Swimming Midcoast Maine, Part 1: Barrett’s Cove beach at Megunticook Lake

The beach - without crowds

The beach – without crowds

By Katja

This will be the first in a series of blog posts on swimming midcoast Maine, which is one of our summer projects. All in the name of research for our guests, of course 😉 (Actually, it’s our only summer project – summers are too busy for projects!)

There’s a story by John Cheever I used to teach, entitled “The Swimmer.” In it, the protagonist swims home from one neighbor’s pool to another, which, of course, is a metaphorical journey having to do with his midlife crisis and his marriage, and can be interpreted in a whole lot of different ways. My students had to play around with these interpretations (although they probably didn’t call it “play”) – but don’t worry, our Maine watering hole journey won’t be quite as symbolic and complex, at least not intentionally. And we’re not asking anyone to analyze and write about it. But we do invite you to come along on the trip, and when you visit Maine, perhaps you can take a real trip to one of these swimming holes yourself!

As you may have noticed if you’ve read other blog posts of ours, we used to have an outdoor pool when we lived in New Jersey, and at least one of us (yours truly) misses it dearly now that it’s hot and summery:  the convenience of cooling off anytime you need to, even if you have only 10 minutes, the chance of swimming several times a day, the lack of other people crowding you, the ease of access to a watery workout without packing a bag and leaving the house. And of course, the sanity that comes with a daily dip in the water, or even just by hanging out next to it.

view of the lake, Barret's Cove, and a bit of Camden in the background

view of the lake, Barrett’s Cove, and a bit of Camden in the background

Well, we don’t have a pool here, and won’t get one anytime soon – there is no space for it. Believe me, I’ve imagined almost every  possibility, but short of buying part of the neighbor’s property, getting rid of the parking lot, dismantling the garage, or persuading our friends from across the street, the Blue Harbor House, to build one in their backyard with our money, there just isn’t a way. Which makes the search for local swimming holes all the more important.

One of our first discoveries after we became innkeepers last fall was the popular Barrett’s Cove beach at Megunticook Lake, a less than ten minute drive from Camden. We had hiked up Maiden’s Cliff trail during a half day outing, admiring the lake from above, and then found the road to the beach more or less opposite the Maiden Cliff trail parking lot. We were stunned by how peaceful and beautiful it was, and vowed to come back in the summer for swimming. (It didn’t seem to occur to us to swim right then and there, probably because nobody told us we should take our bathing suits)  It seemed like the kind of place which, if it existed in New Jersey, would charge a hefty beach badge fee and/or be overrun with people all summer. While here it was just sitting pretty in its glorious, colorful expanse, free for the taking but left peacefully undisturbed.

Megunticook Lake - the view from Maiden Cliff         end of September at Barrett's Cove

Well, by the time we got back with swimming intentions, it was early June, while my mom and sister were visiting. It was a weekday late morning/early afternoon visit, and it was perfect. A few others were there, and it got busier by the time we left, but since school was still in session and the water still a bit chilly, it was calm and contemplative.  There were a couple of mothers with young kids, two young women enjoying the water, a man walking his swimming dog in the lake, and later a family or two. They all seemed to be locals, doing their own thing without making much noise or getting in anyone else’s way. And the water was – refreshing! Cold-ish, but swimmable. I think we spent about twenty minutes swimming, and later went in a second time. And lest you think it’s just because we’re German (Germans, at least in Europe, are known for being the first and last swimmers of the season), the two young women definitely stayed in much longer. But it never felt warm exactly. Just swimmable, compared to Penobscot Bay, which wasn’t yet.

Then the high season began, and we kept saying one or both of us would go back for a warmer swim, but that took a while to happen. Until last week, to be exact, when we literally couldn’t stand the heat and got out of the kitchen. It was in the 80s, hot for Maine and hot enough if you’re baking twice a day in a kitchen without airconditioning (yup, unlike our guests, we don’t have A/C, save for one lonely loud window unit in the bedroom). So, in the early afternoon, we left the inn in our assistant’s capable hands, and headed for water. We weren’t sure whether Barrett’s Cove was the best choice on a hot summer day – -surely we wouldn’t be the only ones there – but we took a chance.

