Thursday, December 31, 2009
I cleaned house today, because guests are coming Friday for two nights. I’ll do a second run-through tomorrow, after making the Green Room bed and cleaning the bathroom. Yesterday I bought some white carnations for the dining room table, and I must say, the whole dining room looks so much nicer without a tablecloth, presentation-mode, ready for a photo op, were one to present itself. (You never know: a journalist might knock on the door without warning and interview me about this blog's upcoming anniversary?) Unfortunately, I didn't answer any requests for reservation. (If I say the same thing in the next few Days in the Life, then let’s begin to worry.) Thanks to a post on Wasabimon, I made a new bean dish for dinner, adding tomatoes, so the sparkly house smells quite intense: carnations and tomato-onion-bean casserole, what a great combination! The sky was blue and sun streamed through the window panes when Nicholas Gulde, stopped by to pick up a 5 in 1 printer for Preservation Hall. We chatted about competition for donations in this difficult economy. He reported Prez. Hall has done extremely well since his last request, several weeks ago, with a number of contributions in the thousands of dollars, and one gift of $10,000. During the afternoon, I bundled up and went out to mail letters, stopping at the library to pick up a book for Sven, who has to stay home in order to facilitate healing. There were more cars than usual in the village, and non-residents with children about, here for a week of vacation in second homes, no doubt. At the harbor, I watched shellfishermen, out on the flats, gathering shellfish for other people’s New Year’s Eve dinners. The shellfishermen moved like robots, stiff from the cold and determined to get every last oyster as the incoming tide lapped ever closer to their booted feet. The sight made me feel glad to be an innkeeper/writer, two activities that are accomplished, for the most part, inside!
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:25 AM
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Lower the thermostat: for every degree, you save about 2 percent off your heating bill. Once your body gets accustomed to the new norm, the problem will be getting friends and family to follow suit, because you’ll have to peel off layers every time you go visit. (If you buy a down vest, you can drop the temperature even more.)
Change your diet: eating more grains and beans will lower the country’s emissions from food production by 50%. Every time I pause in front of the Stop & Shop meat shelf, I ask myself, do I really want all those hormones coursing through my body? The answer is a resounding NO. (Find a good health food store, like Orleans Whole Food on Main Street.)
Eliminate plastic from your life: Plastic is made with petroleum by-products. Join the Compact (a worldwide buy-nothing-new movement). I have screamed my heart out on this one. See last month’s post on plastic, and my Plastics Lament.
Take public transportation, whenever possible, or walk, or ride bikes. (This fall Sven and I discovered public transportation is not always an option in the off-season, but at least we tried.)
Eliminate plastic from your life. What? Did I mention that already? Check out a great blog I discovered called Fake Plastic Fish and be enlightened.
What New Year’s resolution are you formulating with regard to the environment?
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:38 AM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Here are three more books for our B&B guests to enjoy. Well, “enjoy” is perhaps not the appropriate verb for The Body Toxic by Nena Baker, although the book is extremely informative. I will share some of what it taught me throughout the new year. Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness is ideal for B&B guests because they can pick a short story or two to read while here. Finally, Rachel Dickinson’s Falconer on the Edge: A Man, his Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West. I bought this slim volume to give Sven for Christmas because he makes me stop and look up at the sky every time a red-tailed hawk sails by. I’m not a bird person but got hooked by the first chapter, an explanation of how the author’s interest in falconry developed. Rachel’s husband turned out to be a falconer and this discovery sent her down a path to understanding the exceptional allure of the sport. In her search, she encounters master falconer and bird expert Steve Chindgren, admired by everyone involved in falconry. If a friend told me her husband spent half the year living alone in a cabin in Wyoming studying sage grouse, I would think the man was slightly nuts, but, by the last page, Steve’s lifelong passion for his birds made perfect sense. Falconer on the Edge is also an ode to the landscape of the American West, vanishing due to suburban development and natural gas exploration.
