WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2005

The future

I was in a pretty bleak state of mind last week, and I was pondering, “What’s next?” When the dust has settled and the last check has been signed and I’m ready to quit my job and sell our house in California and move to Pennsylvania to start the B&B, what next?

Before Dawn, I had a fairly clear plan to retire early to northern California and work on the Great American Novel (or not). Once Dawn entered the picture, the plan shifted to “retire early to Pennsylvania and restore the mansion.” When Dawn’s father passed away, the plan shifted again to “retire in five years and restore the mansion and run a B&B.” When we found the average innkeeper worked 80-hour weeks, we changed “retire” to “move.”

But we still had our house in California, our safety net, our “exit strategy.” Now the project has taken that, too. As it stands, we’ll finish this restoration with nothing — 14 years of savings wiped out; starting from scratch. I put together a business plan for the B&B, but I might as well be looking into a crystal ball. The fact is, I no longer have a long-term plan, nor any financial security, and that scares the hell out of me.

Barring any sudden shocks to the tourist industry — like September 11 — the business plan says we’ll be profitable running the B&B. But — and this is a big but — what if we don’t like running a B&B? What if we just spent all this time and money and hassle for nothing? On the bright side, the mansion will be restored, but at what cost?

They say experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, and I’m getting a lot of experience here. The future will bring what it will — as it always has, with no heed for my plans or aspirations. Perhaps this task was given to me to teach me to be a little more flexible, a little less apprehensive, and a lot more appreciative. Or perhaps these were just the random cards dealt me.

Whatever the reason, I have to play out this hand to see what’s next. Again, barring any major disasters, I’m fairly confident that I can handle any situation. We’ve got insurance for everying — death, disability, property, liability, even construction risk — and I can always get another computer programming job. But I just wish I knew what the future held.

Maybe someday I’ll look back and laugh at what I wrote. Or maybe I’ll kick myself for not paying attention to the signs that, in hindsight, will have been obvious. Or maybe, if I’m really lucky, I’ll be so busy I won’t even have time to ponder such things..

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2005

Your Life

Be sure to check out this Friday’s edition of the Lancaster New Era, as the “Your Life” section will feature photos of the mansion by Marty Heisey (who took the great photo below back in March) and an article by Susan Jurgelski (who read most, if not all, of our journal, poor girl).

A quick update:

  • The heat is off. The steam boiler was backfiring, so Dawn had it shut down, and turned on the hot water boiler, which is providing radiant heat to the kitchen only. Not surprising, lots of work is being done in the kitchen now. (Just kidding.)
  • The plasterers were here today, dropping off materials and getting ready to apply the blueboard. I’m still somewhat saddened that we’re not replacing the lath and plaster, but given the cost of the blueboard (which they say takes about half as long as applying plaster) and the amount of plaster work that needs to be done, I’m quite sure we couldn’t afford anything else.
  • Bob Sipos of Old Guard Mortgage has found someone willing to finance this little project of ours. Obviously, they haven’t read this journal.
  • During my Thanksgiving visit, we completely failed to resolve the outstanding issues with the lighting, paint colors, kitchenettes, storm windows, sign, lightning protection, and flooring. (But we did get away to New York City for two days, which qualifies as our only real vacation this year.)
  • I have taken out our first official advertisement, a small 25-word listing in Preservation magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It reads in whole: Speedwell Forge B&B, Historic Elegance in Lancaster County, Pennysylvania, opening May 2006.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2005

Summer Kitchen

On your left will be an in-room whirpool bath, on the right will be the bathroom (with separate shower).

framing summer kitchen

Mike Bodisch is repairing the hardwood floor. Some of the boards are 13″ wide!

Historic preservation guidelines prohibit leaving the brick exposed, but we’re doing it anyway. (The Summer Kitchen was a rental house for the past fifty+ years, so the interior was not a “contributing factor” to its historic significance. In other words, they don’t care.)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2005

Media exposure

I just got back from a “site visit” (i.e. weekend trip). Last week I contacted the local papers, and the Lebanon Daily News published this blurb on Friday, under “Coming Events.” I intentionally did not include an address, figuring people would call for directions and that way I could get a headcount. I only got two calls, but 30 people showed up! (I still don’t know how they found the place.)

The Lancaster New Era didn’t post a notice (which I’m now very grateful for) but they sent a photographer to do a spread in the “Your Life” section of the paper. Look for it in the December 1 edition. (Hopefully I can get permission to repost it here, just like their last article.)