And promptly got punished for it. The parking lot was jammed! And this time it wasn’t just locals. Lots of rental car license plates, families with kids, rafts and swim noodles and beach balls and soda and oversized bags of salty snacks. And the water, at least the edges of it, looked more cloudy than clear. We weren’t thrilled: lots of people who come or move to Maine want to get away from it all, and when we’re not at home / at work (the two are more or less the same), we’re pretty much the same way. Just more contradictory: we like our guests at Towne Motel, but we don’t want crowds anywhere else, haha. We almost turned around, given how unfresh it all seemed. But since we were desperate for a dip, we found a spot and (sort of) settled down. Or rather, went into the lake!

Siobhan’s verdict was mixed. She likes this new lake swimming thing (we never swam in a lake when we lived in New Jersey – or Nebraska, for that matter), but would much rather not have to share it with a crowd. And she didn’t find the water refreshing enough! She says she gets bored swimming when it isn’t cool enough on a hot day. (Which is an odd thing to say, if you ask me :). I had my doubts too, but once I swam out beyond the warm, shallow, and crowded parts, I changed my mind. From the shore, I had laughed at the lap pool contraption someone had put in the lake (what the heck – why put artificial lines and boundaries into a natural lake?), but once I tried it, I actually quite enjoyed it. Perhaps because it was like a combo of pool and lake: laps, but instead of chlorine you have natural water and all this green scenery. It was a bit odd to do laps in a lake, but it got me into my own little swimming world, where the kids and screams receded far into the background. Having missed an outdoor pool for so long, it felt good to get into a groove for a while. And then, unlike in a pool, you can actually venture outside of the lines and  boundaries, like swim to another shore, or get in the way of kayakers and other boaters. And the water temperature? For me, it was perfect! I’m sure I’ll be back soon for additional swims.

But that day, after swimming, we ended up at a quieter spot – Laite Memorial Beach right here in Camden, walking distance to our inn. That’ll be the topic of one of the next swim series posts. Stay tuned!

Musical Motel Chairs, with Adirondacks (Another Amenity Upgrade – sort of)

The "typical" Adirondack ocean view pic

The “typical” Adirondack ocean view pic

When we bought the Towne Motel last year, each room came with two dark brown outdoor resin chairs in front of it, plus a small table. A few years earlier, it was white chairs with white tables- different color, same kind of chair. We found out only recently why the white was changed to brown: spider poop, and how hard it was to clean, had something to do with it. That’s probably not the whole story, but it’s the only one we know.

Being fans of color, and of Adirondacks, we knew we wanted something different yet again. Sure, Maine already has more Adirondacks than you can shake a hiking stick at, but that doesn’t mean guests enjoy them any less. Not that our Adirondacks would come with an ocean view, like those on the fancier hotel and inn websites.(You know what I mean – two white Adirondacks photographed from the back, seemingly the only ones on a sprawling lawn, with a wide-as-the-eye-can-see ocean view ahead of them). Our views, if we wanted to use standard hotel lingo, would probably be called “garden” or “courtyard” view, maybe even “partial village” view. But at the Towne Motel we’re not really into that lingo, nor do we have many rooms with a view. If people ask – and they do – we mention the view of Mt. Battie from rooms 16 and 17 (nice, but not as spectacular as the view from Mt. Battie), but otherwise we have to laugh a little. People don’t really come to us for the views. Maybe we should offer view seekers one of the three upstairs rooms overlooking our patio, which can be entertaining if you want to see our cats wrestle or dodge baby pears prematurely dropping from the tree. But other than that, views are not our prime amenity.

The view from the Adirondacks? Let’s call it what it is – not a “courtyard” but a parking lot view, with a partial and sideways Route 1 view mixed in. But chairs, even outdoor ones, are not primarily about views; ours are about comfort and the chance to be outdoors, talk to others, catch the late afternoon sun, read and relax, have a drink, see who’s arriving or returning, and watch the traffic slow down into the village on late afternoons. Lately we’ve seen our guests use their ipads, have lunch, listen to audiobooks, and push several chairs together for a little happy hour before walking back into town for dinner.