Buy these books online at Main Street Books, get a discount, and send 10% to a worthwhile charity like Doctors Without Borders. Read about this local store ready to battle Amazon here.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 2:50 PM
Monday, December 28, 2009
Welcome to our 30th follower! Captain Jeff happens to have a business in Wellfleet. (Check out two fabulous photos of Newcomb Hollow Beach in the snow at his blog Outer Cape Chronicles) ... Sven has been cooped up for so long that he talked me into going to the beach today at low tide. There were some folks out walking, and some children playing. We also saw a man collecting discarded cans and bottles in the woods beside the parking lot. This is the first time I've seen anyone on Cape Cod collecting cans, presumably for cash, which was a bit of a shock. We often see people, who care for the environment, removing trash. Sven says this man was unkempt, which seems to indicate some Wellfleetians are in desperate straits. Most people are sheltered from the recession by retirement pensions, or fortunate enough to have second homes and no worries ... One perk of living here is being able to walk on a beach, 365 days of the year. If you follow this blog, you, too, love the place. What do you value most about Wellfleet?
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 4:18 PM
I’ve noticed readers frequently comment that they have always dreamt of becoming an innkeeper. For some reason, B&B ownership remains a romantic ideal, shimmering off in the distance like the Emerald City, to be visited, in the mind, at times of job trauma. Before you drop everything and leave Kansas, let me share some conclusions reached after five years in the profession.
Sven and I started receiving guests almost as a hobby. He had been a teacher for 40 years and followed me to the USA after retirement. I assumed innkeeping could be accomplished with one hand tied behind my back so to speak, since, at the time, my other hand was busy doing daily chores for my elderly bedridden mom. Beware this approach. It’s like trying to raise an Amish barn all by yourself. YOU NEED NOT ONLY TWO HANDS, BUT FOUR, SIX, OR MORE. Here are my suggestions for success as an innkeeper:
Number One: If I were young, and determined to own a B&B, I would make a habit of staying at inns to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Then, I’d zero in on the competition and make reservations. Are the beds soft? Hard? Are the pillows lumpy? What are the amenities? Is there a fridge in the room? Is there privacy? How’s breakfast? Do the hosts serve and run, or chat amicably?
Which brings me to Number Two: as with real estate, the key is location, location, location. Do serious research. Chose a place that people visit year-round, ie. not the Outer Cape! (And, don't build over the water, as did the owners of the Chequessett Inn, which was so destroyed by a 1934 ice storm that you see above all that remains.) It is possible to run a profitable business in a seasonal economy, but much harder to generate income off the beaten track. Go for a region that receives lots of tourists. Try to find a city with few established B&Bs. Choose a neighborhood with good public transportation. Use the equation tourists + accommodation = revenue and you’re golden.
Number Three: If you want to receive paying guests in a building you already own, take into consideration how much money will be required to turn it into an inn. Sven and I did not buy our inn. Instead, we started from scratch in my mom’s old Cape Codder. When we realized most guests prefer private bath, renovation work was required in order to offer the perfect third room. If you use an existing building, tally up renovation costs first, add $20,000, then check your savings account for feasibility.
Number Four: Research local rules, regulations, and permits. Different cities and towns and states do not all have the same standards. In Wellfleet, for instance, three rooms is the max unless an inn is grandfathered. In Cambridge, MA, B&B owners need to install sprinkler systems. Some places require off-street parking. You get the idea. Many innkeepers prefer to live in a separate building nearby. Find out if this would be an option.
Number Five: Consider an inn that already has established its reputation and receives return visits from clients. Such places can easily be found on B&B Association Web sites under For Sale. Start-up is much easier with an existing clientele. However, make sure you can live with the name the inn already bears.
Number Six: Ideally, one of the innkeepers should know how to fix almost everything, because you can be sure everything will break, and often over holiday weekends when a plumber’s visit costs a premium.
Number Seven: Position yourself prior to start-up with regard to marketing. Sven and I knew we wanted to adapt our green philosophy to innkeeping. It took me several years to realize our advertising needed to target green guests.
Number Eight: Stay healthy. This is no joke. The summer I caught Lyme Disease, I had no strength or stamina and had to turn guests away.
Number Nine: Guests need clean rooms. Know that innkeepers do a lot of cleaning. If you don’t like to clean, budget for hired help.
Number Ten: Remember that you can’t please everybody, which is why Trip Advisor is not my favorite. All it takes is one comment about cockroaches and instantly your bookings drop, even if the guest, who wrote the comment, mistook a wood roach that wandered inside for its more despicable cousin.
