Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend in Wellfleet

Memorial Day is always a busy time on Cape Cod. Yesterday’s New York Times brought word that 38 million travelers will take to the highways of America this weekend. I also heard on television that the gas crisis may diminish the number of cars crossing the country, but that local trips will increase. Tant mieux! Here is a view of Main Street this morning at 9 am. Lots of cars already!

As the year progresses, natives notice an increase in traffic on Route 6. Each month there are more vehicles until, in mid-summer, the highway becomes a traffic jam at peak travel times. There is a great Web site for anyone coming here on vacation. It even has a Web cam of traffic crossing the Sagamore Bridge.

Here at Chez Sven, we do not need to take Route 6 to get into town, or to the ocean beaches. Going to the beach is something neither Sven nor I have done recently. There is simply too much to do. Yesterday I put tomato seedlings in the ground. I still have another whole box to plant. Memorial Day is the last freezing date in our area. The weather is already warm. In fact, I heard someone talking yesterday about a heat wave. Apparently the ocean has warmed up faster than usual. Not a good sign! There is a lot of discussion about hurricanes on television, and we have not had a bad one for a number of years …

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Questions and Answers

When I respond to email queries about Chez Sven, I always ask for any questions my correspondent might have. I know people feel better about booking accommodation if the host provides satisfactory answers, so I do my best. In rewriting the Web site, I even added a FAQ page. Sometimes I mention it, but usually I just answer the questions again.

Then you have the infrequently asked questions. Usually they come over the phone, catching the diligent bed & breakfast host off-guard. Here are a few that I fielded this spring:

“Do you have an outdoor hot tub?” The answer is simple: no. I do not know of any bed & breakfast in Wellfleet that has a hot tub.

“Can I walk through Wellfleet with a stroller?” A tough one. Some of the streets have sidewalks and some don’t. I finally told the woman that yes, it was possible to explore Wellfleet with a stroller if one didn’t mind walking in the street.

“How big is the closest pond?” That I do not know. Usually the question is, “What is the closest pond?” That’s easy: Dyer Pond.

“Do you have any photos from around the property?” When someone asks after visiting the new Web site, it is hard to understand how they missed the photo gallery. I suggest they visit my blog, which features additional photos.

“Does Seagull Cottage have a view?” I surmised the caller was looking for a waterview. I responded that Seagull Cottage was in the woods. The view, therefore, was garden and woods. She did not book the room.

“Can we bring our hyperallergenic dogs?” I said no, although this lady wanted to sign up for a whole week. I have nothing against dogs, but policy is policy.

“Is there a Catholic church nearby?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. The church on Main Street closed. A new one will be built on Route 6. For now, there is no Catholic church in Wellfleet.

“Can my husband bring his bagpipes?” I hesitated a split second, calculating the probability that the neighbors would be in residence, and said, “Sure!” (The guest actually played the bagpipes on Seagull Cottage deck. We were rushing off to a party and did not take a photo, which I regret. He was very good!)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Regarding Flowers ...

At Chez Sven we decorate guestrooms with flowers. Last weekend the New York Times Week in Review published an Op-Ed entitled “Pick Your Poison,” all about knowing the origin of the roses that grace your table. The author explained why one should try to be more discerning when buying blooms - most have been treated with pesticides. In fact, organic is the new buzzword for flowers. Apparently many sold in the USA grow in Latin America where our pesticide laws do not apply. According to the Seventh Generation Newsletter: “20% of the chemicals that growers use are so hazardous they’ve been banned here at home.”

During winter, I force bulbs here at Chez Sven. From now on I will have to check the origin of the fresh flowers I do buy. In spring, summer, and fall, no need. Our flowers are Wellfleet-grown, from my garden. Each season brings new blooms. The tulips and jonquils are over, but lily of the valley is blooming all around Seagull Cottage. The wisteria is also out and beautiful.

And, the lilacs are amazing this year. No need to describe the incredible perfumed scent that fills the air. We have three kinds. I prefer the old Persian lilac bush that has been here forever. It is a pleasure to sit outside. You feel so close to nature.