Before we became innkeepers, we had a half baked thought that we’d be able to afford all kinds of stuff when “the business” would pay for it – but we learned quickly that the fancy wooden $200-300 Adirondacks would have to stay at LL Bean, and we’d have to stick with plastic if we were hoping to pay the heating bills. After all, we’d need 14 of them, maybe even 28, in case they’d fit on the second floor also. Not to mention some tables to go with them. (More on that second floor thing later)

Fortunately for us, and for those who believe in buying American, several American companies proudly manufacture colorful, affordable, and popular plastic Adirondack chairs. And come April, rows and rows of such chairs were for sale in and outside any of the hardware, home and outdoor living stores. But we had two problems to solve: transportation (neither one of our cars can haul much more than a shopping cart full of groceries, which, translated into furniture, means about two chairs), and color decisions. Last fall, we were sure we’d go with Adams chairs – there were some good colors at an end of season sale somewhere. But colors change with the seasons, and Adams chairs were no exception. Fun as the new spring chairs looked at the entrance of Reny’s , we wondered if they might not be a bit too bright for us (for anyone not familiar with Reny’s, it’s a Maine department store which deserves its own blog post. One of its branches is just up the street from us). We do love color – but how much do we love shiny neon Pepto-Bismol and scream green ? And how well would they fit with the Towne Motel colors?
Then again, Reny’s did have some nice clean white chairs, and a few in “pool blue.” Maybe we could make these work? It was about the time of year we used to open our pool in New Jersey, so probably the name did the trick – while also playing a bit of a trick on us. We stuffed one chair of each color into Siobhan’s trunk, and drove the block or two back to the inn. We put the chairs in front of a downstairs room to check out color and size. The size was fine. Not perfect – they certainly take up more space than the old chairs, so luggage and vacuums would need more maneuvering. But we knew that already. As for the colors — hmmm, not so much. We don’t mind a Palm Springs or Florida feel (confession: we looked at a few inns for sale in these places too), but it just doesn’t seem to be Maine, or the Towne Motel for that matter. We’re more about weathered colors, not loud and shiny ones. The fact that we’d love a pool again is a whole different story – we did know, on a conscious level anyway, that a chair wouldn’t be a good substitute, no matter how “pool blue.”

What to do? Well, we stored the Adams chairs in an upstairs hallway for now; maybe we could buy more white ones and spray paint them. But we also briefly took them on the second floor balcony, just in case, by some miracle, they’d fit better than expected. They didn’t. And by now Leah had trained us well enough to remember housekeeping in any inn-related decision we make. Imagining the space problems we’d have with upstairs Adirondacks, we thought of vacuum cleaners just as quickly as of guest luggage – or guests’ bodies, for that matter. Although we did feel bad that the upstairs guests wouldn’t have chair equality, we decided to spray paint the previously used brown chairs for the second flooor. New look, same great product! That was the plan for the balcony.

The spray paint decision wasn’t made quickly though. Did we really have time to spray paint 14 Adirondacks. 14 other chairs, and 28 tables? And how well would it work on plastic? Should we invite some of the housekeepers to an outdoor spray painting party? And which colors should we use?

It was back to Home Depot for some advice and decisions, and we bought a few cans of Rustoleum in colors we liked, so we could try them out on – – well, something (maybe one of our plastic foot stools?). But it was still too cold to do any painting outside, and the whole operation got postponed until we made some progress on our “To Room 16” makeover project, which was going on at the same time (and, like the chairs, took a lot more time than expected.) And then I was back at Home Depot again, for reasons now forgotten (probably having to do with other little projects going on at the same time, such as new outside lighting, doormats, and similarly exciting stuff), and saw some Adirondacks from another company, well priced, and in some promising, un-Barbie colors. I bought one red and one slate blue, the blue much like the color of the Towne Motel sign, hoping I’d be able to fit them in my impossible-to-haul-anything-with convertible. It was drizzling, and Home Depot wasn’t my last stop, so I couldn’t just leave the top open, even if I had to open it to load. A nice young HD employee helped out, making sure the convertible top would fit back over the chairs….oops, an ominous sound indicated otherwise. There was no hope for more than one chair, even if stacked. Determined as I was to show Siobhan the perfect chair colors, I had no desire to sacrifice my car over $40 worth of summer plastic. Which meant, embarrassingly, that the red chair had to stay at Home Depot for now – a picture of it came instead. Rick Wolf, you were right – innkeepers need vehicles that can haul a few things. It’s not that we didn’t believe you! We’re just pretty attached to our cars.