In conclusion, you have to really want to do this to succeed. Innkeepers burn out fast. Some people say seven years, which means we’ve got two left!
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:33 AM
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Here's a photo of the harbor, around 4 p.m. yesterday. The wind was howling last night, rain whipped against the screens, any non-secured objects, such as plastic planting pots, flew past windows, like banshees. This morning I looked out at a patchwork of snow where the drifts had not already washed away and sighed. Sure enough. The temperature’s back in the 40s again. All the slush on Old King’s Highway must have melted. The back roads of Wellfleet no longer challenge drivers, except today the issue must be the puddles. I’ve never seen such puddles as in the woods near Newcomb Hollow. There’s a maze of dirt roads back there. Puddles? It’s more like fording a stream. My godmother used to live in this area, on Slough Pond. You’d turn left at the dozen names, on boards, nailed to a tree, then right, then left, then right again. The roller-coaster ride doesn’t bother summer residents, because they value their privacy, but my dad hated driving to Nancy’s, which was where Mom always wanted to go. It takes a lot of nerve to negotiate the puddles, so if I happened to be around, I became her chauffeur. I'd drive on the extreme edge of the road, so the wheels on the left or right could cling to dried pine needles, when the rest of the car descended into the puddle. All this to say the weather has not been ideal for travel, and more rain is in the forecast, to complicate life for the folks heading off-Cape. Yesterday, near twilight, I went for a quick walk at the harbor with my daughter and her husband. A chilly wind was blowing. Today they are driving back, in the rain. At least the Sagamore Bridge is open ….
Saturday, December 26, 2009
“We are in Leesburg on the property of a friend who is a professional photographer, our own personal version of economic stimulus. I read somewhere that if you would be sad if a small business weren't there, you should make it a point to support them right now ...” So emailed a former guest to explain the lovely photograph she had chosen as a Christmas card after my request for more information. I adhere to the same philosophy and indeed tried to do as much holiday shopping as possible in Wellfleet. The only exception was a present for my son, who received a basket of goodies from Dancing Deer, a small business in Boston and my source for yummy pumpkin/maple coffee cake.
Another local business, worthy of support, the Wellfleet Wine Cellar, which has been holding art shows with wine tastings every Friday this fall. Owners Rob and Tom have started their annual end-of-year super sale. I went in this week and picked up a couple bottles of wine at 25% off. If you are in the area, check out the Wellfleet Wine Cellar, through January 15.
And, for this evening, how about a night at the theater? View an exclusive screening of "Jimmy Tingle's American Dream," followed by a live performance by the comedian himself. Eighty seats are still available and cost only $18. Here's an easy way to support theater in Wellfleet. Book your tickets now!
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 9:19 AM
Friday, December 25, 2009
Loo-kee here, blog readers! This is the stupendous digital camera Santa brought me. How grateful I am my kids knew what I wanted and could let Santa know! With this camera I hope to take even better photos of Wellfleet for your viewing pleasure in the new year. Merry Christmas!
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 3:11 PM
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I would like to share my discovery of a couple of Boston-based musicians, Matt and Shannon Heaton, who recorded their latest album right here in Wellfleet, actually, at the home of a friend. The album is called Lovers’ Well. Merry Christmas and enjoy!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
1.) The nicest people can become friends after being B&B guests but that does not mean they will necessarily want to spend every summer vacation on Cape Cod.
2.) In late July and August, demand for rooms in Wellfleet is always greater than supply.
3.) Don’t undercharge for quality accommodation, according to a 20-year veteran of the trade, who encouraged us to raise rates for 2010.
4.) Involvement in community can lead to surprise bookings from new contacts.
5.) The desire to serve organic breakfast foods does not guarantee being able to serve organic breakfast foods, if local sources happen to be sold out.
6.) Restaurant critics do not have the slightest idea where to find the best lobster roll in Wellfleet but they will report on it anyway, and the same goes for hotel critics regarding the best B&B rooms.
7.) Always check after the cottage chimney is swept that the chimney sweep left the chimney damper open.
8.) Writing an innkeeping blog can attract attention but newspapers are not interested in reporting on local blogs because reporters see bloggers as competition.
