewing; Seely installing Suite tile.

One classic example of how this became known as the Gulag involved most of the family. One night my parents went to sleep on twin cots in what is now the Whirlpool Suite bedroom. About 11 p.m. the work crew showed up: my sister Beth, her partner Peg, my brother Jim, Dave and I. By morning the dingy whitish walls had four coats of jewel toned red paint. My parents never budged and were somewhat frightened when they woke up and didn't quite know where they were.

And that was only the first all night work session.....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where did you get the furniture?

Guests are very inquisitive. We are often asked about the origins of the furniture in the house. We have a wide assortment of furniture styles but it seems to blend together nicely. Some things came from farm and estate sales in Missouri where Seely's parents harbored an auction bug. More recently Craig's List has produced interesting pieces. Several antiques in the house are Seely family heirlooms. Some of our favorite family pieces are a walnut burl wardrobe and a detailed pressed back rocker.

Much of the furniture was picked up a "container auctions" while we lived in Houston but long before we had an actual building. After attending aspiring innkeeper seminars we had an idea of how many rooms we would need to make a living. After staying at numerous B&Bs we knew what was important to have in each room. It made perfect sense to us to start accumulating furniture, sheets, and other goods before we had any idea of where we were going. Besides, we had disposable income and auctions are just plain old fun. This was the first sign of our insanity according to family and friends.

Container auctions are wild affairs. The auction house sends someone to France or England to fill a shipping container with antique, semi antique, and vintage goods of varying quality which they bring over for resale. As much of the container as possible is tagged "antique" to skirt import taxes so it is a buyer beware situation.

Many of our Oriental rugs are from Houston auctions. As an oil town, Houston has acres of Oriental rugs. When the Middle East oil fields were first developed by American workers many rugs were imported as personal baggage. By the time we were cruising auctions many of those workers were closing their homes to move into retirement centers. Prices were low, selection was wide, and we had a blast just attending auctions to see the variety of patterns.

Most of the items we brought with us found a place in the house. Some things were not up to the wear and tear and had to be replaced. Other things get replaced as our tastes change. Overall, buying in a hodge podge fashion worked out for us. Fortunately, most of the guests seem to like the eclectic style.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Competition

We are in our 10th year running the Blueberry Cove Inn. Narragansett has evolved over the years but it is still a lovely seaside town. It is the kind of place that many people visit every year.

We have two sets of guests that visit so often they have begun to feel like family members.

The Chapmans of PA stayed with us that first primitive summer when we still let kids sleep on the floor of their parents' room. Little did we know that they would become such loyal and supportive visitors. The first wedding at the Blueberry Cove Inn will be their son's, whenever that happy event takes place.

The Adlers of RI didn't find us until a few years later when they were walking past the building and feeling very disenchanted with the hotel they had been staying in for years. Happy guests on the porch and the phone number on our sign convinced them to give us a try. Cleanliness, location, and good customer service keeps them coming back.

Both families have witnessed the evolution of the building and suffered through our innkeeper learning curve. Although they have never met they did learn about each other when each tried to lay claim to the title of "Most Frequent Guest." It started as a joke but they ask for the "score" each time they book.

We have other guests that were in the running. One couple got to seven stays but then had one grandchild too many for comfort and now need to rent a bigger house. Some have gotten to eight visits (and still counting we hope.) But the Adlers and the Chapmans have accumulated 23 trips combined.

Currently the Chapmans are ahead with 13 visits to the Adlers' 10.

But Dave and I are the real winners in this competition because we have had the privilege to know so many wonderful people over the years.