Back at the inn, Siobhan approved of the colors, and we ordered 12 more the next day, happily calculating the 28 cans of spray paint saved, along with a few hours of time or labor, not to mention chemical paint-induced headaches. But Home Depot doesn’t deliver, and Siobhan’s car wouldn’t win a prize in the hauling category either. We knew what to do: get our hands on the one truck Home Depot rents out by the hour. Why just one truck, you ask? Excellent question, and we’ve asked it many times ourselves. You can’t even reserve the truck, unless it happens to be available when you call and no one has it on hold and you say you’ll be there within the half hour. “You snooze, you lose” and “get it while you can” seems to be the truck rental policy there. When we called the next morning, we were told it was rented at the moment, until at least 3 p.m.

Chair transport!

And that was no lie, as I found out on Facebook that night. A local friend had a post up about hauling leaves and debris with it all day. “So you were the one that had Home Depot’s only truck out yesterday!” I wrote in response. “We were told that ‘a girl’ had rented it until afternoon.” A reply came quickly: “I am the girl!” Aah – the joys of living in a village…

We managed to score the truck two days later, and with it the chairs. We almost never drive trucks – so we felt pretty cool and butch that day. And the chairs looked good – we decided to alternate colors from chair to chair rather than room to room – so every room had one red and one blue chair. We’ll probably switch the pattern around some day this summer. But now it was a matter of deciding on tables. Home Depot didn’t have any matching ones, nor did we find them anywhere else. Maybe we could just do without tables? People could put their drinks, books, snacks, or phones on the wide Adirondack arm rests, no?

No; no indeed. We thought about what Leah would say: drinks would be spilled, glasses and cell phones might break, crumbs of morning muffins, along with the plates underneath, might land on the floor. And we didn’t want to be stingy. Sure, we’re not known for being upscale, but we don’t believe in stingy either. Maybe we could order some of these slatted Adirondack tables, which come in plastic but look almost wooden, if you’re far enough away from them. I even saw some online for about 15 bucks somewhere. But by then we’d tried the spray paint on plastic; it worked great and was fun, plus we could be outside in the sun while still being productive.

We got the brown chairs and tables up from the basement, put our painting clothes on (or should I say painted? They’d been through a few activities by then), and set up shop in the back by the garage. Spray painting seems like a piece of cake at first. You just aim and spray to your heart’s content, kind of like whipped cream except you don’t have to watch your calories, and at the same time you see something miraculously transform right in front of your eyes. But in case you think that means we were done in a flash –not so much. There is an art to successful spray painting, and neither of us knew more than the first thing about it. The YouTube videos tend not to tell you how to avoid bubbles and drips, headaches and carpal tunnel. Probably because they weren’t made by (or for) motel owners who have to spray paint more than just two chairs in their own yard. We did seven downstairs tables, in white, and seven upstairs, in alternating yellow and blue. And then we did the 14 upstairs chairs in yellow and blue. Logically, it shouldn’t have taken more than an afternoon, but it did. We can blame that on our inexperience, weak wrists, impatience, or sensitive heads, but it was also about the hourly interruptions in the life of an innkeeper, moody Maine spring weather, imperfect planning (we had to trek back to Home Depot for more paint halfway through), and other ongoing projects. (One of which included more spray painting, this time of wicker chairs, which are a snap by comparison). But we did get done, and now we have our Maine Adirondacks, a row of red, blue and white, as well as a set of inherited chairs dressed in new garb. Both sets of chairs get lots of happy daily use, and no one complains about unequal chair treatment, colors, or size. Well, maybe the housekeepers sometimes, when the Adirondacks get in the way of cleaning supplies or the vacuum. Or when they become that last pain-in-the-back thing to clean at the end of the day….