9.) Sometimes prospective guests, who write freelance and could turn their stay into a great publicity op, working, say, for the New York Times, do not always respond to emails because they happen to be reporting from far-off lands where there’s no Internet access, and the fact that they have not answered an email does not mean they have lost interest in booking a room.
10.) Take the time to reassure adult children that they are still welcome, lest they think you prioritize B&B guests.
11.) It is possible for an innkeeper to do NO ADVERTISING AT ALL and get a higher ranking on Trip Adviser after one summer of operation, with a little help from friends.
12.) B&B guests assume innkeepers are not graduates of Ivy League colleges, so don't be upset by comments such as, “When you come to a bed & breakfast, you don’t expect to meet someone who is really interesting to talk to,” since the comment is intended as a compliment.
And, of course, every year we are surprised by how wonderful our green guests are and how pleasant it is to be an innkeeper, especially on Cape Cod.
There’s no place like Wellfleet – but you knew that already ….
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:20 AM
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Snowy days in Wellfleet! I walked into town yesterday. The sidewalks had not been cleared and the middle of Main Street was treacherous, what with the occasional four-wheel-drive car or pick-up barreling along. But I found it easy to hitch a ride up the hill to Wellfleet Marketplace. I then proceeded down to Commercial so I could take a photograph of Uncle Tim's Bridge in the snow. On this cold, cold day, I would like to bring up thank you notes again, since the topic received such a great response ten days ago. Thank-you notes make an impression, especially in this modern computer age when so few people think to write them. Sometimes really nice guests even write thank-you notes prior to departure. Here’s an example:
“When you walk through the arbor, you are in a magic place. Did you know Sandy is a garden fairy?” (a quote from Rebekah)
“Yes, that garden is a magic place to rest and recuperate. The brick pathways lead you on a wonderful adventure, chasing rabbits, butterflies, and daydreams. Everywhere you look there is a hidden surprise …. We enjoyed our stay at Chez Sven again this year. Thanks so much for everything you did to make it special – working around our food allergies, helping us contact the kayak tour group, loaning us extra fleece pullovers when it was cold, holding the door open as we ran in out of the rain, and feeding us samples of Sven’s wonderful Swedish meatballs. All of these are memories we will draw upon when we think of Chez Sven. We will miss this magic place until we can join you again next year.”
In buying a tree-free greeting card and writing this note, not only did our guest make an impression on me and Sven but she also set an example for her daughter, who learned the benefit of writing thank-you notes when she saw the expression on my face at reading the card. I regret that I did teach this lesson to my kids, as the habit seemed to be falling by the wayside in America when I was raising my children in the 70s and 80s.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 7:01 AM
Monday, December 21, 2009
Every innkeeper’s refrigerator is bound to contain at least two quarts of milk: soy and conventional, or organic. Here at Chez Sven we offer guests organic. Today I started rethinking soymilk choices after a holiday-greeting phone call from Sheri Gibbs, green innkeeper extraordinaire, in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, whom I have written about in the past. The bad news is that Sheri has closed her inn. The good news? She’s writing a book about green innkeeping and healthy eating. Sheri is a breast cancer survivor and has much knowledge to share. The message of her book will be to beware of what you eat or drink and what you spray into the air you breathe. If the substance contains chemicals, those chemicals will get into your body and can wreck havoc. Sheri says breast cancer survivors should stay away from soy products altogether because they are basically plant estrogen. Check out this information from an Organic Consumers Association article by Mark Kastel, Co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, about Silk, a brand of soymilk I once USED to buy for guests who are lactose-intolerant, because it has a cool name and I didn’t know any better. For a list of which soy products are the least offensive, go here. For those of you who drink milk instead of soymilk, be sure it’s organic. Cornucopia.org has rated different organic dairies, too. Check the rating of your favorite organic milk and yogurt here.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 12:09 PM
Sunday, December 20, 2009
It’s not very often that an innkeeper is glad to have no bookings and yet that was how I felt yesterday after the Seagull Cottage furnace conked out before the snowstorm. It was working fine when I turned it up. The temperature rose quickly to 55 but then stalled. What was going on? I turned off the heat, turned it back on. I called Sears, because we have a warranty. The clerk, who took my call, was gracious but did not send a repairman. Why? Sears has decided sending repairmen to the Outer Cape is not cost-effective. They don’t mind selling you a maintenance agreement, but when you need a serviceman, forget it.