I planned our gardens so different flowers bloom at different times. Our next big display are the irises. In a week or two, the peonies take over. Then lavender steals the show. In August, butterflies swirl around the buddleia and whirling butterflies gaura dances on the wind. Here is a peek at the planter I put on the Seagull Cottage deck this weekend. Each month brings new perennial blooms. The garden always looks different.

I guess my favorite period must be the finale, in September, when the pink chrysanthemums, the purple verbena bonariensis and yellow black-eyed susans lead a marvelous symphony to the glory of summer.

Did I mention the zinnias in our cutting garden?

P.S.The Seventh Generation Newsletter brought news of the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, which encourages the purchase of organic blooms. Organic Bouquet donates 10% of the purchase to CHEC when you contact the online florist through this link.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chez Sven’s Amenities 2006

Enjoying our new bathtub does not occur often, so when Seagull Cottage at last had a free afternoon, I tried out the soaking tub. I poured into the water Emz Blendz brand new Peaceful Pear bubble bath. The experience was so pleasant that I convinced Sven to try. Pure bliss! Emz Blendz is just one of the sources I sought out in order to provide 100% natural amenities, worthy of service at a green bed & breakfast, ie. they are pure and gentle, containing biodegradable ingredients.

Here at Chez Sven, we do our best to make each stay a unique experience. Guests receive a pouch of body/sunburn lotion, shampoo/conditioner, and Trillium Organics Lavender Body Polish. Those who stay longer than the minimum three days will receive a fourth treat: bubble bath, lip balm, or Emz Blendz Foaming Sugar Scrub. These little gifts can be taken home. It is a nice way to remember a good time.

I find that one of the fun things to do during quiet season is test new products. In 2006, we are adding Alabu goat milk “Baby Me” soap. I love the way it lathers up. Into the weekly pouch will go a special new 1-ounce Ocean Lotion from Osea. I originally tried Osea products with the Honeymoon Special in mind. The lotion is so incredible that I could not resist introducing it to Seagull Cottage regulars. The Osea slogan is, "Pure, immediate, simple."

Price, you say? Doesn’t providing 100% natural amenities require us to charge a higher price? Well, no. We raised Chez Sven’s rates for this our second year because of the general quality of the accommodation. I consider natural amenities a necessity. We do not add their cost to our rates.

At Chez Sven, guests really get pampered …

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lecount Hollow Beach in Cloudy Weather

I have noticed that often people choose Wellfleet because of a thirst for proximity to the sea. Wellfleet has five different ocean beaches. This photo was taken at Lecount Hollow. When guests arrive, I send them to the ocean before the town. It is just a short drive up Long Pond Road to Cahoon Hollow Beach. They return invigorated. There is nothing like a trip to the beach, no matter what the weather.

Yesterday brilliant sunshine illuminated Cape Cod. On such a day, Sven & I usually beach-walk. Unfortunately, we do not always have time for play. Guests were arriving for Seagull Cottage. I received three shipments of supplies for the bed & breakfast. Then a box of plants was delivered, demanding immediate attention. We did take advantage of the good weather by working outside. All the rain has made everything grow. Talk about being green! When the sun finally decided to shine, the warmth of its rays pushed the hyacintoides out of the earth, fluffed up the lavender, and added several inches to the perennials.

Our new guests were delighted by the sunshine but said they had come prepared for bad weather. While it is nice to curl up with a book, Sven & I have found walking on the beach can be exciting, even on cloudy days. We did go to Lecount Hollow this week. There was mist everywhere. A few hardy souls were out. There is something rejuvenating about the ocean. You feel the power of the waves and are reminded what force Nature has. It is a humbling experience. I always think of that wonderful poem by Walt Whitman. “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky …”

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hot Spots: The Wellfleet Public Library

Question: How is the Wellfleet Public Library like a fireball?

Answer: It comes on strong, and the pleasant spicy taste lingers long after you begin.