Red, White and Blue         the spray paint result!

Some of our little projects this spring have made me wonder: how do some inns get these major makeovers done in time for their April newsletters, when we know it can take weeks just to get one room redone, and a few days, spread out over weeks, just to get a new set of chairs in place?? This wasn’t the only little spring project that started like it would involve nothing but a quick decision and a credit card, but then somehow took on a life of its own. (Don’t worry – I’ll spare you the stories about outside lighting or door mats for now). But given our tendency to allow little projects to grow beyond their initial life expectancy, I wonder what would happen with bigger projects. Like a porch in front of the house, decks for rooms 16 and 17, central air, or …… hm, a pool in the back, maybe instead of the garage? (Just kidding – we need that garage, and so would our cars if they knew how cozy it gets in the winter. Plus, there’s that income-producing studio above it!) Well, we’d obviously hire someone for such bigger projects (and thereby open a different can of worms), and hopefully start earlier – like in November? That way, we can drag each project through several months of winter weather – and have even longer stories to tell next year!

flowers and chairs

Apricot Squares

squaresby Siobhan

Here’s our first recipe-share post. I think I promised to start doing these last month…and then high season began. Which means we’ve been really busy. And baking a lot!

This recipe comes with a story. When we were inn-shopping with Rick and Janet Wolf of The B&B Team, they noted how important the “hand-off” process is: the transition between the sellers and buyers/new and old innkeepers. If you’re very lucky, you buy a successful property from wonderful innkeepers. We were very lucky. Rick and Jane Ellis were and are teachers, mentors, and true friends. We’re still e-mailing them questions–sometimes frantic ones. They always reply super-promptly, with lots of details and reassurances. As I wrote in our first post, it takes a village. We’re still learning.

Jane generously left us with a folder of her “greatest breakfast hits” at Towne Motel, and every so often in our emails she would ask, “Have you tried (recipe X) yet? Remember the file is in the black hutch in the dining room.” And we would say oh yeah, Jane’s file! Then the phone would ring or some other (take your pick) distraction would ensue, and we’d flake off about the file once again.

Then fate intervened. A family from Brooklyn who stayed at Towne Motel last summer returned last week and told us about Jane’s apricot squares. The kids were raving about them (and missing them) A YEAR LATER. This family was going out to Vinylhaven Island for a few days and staying with us again later in the week. So I emailed Jane for the recipe. She replied within hours: this was her most popular offering ever! Lots of requests for the recipe from guests. And guess what? The recipe was in the file, in the hutch. This time I actually went to the hutch and got it out.

And boy are these great. The family from Brooklyn was SO happy to see them on the table that Thursday morning. I’d printed out the recipe for them (Jane had given them a copy last year but they’d misplaced it). But before they came to breakfast, another guest was loving the squares and requested the recipe! I’ve gotten I think a total of 4 recipe requests in our almost 10 months here. Two of them were for these bars. And, major bonus: they are really simple to make. Some of the best things are. We are now happily working through that file. Stay tuned: we’ll be sharing more of these.

Jane says this is a Giada DeLauritis recipe. But to us they will always be Jane’s bars.


In a large bowl, combine:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups rolled oats (can use regular or quick)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Stir in:
2 sticks melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Spread about 1/2 of mixture into a 9/13 inch pan (coat with butter or butter/flour spray). Top with approx 15 oz. (not quite full jar) of apricot preserves. Cover filling with remainder of crust mixture and gently press to flatten.

Bake at 350 until light golden, about 30-35 minutes.

Cool for an hour, or overnight. Stores well for up to 3 days.
(They won’t last that long.)