I had already received a letter enabling me to get a maintenance check from a local plumber but had not succeeded in having this work done. Why? Locating a local plumber, who does heating, is not easy. I phoned our regular plumber. Nope, no heating work. I went down to town hall. Steve Pechonis, the charming plumbing inspector, suggested contacting our propane company. I called Days & Sons in Provincetown and was told someone would return the call. Fast forward to yesterday morning AFTER realizing the problem. I called Days again and again, but got a busy signal each time. Off I went to the library to send a fax. The fax number was busy, too. So, Naomi came to my rescue, grabbing the phone book. Her voice always sounds so very calm and efficient, as if she were auditioning for Meryl Streep’s assistant in a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada: “Did you know they list a number to call if the other two don’t work?” With a wink, Naomi placed the call for me. The second time she tried a lady answered, from her home. Must have been the boss's wife. She said she’d have Custodio call me.
Custodio came and figured out what’s wrong: the burners are kaput, less than ten years old but BROKEN, and, don’t get me started on built-in obsolescence. Custodio didn’t have Kenmore burners on his truck. But he managed to get our furnace going. Let’s hope it stays on until Monday, when I can reach the repair department at Sears ...
Overnight the snow started coming down. The wind was howling, and now, at 8 AM, Welllfeet has blizzard conditions, with eight to ten inches already on the ground. Snow covers the screens. I have to get dressed, fight my way through the snow, and check whether the heat stayed on all night in Seagull Cottage. Look how beautiful it looked during our last major snowstorm, once the sky had turned blue!
The Cape Cod Modern House Trust was having an open house this afternoon at K/G, up Long Pond Road. There was supposed to be parking at Cahoon Hollow and a shuttle bus. I just checked with Peter and the tour has been canceled due to the weather. Here's his blog for more information. I doubt the town plows will do Old King's Highway by evening, so we are officially snowed in. It's exciting to experience a blizzard ...
I'm back from my cottage check and the heat's on. Way to go, Custodio! Here's another photo for Amy, from today this time.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 7:41 AM
Friday, December 18, 2009
Anyone who lives on Cape Cod knows the closest ER is in Hyannis where I rushed Sven the Friday of Thanksgiving. His urologist scheduled a “procedure” to deal with enlarged prostate. Fortunately, Cape Cod Hospital has an excellent reputation, but no one likes to go under the knife, so yesterday we were both feeling subdued during the forty-minute drive down Route 6.
As our Volvo reached the Main Street rotary, Sven asked out of the blue, “What would you like for Christmas? How about a new nightgown? Maybe, Victoria’s Secret? Heh, heh, heh!” His lascivious chuckle broke the tense silence. After a pause, he added, “Or, maybe you’d just like a healthy husband?”
With a quick nod, I offered up a brave little smile.
Sven has been seeing Dr. Hartnett for a dozen years and obviously felt confident of his capability: “This has been hanging over me for years, like a Damocles sword. About time we took care of it.”
I could only admire my husband’s realistic optimism.
Upon our arrival, nurses swept Sven off for pre-op prep, and I settled into the O’Keefe Surgical Pavilion waiting room, where a receptionist, behind the counter, was discharging patients. I removed my coat, then put it back on because the two corner walls were made of glass. Outside pedestrians hurried towards the parking lot, still quite full at 3:15. By the door stood a Christmas tree, decorated with blue and white ornaments. A wheelchair had been abandoned beside the Coke machine, below a flat-screen TV, on full blast. In the far corner, a slim, elegant gray-haired woman, dressed in black and gray, fingered a gold bracelet as if it were a rosary. Several other people sat stiff, holding worn magazines, their eyes on the status board where strips of color jerked from top to bottom in an electronic minuet.
Stephanie, behind the desk, explained how the board worked: “Pink means operating room. Dark blue, that’s a patient’s ready to receive family.” Seeing my worried expression, she added, “If I can get you any more information before I leave at 6, I will.”
The gray-haired woman stepped up to the counter.
“That goes for you, too, honey,” Stephanie said.
I glanced back up at the board. The stripes had begun to resemble a whacked-out rainbow. Yellow was the predominant color. That meant “home.” I looked forward to Sven’s number turning yellow.