The Friends of the Wellfleet Public Libraries just published their summer newsletter. Inside patrons will find a calendar of events. An astounding 50 are already scheduled from June 3 to September 13, and it’s interesting stuff: Wednesday, June 14, Reuel Wilson speaks about “Growing up on Cape Cod with Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy”; Monday, July 24, David Weintraub gives an illustrated talk about his new book, Walking the Cape and Islands. There are two annual book sales planned, July 16 and August 6. In Wellfleet, there is always, always something going on at the library.

Take this week, for instance. While returning books and before searching for new ones, you can pause to read a magazine in one of the comfy leather armchairs, enjoy a photo exhibit by Nate O. Johnson about a Wellfleet shellfisherman’s life on the flats, or admire Susan Forrest Johnson’s collection of umbrellas. On Thursday, attend Architects Studio free seminar “Low Impact Design for Existing & New Homes” or, on Saturday, hear Dr. Carolann Najarian speak about “Medicine and Healing in Armenia,” while experiencing oil paintings by Karen North Wells, displayed on the meeting room walls. Other meeting room activities include the Wellfleet Writing Guild and Yoga & Movement. A book club, Wellfleet Gardeners, French and Spanish classes, the Historic Commission, the Selectmen and Wellfleet Forum also meet at the library.

To ice the cake, hours were extended this winter. Readers can wander in after work Monday through Thursday and browse until 8. Anyone on vacation, who does not have access to a laptop, can reserve a half-hour session on one of eight computers, whimsically named “Truth,” “Honesty,” “Patience,” Hope,” “Mercy,” “Harmony,” and “Desire.”

It’s raining and you don’t know what to do? Head for to the library.

Want to meet some friends? Run into them at the library.

Need to do some precise research? Find it fast at the library.

If the Wellfleet Public Library is such an amazing place, a lot of the credit must go to director Elaine McIlroy, who seems to have a knack for inspiring everyone to excel. This month Elaine celebrates 25 years of dedicated service to the people of Wellfleet.

Our library is a local treasure. Anyone who loves culture quickly becomes addicted. Art, poetry, and Shakespeare seminars in winter, friendly staff eager to assist, a fine collection of DVDs and audio books, video training for teens, a children’s librarian who leads Story Hour and recently helped kids raise money for Heifer International. Library cards not only for residents and people who own second homes, but for tourists as well. And, of course, a great collection of books. There is something for everyone. How lucky we are!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Waiting for Guests

It is pouring outside. Dismal weather! When the guests come down to breakfast, I feel like saying, "Ahoy, mateys!" And the phone has stopped ringing. Not one call this whole weekend. The drop in reservations is due to the fact that no one can think vacation in weather like this. What's more, our land line seems to have succombed to the torrential rain. But, let's backtrack to 4:00 pm, yesterday...

Sven and I are waiting for our latest guests to arrive. Three generations are coming to celebrate Mother’s Day. A two-year old, his mother, and her mother from Caen, France. Liberty Coin Suite is all set. I look outside and wish I could wave a magic wand to create instant sunshine. Raindrops hit the window and trickle down the screen. The vintage table is covered with water. From my vantage point by the computer, I can see four shades of green. The dark yew branches, lime-green leaves of our pear tree, the grass, of course, and the variegated hues of an evergreen. I study all the different shades and decide I never noticed them before because, with Cape Cod's vivid blue sky, one tends to look up, rather than down. The greens stand out more clearly against grey.

Waiting for guests must be one of the more unpleasant parts of being a bed & breakfast host. I always ask people for an approximate arrival time. Some stop on the way for a bite to eat. Others get caught in rush-hour traffic. This weekend the rain must have slowed travel. Our Seagull Cottage couple, here from Germany, arrived several hours later than expected Friday night. If guests tell me 4:00 and don’t show up, I worry. Are they lost? Were they in an accident? Will they come at all?