Can use 1/2 recipe for an 8″ square pan. You can substitute apricot jam with other fillings, such as blueberry or cherry pie filling (homemade or in a can).

New Stuff

imageHoly cow: we haven’t posted in a while! Now here come the excuses…but summer crept up on us and it’s all we can do to manage an occasional Facebook post. Then again, maybe “crept up on us” is too gentle a metaphor. How about, summer ran up behind us new Maine innkeepers and hit us with a croquet mallet? Or a lobster pot. Take your choice. In our May newsletter we wrote about the projects we immersed ourselves in until, one day, paintbrushes still in hand, we looked at the reservation book and said wow, we’re almost full tonight (and the next night) what should we bake?

But we miss our blog so we’re going to a new strategy that will keep us posting, hopefully: shorter posts, sometimes organized around a running topic. The topic I’ll start today is Food.

And another new thing will be that we’ll have individual by-lines for our posts (journalist-speak for “By”). We’ve written the posts individually but never indicated who wrote them, and using the collective “we” has gotten old. Time to shift into “I” and use “we” when and where it fits.

FOOD: The Mary-Tyler Moore Breakfast Phenomenon

MTM BFBy Siobhan

First food post! Since we spent part of every day planning and baking for breakfast, we thought, hey, why not share recipes we love and reflections on baking? Or cooking (at night). Or giving a shout-out to great local restaurants. But today I want to talk about Mary Tyler Moore breakfasts.

Remember the MTM episode where she plans a party and no one shows up? Or, as I’m remembering it, only Rhoda and maybe her boss, Lou Grant? There was Mary with her onion dip and cheese and Triscuits and wine, waiting for the doorbell to ring.

A friend of mine in grad school called no/few-show parties Mary Tyler Moore parties. So this is what I call breakfasts where, mysteriously, no one (or almost no one) shows up. Imagine planning a dinner party…except you don’t ask for RSVPs. Or maybe you do, but no one responds or they just somehow imply they are coming…and you go ahead and throw it anyway. You’ve invited twelve people so you’re cooking for twelve. When we’re full at Towne Motel, our breakfast party *might* be anywhere from 34-40 people. Or five.

And there’s no way to predict it. Sometimes I try to go by previous patterns (or so they seemed), like: a gorgeous morning means no one will want to sit and chat and re-fill coffees and get to know other guests. Sometimes that’s true, and when I open the door at 7:30 I’ll note that five cars are gone already (probably on their way to Bar Harbor, especially if they plan to bike). But then there was this Saturday: glorious, sunny, and I think every single guest (we were full) came for breakfast and the dining room was humming. Sunday, it was crickets out there. Or rather, it was “grab and go.” Silently. I heard nothing from the kitchen but thought, I’d better go check. And every time I did, more muffins or coffeecake or coffee was gone.

So Random! as my former my students loved to say.

And here’s a question to ponder: when guests tell us they will only be running in quickly to get something for the road, why is the verb always GRAB? Always! It’s kind of like throwing a steak on the grill. One always must throw steaks and grab muffins.

Amenity Upgrade: or, It Takes a Village, Part 2

On the weekend of the Camden Conference, our rooms had a new feature: Archive bath products–shampoo, conditioner, and prettily-wrapped soaps.  We were psyched.  It was an upgrade we’d planned around the same time we decided to get Keurig coffee makers for the rooms.  The Keurigs happened quickly.  The products….did not. Wait, you’re thinking: a blog post about bath products?  Impossible!  How can anyone write an essay on bath products?  Surely this is a topic for a Facebook post….a really, really boring Facebook post.  But stay tuned, dear reader…

Remember our first blog post, “It Takes A Village”?  That was a tribute to all the people who helped us on our journey to innkeeping.  Since then, we’ve learned it takes a village to run an inn. (For part of that village, see the post, “A Tribute To Our Housekeepers.”)  And believe it or not, it took a village to get our new bath products selected, tested, and “housed.”