A shot of frigid air rushed in when the glass doors slid to one side and a hospital volunteer pushed a discharged patient in a wheelchair past the Christmas tree. I reached into my purse for a book but impossible to concentrate, so I leafed through a recent issue of People Magazine instead. The gray-haired woman had begun rubbing her palms up and down slowly, as if about to make a decision. I noticed her eyes were red when she turned away to answer a cell phone.
Sven’s operation began at 4:15. From the board I could tell he was Dr. Hartnett’s final patient, the last of seven that day. I was doing my best not to think about the scalpel, carving into my husband’s flesh. Since the wait would be over an hour, I drove downtown and purchased Sven’s favorite bread at Pain d’Avignon.
Upon my return, Family Feud was drawing to a close. Since the room had almost emptied, the receptionists started playing along: “A flying cartoon character? That’s easy. Superman!”
The evening news broadcast was well underway when a middle-aged man in a blue pinstriped shirt joined the anxious lady, now sitting on the edge of the chair across from me. A second son, also dressed in suit with pinstripes but beige this time, rushed in ten minutes later.
From their conversation, I understood the father of this family had a brain tumor and his “procedure” with a neurosurgeon was well into its third hour.
“That it’s taking so long is a very good sign,” the mother told her sons hopefully.
At three minutes to six, Sven’s stripe of color flashed from pink to lavender, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
True to her word, Stephanie hit the phones before departure. A doctor in blue scrubs appeared for the gray-haired lady as Stephanie pointed me, with her head, towards a white phone down a corridor.
“Mrs. Rudstrom? Sven did really well,” Dr. Harnett said. “He had a large prostate, but we knew that already. He should be able to go home tomorrow at 3.”
Unfortunately, the neurosurgeon did not deliver such good news. The tumor, attached to nerves, required shrinkage. Chemo would follow radiation.
A nurse fetched me an hour later. I found Sven reclining in bed, surrounded by two young nurses, both of Scandinavian ancestry.
“I’ve been kidnapped by Swedes!” he said, opening a sandwich. “I had such a sweet dream that I was in Wellfleet!”
“Dr. Hartnett said your prostate was really big,” I told him.
“Trying out for the Guiness Book of World Records, are we?” joked the dark-haired nurse, the one whose ancestors were Norwegian. She pointed at a vial and, with a knowing look, said, “Dr. Harnett prescribed morphine, if your husband needs it.”
But for now, Sven was on a roll. The drip might as well have contained ecstasy because his mood had become even more jolly. My husband was chatting with the night nurse about the origin of her French name. I followed them through a maze of corridors into an elevator. Sven had a private room, paid by Medicare. The Mugar building still smelled brand new although it has been open for three years. I turned back to hear the day nurse, about to go off duty, admit she had Swedish ancestry, too.
“Can you say something in Swedish?” Sven asked.
“But I don’t speak it, I’m afraid.”
“Can you at least say skol? I told my wife to bring a small bottle of whiskey, but she forgot.”
When I left a half hour later, having slipped him Swedish snuff, I took the elevator down. The door opened and there was the woman, with her two sons in their pinstripes, startled to see me again. I sent them a hope-everything-will-be-alright look of compassion. I was going home to a warm bed and Sven would soon follow, but their ordeal was far from over…
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 4:51 PM
Thursday, December 17, 2009
My last two posts were devoted to charitable end-of-year giving. Times are tough, and we all need to support each other in this bad economy. I have heard that even some successful musicians have not been paying staff on the usual schedule, if at all, which seems incredible, but such is the reality of life when music can be downloaded for free. Journalists are also in jeopardy. My brother hopes to retire before his newspaper goes under. Freelance writers are scrambling to make sense of writing online, which pays a fraction of what they used to receive from magazines. Some careers that were deemed foolproof are proving less so as we begin the second decade of the 21st century. The same folks, who always had money to spare, can no longer reach into deep pockets. Which brings me to the topic of the day: Wellfleet’s extraordinary theater. How many of you were able to enjoy a show at W.H.A.T. over the past summer? Weren’t you amazed by the caliber of the performances and the energy that emanates from a small group of artists, devoted to their art? WHAT just celebrated its 25th anniversary with shows at three venues: the old harbor stage, the summer tent for children, and the magnificent Julie Harris Stage, named for a great Cape Cod-based actress, star of “Beauty Queen of Leenane,” a show I was fortunate enough to see, and what a performance it was! Have you ever thought about how unusual it is for a small town like Wellfleet to be able to offer real theater, with real actors of Broadway caliber? Guests are always amazed when I show them the playbill and describe the season's plays, especially guests from London, England. Now, WHAT needs our help. The theater must raise $100,000 over the next couple weeks.