Finally, when the photographer for the Harrisburg Patriot-News was here last month for the story on Olde York Homes, I took him over to the Wolf Sanctuary and he snapped some pics. Apparently the newspaper liked them so much, they ran on article on the Sanctuary on Sunday,

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2005

Mike and Mike

Mike and Mike, normally “the HVAC guys,” became “the propane guys” for the day. Dawn had two 1,000 gallon tanks installed and filled in preparation for winter. I saw the bill and immediately started wondering, why didn’t we put in geothermal again?

installing propane lines at the Speedwell Forge B&B

Don’t let Mike’s shovel fool you — they used the backhoe to dig the trench

We were originally going to install the propane tanks directly behind the house (buried, of course) but then Dawn found out that a regulator needed to stick up 16 inches above ground. (Again, nobody seems to get that we want to restore an historic building, not create a shrine to modern conveniences.) So she moved the tanks up the hill, informing me (after the fact) how much more it would cost to run the extra piping.

And then to add insult to injury, they still needed to put a regulator directly outside the building, so we have a little pipe sticking up outside all three buildings. Argh…

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 09, 2005

AAA Guidelines

I was just reviewing the AAA rating guidelines and I think we have a shot at a 4-diamond rating. That’s pretty exciting (at least for me) but it also means we need to rethink some of our choices:

Facility AAA requires We offer

Decor “An abundant variety of live plants or dried floral arrangements” These are not appropriate for a Colonial mansion — indoor plants were a Victorian thing, and dried flowers would kill my sinuses. Cut flowers are ok, and I plan to have a flower garden.

Floor coverings “Unique area rugs” My great-aunt hand-wove a number of large floor rugs. Is that unique enough? My mother can even identify specific clothes from her childhood.

Guest arrival “A guest key may not be left unsecured for a guest’s pending arrival” Then guests better arrive by 9pm.

Common areas “Multiple common areas; refreshments available” Parlor, library, and game room (with pool table) for guest use; coffee and tea available all day.

Meeting rooms “Variety of well-appointed meeting rooms; state-of-the-art audivisual equipment available” Uh-oh, the closest thing we have to a meeting room is the barn. Watch out for the swallows.

Public restrooms “Number appropriate for the number of meeting rooms” 0 meeting rooms, 1 public restroom — I guess that’s an appropriate number.

Breakfast “Full breakfast with flexibility in times; excellent quality tableware” 3-course breakfast from 8-9am with excellent quality tableware. (We’ll have good food, too, but AAA doesn’t seem to care about that.)

Sundries “Upscale gift shop” There’s enough gift shops in Lancaster County without me adding one.

Keys “Each room must have a keyed locked and a non-keyed deadbolt for guest privacy.” I think a deadbolt is a little overkill for “privacy” but I can get some iron rim locks that are appropriate for a Colonial house. (Well, they’re not appropriate for Colonialbedrooms.)

Clothes “Two luggage racks and 8 wooden hangers” A 5-diamond property has to have10 wooden hangers.

Phones “24-hour access to incoming messages and outgoing calls” VoIP phones in every room.

Smoke detectors “A smoke detector inside each guest room” Ours are outside each guest room (per local fire code).

Bedding “Excellent quality, high thread count, triple sheeting and choice of pillow fills” I got the first three covered, but all the pillows are hypoallergenic. There is no other choice.

Furniture “Excellent quality furnishings” We’re spending $20,000 just to restore Dawn’s grandparents’ antique furniture.

Seating “Two comfortable upholstered chairs, one with arms; a desk chair” OK, but Bill’s room is going to beawfully crowded…

Television “Television with remote; TV guide; VCR” Portable television on request

Amenities “Insulated vinyl ice bucket with lid, two robes, fresh-cut flowers” I can provide the ice bucket, but there’s no ice machine. I just added “16 large robes” and “5 small vases” to my shopping list.

Guest bathroom “Upscale with style, some artwork” It’s a bathroom, not a gallery!

Fixtures “Enhanced faucets; upgraded showerheads” All showers got Moen pressure-balanced valves to prevent “shower shock.”

Soap “Two bars of soap, a 5-piece ‘amenity’ set” We’re going to install soap dispensers, rather than throw away all those little bars of soap. I certainly don’t want to be throwing away 5-piece amenity sets as well!

Bathroom “Make-up mirror and electrical outlet near the sink” I hope the architect thought of electrical outlets, because I didn’t. And what the heck is a makeup mirror? I have a vanity mirror in each bath–is this different?