Let’s go back in time.  It’s late October, and suddenly quiet around here, and the days are getting dark (earlier and earlier).  In the kitchen, Katja is perusing catalogues, something she normally enjoys.  Not so much, today.  Because these aren’t the bright, glossy catalogues we get every day in the mail, tempting us to order some fun thing we don’t need.  Welcome to the grim world of hotel/restaurant “catalogues.”  Back in our inn-shopping days, an innkeeper told us that once you’re in the biz, you don’t pay retail anymore, you pay wholesale (for inn stuff, not your own shopping, alas).  Yay! we thought.  Little did we know that wholesale shopping for this stuff involves long phone conversations, red tape, and wading through these depressing tomes where, to add insult to injury, things were not necessarily cheap.

Siobhan quickly bailed on this task.  The glossy catalogues can barely hold her attention, but these were actually repellent: flat, two-dimensional photographs of things like white plastic trash buckets, 36 of them for $9.99 (!!) Or soft disposable plastic cups, individually wrapped, a case of 1000 for $25.95 if you order 20+ cases. They had a real Soviet feel. But somebody had to do this awful job and Katja, having already survived ice bucket shopping, took on the task. And so, one amazing day, actual samples of products began to arrive in the mail.  Fun! Products to try!

And here the village part of the story begins.  Our friend Jan was visiting from Nebraska, and she became part of the deliberation process (in the kitchen–where most of this story takes place, come to think of it), weighing in on two crucial questions.  The first was, which product?  We liked a couple of the product lines but we ditched one after Jan sniffed it and pronounced it flowery; too feminine-smelling for men, something her partner would not use for fear of smelling like a girl.  She favored Archive’s Green Tea and Willow line for it’s “clean” scent, and we agreed.  One decision down.  But another awaited: to order conditioner or not?  Our product offerings in the rooms used to be just shampoo + conditioner in one, and soap.  Katja really wanted to order conditioner (of course the products we liked did not come in the two-in-one version), but Siobhan doubted if guests really needed/wanted it. Plus she was being cheap. Jan to the rescue again.  She said conditioner is the one thing people often forget to pack, that men use it too, and that in fact her partner and her son had gone out and bought it while traveling, if they had left theirs at home.  We ordered conditioner. homeless new products

Our housekeepers had joined us in the sniff-and-vote fun, and liked our choice.  But our head housekeeper Leah fretted about the potential waste.  People won’t use all of that shampoo! she lamented.  And the soaps, they’re so nice but…The first weekend we put the products out, Leah and Kendra filled half a jar with the leftover shampoo, to demonstrate how much was going to be wasted.    Not knowing how to solve this problem, we shelved it for now, but stuck to our guns – after all, most other inns and hotels handle this issue somehow, and so would we.

Jubiliation over choices made quickly faded as we realized the journey wasn’t over and that we were now embarked on Phase Two: the search for a product container/basket/what to actually put the shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars (very prettily wrapped) in.  The old products had been placed on the ledge below the bathroom mirror.  But these looked so nice; we wanted them to pop!  So guess who had to head back to the Soviet-style catalogues?  Yup.  Phase Two involved a ruler and lots of discussion about heighth and depth of potential containers.  But one glorious day, Katja found exactly the right thing–of course they weren’t cheap–and ordered them and eventually, several detours and shipping complications later, they arrived.  They were cool looking: hooray! But wait…aren’t they a bit big for the two soaps, the shampoo, and the conditioner?  We kidded ourselves for a while but finally had to face the fact that the products were rolling around in the metal baskets and needed something underneath them, to prop them up and show them off, as it were.  And Katja knew the repellent catalogues had nothing like that.

products in caddy without pillow

Now it’s January (remember, this saga began in late October).  We took a one-night getaway to Portland and there, at a boutique hotel, we thought we’d found the solution.  This hotel of course, also had very nice products in some kind of basket, and the products were nestled on top of…rolled up face-cloths.  Genius!  We were so excited; here was our solution, and a nice cheap solution too.  As soon as we got home, Katja ran out to Reny’s and got two dozen face cloths in different colors (to match the product colors, of course).  We rolled and folded and proudly showed the baskets to our housekeepers.