I asked Jeff Zinn why and he responded, “Part of the $100,000 – maybe half – is what I would consider normal end-of-year fundraising. We typically get much of our contributed income at the end of the year as people are making tax-related (and holiday giving) decisions. The other half is a more-than-normal shortfall brought on by the bad economy. When times are hard – and they are for many – contributions to non-profits tend to suffer, and we have been hit hard by that phenomenon. 2010 is likely to be even more difficult because we got a one-year reprieve on our big mortgage payment in 2009. It comes roaring back in 2010 so we're looking at budgets now. Hopefully it will be made up by more giving and not so much by cutting production costs. If there's one thing we don’t want to do it's cut the quality of our productions.”
So, please give generously so theater in Wellfleet can continue to thrive in these difficult times.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 7:58 AM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I was in the village this morning and stopped at town hall to say hello to Nancy and Bob, her assistant, in the Assessor’s office. They told me their phone has been ringing off the hook after recent reevaluations of homes on Lieutenant Island. One owner of a house, assessed at $300,000, paid a $4000 local tax last year. In 2010, this family will owe $4000 + $1836 = $5836. That’s a tremendous increase. Lieutenant Island may be very desirable in summer, but not everyone can afford to own property there. And, most of the houses are second homes ….
One of the peculiarities of this town is the wide range of income. Some retired folks do not have to worry in the least about the economy. Other people have no work and, therefore, no income, or find themselves getting by with the occasional part-time job. Sometimes collecting salary becomes a problem. A friend built an addition at the home of an Outer Cape shop-owner, who went bankrupt. There was no money to collect, so our friend decided to accept payment in artwork. The daughter of another friend sent around an email asking for leads on cars: her mother’s vehicle will not make it through the winter and there’s no money for even second-hand. We don't see many foreclosures here, but from the increase in the number of people exiting Mass Appeal, it's obvious folks are hurting.
Yesterday I wrote about contributing to local non-profits. I would be remiss if I did not mention the possibility of giving food or money for less fortunate community members. The Wellfleet Food Pantry served 2,366 people over the past year, a figure that is up 110%. (24,000 pounds of food was picked up at the Boston Food Bank; $120,000 worth of food was handed out.) The Pantry, located at Grace Chapel in South Wellfleet and part of the Lower Cape Outreach Council, provided 402 people with turkeys, hams or whole chickens at three holiday giveaways last month. Organizers leave cardboard boxes at certain locations throughout town to facilitate drop-off. Wellfleet Public Library is one of the main collection centers. In fact, our library is organizing a Food for Thought Food Drive from November 23 to December 31. Not only canned goods, pasta, and cereals are requested but toilet paper, soap, and tooth paste, whatever can be spared. Peanut butter, dried beans, and chili are just three of a dozen requested protein foods. The poster to the left reads, “Let’s see if we can collect as many items and dollars as the number of books checked out during this time period last year: 3761 books!” If you live far away and would like to offer monetary support instead, call (508) 349 3685. The Methodist Church also runs a food pantry. And, then Wellfleet has the Mustard Seed Kitchen, my mother's favorite local charity,(508-349-2049).
Have you noticed evidence of the recession where you live? What is your town doing to assist citizens in need?
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:37 AM
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A reader requested a photo of the welcome rowboat earlier this year, but flowers over the summer lacked pizazz. Someone did plant chrysanthemums for fall, which looked quite nice, but every time I drove past, I was camera-less. Then yesterday I noticed a new arrangement of red-berried branches for winter and fortunately had the camera with me, on my way back from photographing Santa, in his boat, on Route 6.