The Liberty Coin guests appear at 6:30. Ah, yes! I remember now. The French have a tendency to be late. 4:00 can mean 5:00, or even 6:00. Sven puts on a raincoat and helps carry in the suitcases. I have the opportunity to speak French and enjoy it. When I join Sven later, he is lying in front of the TV, exhausted. Another busy weekend at Chez Sven!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wellfleet Honeymoon Special

Wellfleet is a great place to vacation. Chez Sven’s Seagull Cottage offers total privacy. Put the two together and you’ve got the makings of a perfect honeymoon. Last month I designed a five-day honeymoon special for two people who want to relax and be totally alone. Three couples have already signed up.

Chez Sven’s Honeymoon Special includes a bottle of French champagne, biensur. Since we are a green bed & breakfast, every honeymoon couple will begin life together with a copy of Naturally Clean from the crew at Seventh Generation. The final treat had to be even more unusual. I settled on a spa package so the newlyweds can fully indulge their senses. My choice went to Osea, whose amazing products are synthetic-fragrance free and come from the ocean. Our philosophies seemed a perfect match.

One of our honeymooning couples is getting married at a town hall in Germany, celebrating at Chez Sven, then having the wedding in the United States. That is almost exactly what Sven and I did. We had our wedding in Sweden, then got married officially in Wellfleet, on Uncle Tim’s Bridge. (See above photo for the view looking across Duck Creek.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mac's Seafood Revs Up For 2006

Mac’s Seafood is preparing for its 12th season. Everything must be shipshape and in working order. On the list of things to do: sand and paint picnic tables, remove boards from windows, hang signs and awnings, pressure-wash exterior walls, refurbish patios, restock umbrellas. Inside, there is refrigeration equipment to fire up, a top-to-bottom cleaning/sanitation to do, inventory to order and stock. Mac and Alex Hay have been overseeing such activities for about a month now. Opening day this year is complicated by the fact that the Hay brothers have acquired a new venue: the Lobster Hutt, renamed Mac’s Shack.

“We want to get it right the first time,” Alex Hay told me between cell phone calls several weeks ago as he surveyed work at the Commercial Street site. I noted the new shingles and landscaping, which includes sensible parking spaces in a lot that has been chaos for years. One of the reasons for Mac’s success is attention to detail. Alex and Mac Hay already operate the original Mac's Seafood (store and restaurant) at the town pier, the fish department at Wellfleet Marketplace, and a Truro store where fish is smoked and paté prepared, which opened last year. The fish they sell is wild and local, bought at a Cape Cod pier, if possible. Other sources include Mexico, Maine (for shrimp), New Bedford, and Boston.

Mac and Alex have fond summer memories of fishing with their grandfather in the waters off Wellfleet. Here is Alex with his dog, Fisher. When the brothers started their business, they were the only employees. This year 60 people will be on the payroll.

New in 2006 is a point of sales system, which facilitates orders. There is a spiffy state-of-the-art menu board at the pier store. Regulars will find the sushi bar has been moved to Mac’s Shack. And, customers can purchase gift cards, called “Mac Money.” The most popular item on the menu will probably remain Mac’s famous shrimp burrito, with seared tuna wrap a close second.

“I like the rush dinner or lunch preparation brings, being on top of it all and in control,” Mac says. He and Alex obviously enjoy what they do and do it well. Their optimism seems to inspire the whole staff. Thanks to Mac’s Seafood, shopping for fish, steamers, and lobster is a pleasant Wellfleet experience, with easy parking as a bonus. I always recommend the take-out to guests and give the restaurant four stars for outdoor dining. What a view from its pier location!

Wellfleet is lucky these two young men have chosen to make our little town their oyster. Yes, you can buy them, too.

Mac’s Seafood opens May 11.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chasing Clouds

We went to Duck Harbor today, chasing a cloud.

Sven had suggested a walk by the ocean. Shirtsleeve weather made it hard to imagine a cold wind would be blowing. Surfers and a few optimistic sunbathers were out anyway. Up in the sky a large white cloud pulled across the sun and seemed to want to stay there forever. Blue sky showed to the north, so I suggested we go see if the bayside was warmer. (That’s the beauty of Wellfleet: you always have a choice.)