Reservations “Accepted 24 hours a day” Answering machine after 9pm

Phone “Promptly answered and warm and sincere greeting offered” Depends on my mood

Parking “Uniformed attendant promptly opens the car door” Hahahahahaha

Turndown “Service available on request” I’ve heard stories of B&B owners going into guest rooms to turn down the sheets and finding…well, let’s just say the sheets didn’t need to be turned down. No, thank you.

Wake-up call “Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week” All rooms have a clock radio.

Room service Available Not available

Express check-out “Available 24/7” After you’ve settled the bill, you can leave anytime you like.

Laundry “Overnight valet and laundry available” You’re welcome to use the washing machine (except 10am-2pm).

Swearing “All associates exhibit a professional vocabulary” I will use my indoor voice.

Courtesy “All associates consistently maintain eye contact with guests” Really, that’s a AAA requirement!

Attire “All associates are appropriately attired; name tags” No name tag. I’ll answer to anything you want to call me, but no name tag.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 05, 2005

Videopalooza

A variety of events have conspired to prevent me from getting any fresh video for the past two months. (Dawn was taking it, I just couldn’t get it.) During her three-day visit last week, while she was cleaning the yard or something, I copied everything and chopped four hours of stuff into nine videos, each about a minute long. Click on the large picture to play; click on the link to get more information.

After drilling our new well 250 feet through solid shale, they found…nothing. So they picked another spot up the hill and drilled 500 feet down, and found water.

We’re using BIBS — blown-in blanket system — for insulation and soundproofing. First they tack up nylon netting over all the rafters; then they blow in insulation. When finished, it really does look like a soft, fluffy blanket.

Our $2,500 clawfoot whirlpool tub was unceremoniously upended and shoved through the second floor window.
I just can’t seem to get enough of the septic system. This is a compilation of twelve tanks being installed, but the video makes it look like just one tank.

Rodney removes the old mortar, while Henry re-points with new. Not terribly exciting, but a very important part of our restoration nonetheless.

Adam Moyer using an auger to dig holes for the plumbing and air conditioning line sets. If it’s true that the man who dies with the most toys wins, Adam has us all beat.

Dawn finished stripping the windows in the mansion, all 46 of the them.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 02, 2005

In memoriam, Misty

Last week, our worst-case scenario occurred: Misty, the blind horse, got out of her pen and fell into one of the septic trenches. Amazingly, she didn’t break any bones, but she did break the pipe in the trench, and as a result got pretty scratched up. They got her back out and the vet treated the wounds and we hoped for the best.

Sadly, she developed a serious infection, and at her age the vet recommended putting her down. At 2am this morning, Misty could no longer stand and she was obviously in a lot of pain, so the vet came over and administered the injection. Dawn, Matt, and her mother were in attendance, and I’m sure it was very sad.

This morning, the excavator dug a hole up in the field, and Matt put some carpet and straw on the bottom, and they laid her in. Then he covered her with her blanket and put some oats by her head, and they covered her by hand. I think that was very touching, and a fitting end.

Misty of Speedwell, 1968-2005

Misty of Speedwell, 1968-2005

Waylow’s Misty, a white appaloosa, was four years old when they bought her in 1972 for Dawn’s brother, Ronald. She had one foal, Nanchez, who still lives nearby. After Dawn left for school, all of the horses were sold to a stable in the Poconos, except for Misty. She was given free range of the farm, and occasionally someone would spot her along the road, but for the most part she never strayed far. (Although she did make the news during the winter of 1999, when she wandered out onto Speedwell Forge lake
[which was frozen of course] and had to be rescued.)

By the time I met her, in 1992, she was already blind and swaybacked, and we all wondered when she would go. But she surprised everyone, living well past the average life span of a horse. In the last year or two she’s had trouble getting up, but she still got around the entire farm (and left plenty of evidence of her passing).

She was our first concern when we started work on the mansion, knowing there would be a lot of changes and construction debris. Misty did walk into the dumpster once, but quickly learned not to do that again. (And when Dawn replaced the dumpster, she made sure the new one went in the same place as the old one.) The crew was good about putting equipment and fencing around any holes, to make sure she stayed safe.

But once the septic crew moved in, there was no way to cover all of the holes, so Matt built a fence around the end of the barn to keep her in. It had been many years since she’d been fenced in, though, and she didn’t take to it well. She found a weak spot in the fence and busted out in the middle of the night, when nobody could have protected her. It was a very tragic accident.

We will miss her; she was a very special horse.