December is a tough month for innkeepers. Money is flowing out for the holidays, with little or no incoming flow to match. First off, no one wants to travel right after Thanksgiving. “Dead week” is deemed so un-inviting to tourists that innkeeping associations even suggest spectacular promotions. Here at Chez Sven, we might as well call it “dead month.” Things have been very quiet, although reservations for early summer are picking up. I was hoping for guests for Deck This Hall, but not one booking did we make. Today I finished my Christmas shopping and, after the credit card bill arrived, mentally turned my coin purse inside out, finding it empty. How fortunate that Chez Sven supports non-profits and charities at other, more flush, times of the year! I have tried to donate as locally as possible in 2009. If you still have a budget available for this type of thing and feel a connection to Wellfleet, consider a donation to one or more of the following organizations:
Wellfleet Preservation Hall, Wellfleet’s future community center, still needs our support, so give generously.
Cape Cod Modern House Trust is not only seeking funds. The Trust hopes for donations of art and furnishings connected to mid 20th century modernism on the Outer Cape, which would allow recreation of environments in the renovated houses that give context to the architecture.
Outer Cape Health Services: Have a special friend who lives here? Consider “a tribute gift” which will demonstrate your caring and recognize “the importance of quality, compassionate health care.”
The Association to Preserve Cape Cod boasts four decades of environmental excellence.
Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro. Besides monetary support, Castle Hill accepts artwork for its annual auction.
Provincetown Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, a great way to help writers and artists.
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 9:09 AM
Monday, December 14, 2009
Some innkeepers write thank-you notes to every guest following a visit. I try to send an annual generic greeting instead, since I do not have the time in season. Still the occasional hand-written note from a former guest has made me reconsider the value of personalized thank-you notes, especially in tough economic times. Take this note, for example, received after an October weekend:
“Thank you for your gracious hosting at your home in Wellfleet. Ernst, Gustav and I really cherished our time and have fond memories. I recently made the organic granola with dried cranberries, and it is the best. We hope to see you again. Warmest Regards, Toinette”
Such notes are quite rare, which is perhaps why it made such an impression. Should Toinette, Ernst and their son want to return in the new year, you can bet I'll remember them and give their request priority.
I was taught to write thank-you notes as a child. Now I have to feel enthusiastic about something or exceptionally touched to get out pen and paper in order to send a tangible token of appreciation. It's so much easier to whip off an email.
Do you ever write real thank-you notes?
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:43 AM
Sunday, December 13, 2009
How inviting is an open fire, burning gaily in a fireplace, below a mantle decorated with Christmas cards and holiday greenery? Imagine taking a walk through Wellfleet – not long, because it’s much too cold these days – crossing Uncle Tim’s Bridge and returning to sit by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. Seagull Cottage guests enjoy this experience since there's a working fireplace in our cottage. Did you know my parents could make fires in the main house, too? I loved the rare occasions when I was able to visit in fall because they always had a roaring fire going. Then a chimney sweep warned the ancient mortar needed repair, and the chimney should not be used until this task was accomplished. So, for a dozen years our glorious corbelled chimney has served mainly as a conversation piece when folks climb the blue stairs and run their hands along the bricks with admiration, as if touching history itself.
After Sven and I moved to Wellfleet in 1998, we inquired about a process called Supaflu that brings new life to old chimneys. Let’s have Scott Gibson at OldHouseWeb.com explain how it works: “A flexible bladder is fed into the chimney and inflated. Grout is poured in around it. In about a day, the mixture cures and the bladder can be deflated and removed.” I’m afraid the $10,000 plus price tag put an end to that idea. But, what we really wanted was the warmth and the comfort a fire brings. After some thought we decided on second best. A woodstove!
This fall a friend had recommended Mike Travers, Highland Chimney Sweep, for the fireplace in the cottage. After Mike had swept the chimney, we asked about a metal insert that would allow us to install a woodstove in the main house. He checked out the old chimney and pronounced the feat doable. Mike is a charming man who works with his son and a mason. It took two months to get everything together. First the top of the chimney was removed. Three rounds of bricks needed replacement. Here’s the coiled insert before being unwrapped and the metal crown that was custom-made for this particular chimney. For several weeks there has been scaffolding on the side of the house to allow access. The job was finished last week. We chose a clean burning Jotul and are quite amazed with how efficient it is in heating the house. Now we can invite people in over the holiday and say, “Come warm yourself by the woodstove ….”
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 8:34 AM