On the way down Griffin Island Road we stopped to eyeball a construction site on a lot in the National Seashore where there used to be a simple ranch-style house. I visited once during an estate sale before the house burned down. The new structure seemed conceived with summer people in mind. The large building definitely exceeds the original footprint by more than 1 ½ times. The builders used cinder block for the first floor. Curious idea to have a basement above ground, but that way you can build higher and have a view, perhaps even a water view ...

Then, it was on to Duck Hollow Beach. We observed what must have been a brush fire along the righthand side of the parking lot. Up in the sky, there was my cloud, still blocking the sun. To the north, over Provincetown, blue sky. But it was warmer, and low tide. We had a nice walk.

On the road back, we again passed the new building. I use the word "building" because it doesn't look much like a house. Condos, perhaps. On the radio, Daniel Shore was urging listeners not to feel bad about government corruption. Some clever Washington lawyers must have figured out how to bend the rules and build big in the Seashore. I cannot help but wonder if burning down the house was part of the plan? I could investigate, but I think I prefer chasing clouds ....

Friday, May 05, 2006

A May Day in the Life

I drove to Orleans this morning to pick up a duvet cover at the cleaners. While running errands, a hanging basket of superbells caught my eye. It is a bit early to buy flowers, but I justified the purchase by the presence of two sets of guests this weekend. Back home, Sven said someone named Yves had called to book a room. I returned the call but got an answering machine. During my absence, new organic cotton sheets had arrived from Anna Sova in a lovely silken pouch. I grabbed a bite to eat, skimmed the Provincetown Banner, and helped Sven put the duvet cover on the comforter for Liberty Coin Suite, then vacuumed. Out in the garden, I picked a bouquet of sweet-smelling jonquils and placed them by the bed. (Quite an event today, the first time we have had guests in both Seagull Cottage and Liberty Coin Suite this early in the season!) Our Seagull Cottage couple arrived yesterday, and this morning pronounced themselves delighted with everything. Luckily the sun is out and plans to shine tomorrow as well. Earlier in the week we had received new cushions from Pete Stillitano but were not able to try them out due to the constant rain, so today Sven opened the boxes. Just the right size and so comfy! I spent the next hour on the phone, booking Sven’s tickets to Sweden for a holiday with his family. Just as I finished, the Liberty Coin Suite guests arrived, and we chatted for a while. He is off to Uganda on Monday, so Sven told tales of an old friend who used to work there and fell in love with the wife of a government minister, not a very good idea. Our guests settled in for a nap, and I headed for the kitchen to bake organic granola. The house smelled of honey an hour later as I left for a library event, advertised in the Banner. The free seminar was billed "Architect’s Studio Presents Attuning Your Household to the Environment.” In the introduction, Wellfleet architect Alan Dodge said he regretted not having more clients request designs for energy-efficient homes and this regret had motivated the seminar. Architect’s Studio hopes to dispel fears about green building, only 2% more expensive. Colleagues Trevor Pontbriand and Joyce Cuming did great presentations about greening up homes, offering suggestions, which we already apply at Chez Sven for the most part. I was very impressed by their can-do attitude when it comes to saving energy and recycling. I hope the Wellfleetians present in the audience will help spread the word …

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rainy-Day Blues

It is raining today, showers all afternoon, on and off. I feel awful for our Seagull Cottage guests who went to Provincetown this morning, armed with umbrellas. They are from England and should be used to rain. Still, as their hostess, I cannot help wishing for one good day out of their three. As soon as the weather turns grey, Wellfleet loses its sparkle. The wood shingles, the pavement, the overcast sky, all are different shades of grey. Duck Creek is grey, too, reflecting the clouds. Rather than take photos to illustrate how drab everything looks downtown, I prefer to share views from last week's walk at Lecount Hollow. We were fortunate. It was beautiful then.

You never know exactly what the conditions are going to be down on the beach. The wind may be whipping off a white-capped ocean. Or, perhaps you will find the sun has heated the sand and it feels warmer than up in the parking lot. Sometimes the sun is shining at Chez Sven but beach walking is out of the question due to mist or fog rolling in. The tide also makes a difference. We like low tide because of the large expanses of beach and sandbars. You also get incredible reflections when waves leave water up on the shore and it drains slowly back into the ocean.

Each beach excursion is an adventure. You may see seals, lolling in the sun, or perhaps an old lobster trap, torn loose during a storm. Once in a while beach treasure can be a piece of an old ship. Several years ago Sven found part of a beam and lugged it home. He claimed it was from the Whydah, which sank off Wellfleet. “It's 17th or 18th century, for sure,” he said with delight, the inveterate historian.

Rain is pouring down now. We should be grateful because the water table was low. The grass will be greener than ever. The phone has stopped ringing. Last week’s balmy weather inspired many bookings. Lucky it doesn’t rain here often in summer!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wellfleet Gardens

There must have been a lot of Wellfleetians gardening this weekend. Yesterday everyone rushed out to Route 6 to take advantage of close-out pricing. “How very sad Consider the Lilies is closing,” I exclaimed to Sharon Lindsey, who also had opted not to wait in the long line at the counter. “Very sad!” she agreed. Her boys run a landscaping business and will spend more time on the road now, to her great regret. I did not purchase anything, which is quite unusual for me. Generally, I cannot leave a garden center without adopting one or two plants.

Since a brisk wind was blowing off the ocean, Sven & I took our daily walk through the village.
The sea air smelled of cedar mulch. All the daffodils and tulips were swaying in the breeze. One of the more striking flowering trees grows in the yard at the Customs House Gallery on Commercial Street. Many of the houses wore fresh coats of paint that made them sparkle in the sun. A few are in serious need of maintenance. The Gingerbread House, for instance. Everyone who loves Wellfleet will recognize this building on Holbrook Avenue. Let's hope the owners soon notice the winter damage. The Gingerbread House has almost become a Wellfleet landmark. It certainly deserves repair.

Next we stopped at the Stone Lion Inn to say hello. Sven had met Adam, the owner, a few weeks back when they both spent a couple hours in the pouring rain, helping out with Amnesty Day at the Transfer Station. Adam, too, was mulching. A good day for garden work!

Back home, I got out my shovels and trowels. I had just sat down on the bench next to the front door with Richter’s Herb Catalogue, when our guests emerged from Seagull Cottage to say good-bye after a birthday-present weekend. (What a great way to say "I Love You"!) There was a storm at sea, and they commented on the ocean’s roar, a sound like a freight train, unfamiliar to their ears. After their departure, it was back to work. I weeded and dug in anticipation of tomorrow’s rain, all the while reviewing in my head which plants need replacement. Initially I had planted purple coneflowers, white phlox, and gayfeather to attract butterflies. Not the right choice! The rabbits had a feast. They must have been dancing with joy, that’s how trampled the foliage was in the morning.

My little cottage garden replaced a porch, which Sven & I sledgehammered down five years ago. I remember how the chickadees watched with apprehension as we removed an overgrown evergreen whose wide branches had long served as a ladder for fledglings. They would land nearby and cock their heads as if to say, "What are these crazy humans up to?"

The earth had not seen the sun for eighty years and was harder than concrete. A jackhammer would have worked better than my shovel. Fitful thrusts turned over no more than an inch of sandy soil, so that first year we built raised beds. I dug deep holes and filled them with manure. In the holes I planted tomato plants, a rather unconventional use of a front yard. In my mind, its future landscape was flashing by. There would be a white picket fence and hollyhocks, beside a gate. A cobbled walk up the center, with wave petunias cascading onto the brick. …

Sven used the old bricks from the foundation to make the paths. We don’t have the fence yet, nor the hollyhocks. What I did plant in quantity are peonies and lavender. I love the way the peonies look when they first poke their heads through the ground and survey the rest of the garden, sentinel-like. Today the dry earth crumbled between my fingers as I worked around the flowerbeds. The condition of the soil was perfect for the removal of weeds. I got very excited at this: a baby lupine self-seeded, dear friends, but too close to a rose bush for comfort. I will have to move it after the rain comes. I spent the whole day outside and not one tick did I see …