Leah took one look and said, “People will use them.”  Use what? we asked stupidly.  She pulled a towel out.  “They’re face cloths.  People will pull them out and use them!”  Well, we didn’t, in Portland, was our lame response.

Here’s a big thing you learn as an innkeeper: to think about what might happen to the cute/fun/etc. thing you put in the room, when it’s in the room with guests, night after night.  Hands up: who predicted that Leah turned out to be right?  Yup.  The morning “room report” routinely ended with “Room 3 / 7 / 12 used the face cloth in the basket.”  Always said with a bit of a smile.

But at this point, Leah became our most crucial “village person.”  Because she now took this on as a problem to be solved.  Leah is a brilliant fabric-worker: dresses, batiks, you name it.  And she became determined to solve the product-basket problem, with a fabric-based solution.  Morning after morning in the winter, Leah’s first words would be, “I have an idea…now what if we…?”  Honestly at this point we had given up: let them use face towels was our default position (we had plenty).  But Leah had got a hold of this idea and, we now learned, once she decided she would solve a problem, by gum she was gonna do it. And she did.  The solution?  She would hand-sew little bags for each basket, using fabrics from her own collection, and fill them with….can you guess?  Rice!  Which she funneled into the bags (10+ pounds for 20 bags), creating a product-cushion that no one could possibly mistake for a face cloth.  Though she did find one out in one of the bedrooms one day. We don’t want to know what that was about…but the bag was unharmed.

pillows for products

products with pillowOur final village person was Rick Wolf of the B&B Team, our friend and broker who, with his wife Jan, found us the Towne Motel.  Rick stayed with us one night in April and of course he had to hear the Product Saga.  And on the waste issue, he had a great tip about a company that takes unused shampoo and soaps from hotels and sanitizes them and then sends them to places in the world where cleaning products are in short supply.  Solution!  So now we’re collecting the leftovers and will be shipping them off soon.

We have actually written 1400+ words about upgrading products.  If you have read this far you deserve a medal.  Come get it, and while you’re here, try our products!

Spring Fever in Camden, Maine

It's a white tree, but it isn't snow!

It’s a white tree, but it isn’t snow!

Spring in Maine isn’t known for much to write home about – mostly because there aren’t enough visitors to write home to anyone! Everyone is more interested in the end of the season– fall foliage – than in the beginning of life here in spring. We can’t blame them – fall is a lot more colorful, and there aren’t any dirty remnants of snow to ruin the scenery.  Spring travelers in general don’t seem to want spring; they want summer. Ever heard of a popular spring break destination that doesn’t involve beaches and pools? Except for skiers, spring travelers have had it with winter, and spring just isn’t different enough, except in places that didn’t have winter. And everyone knows Maine had winter. Many even think that Maine still has winter in spring – or at least mud season. Well, we’re not gonna lie: it’s got some of both. But it also has a lot more spring than we expected! Even if it’s the kind of spring writers and poets often describe as moody and fickle, like Charles Dickens does in Great Expectations: “it was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” We’ve had some of the same warm sun/cold wind combos as Dickens’ 19th century England – so maybe Maine isn’t all that different. Only a bit slower (“hot” wouldn’t quite be the word for the sun we had in March).

Mainers can be pretty cynical about spring, and not just in order to scare newcomers like us. If you google “signs of spring in Maine,” you’ll probably come across lists like this one from seacoastonline.com:

“Ah, spring. The green, green grass, the colorful flowers, the graying slush …Well, one out of three ain’t bad. So far this year, spring hasn’t exactly sprung just yet. But while I’m not a native Mainer, in my decade living here I’ve figured out the subtle signs of spring arriving in Maine. They include:

We start to throw open our windows to “air out the house” on warm days (any days over 40 degrees).

We switch from snow boots to rain boots.

We bundle up warmly — to head to Dairy Queen for a treat.

We start looking at the gardening catalogs, fully believing that somewhere under all that snow is a lawn waiting to come back to life, and flower beds ready for planting.

We leave off the hats and mittens — though not the parkas just yet — when we go outdoors.

The snow has finally melted enough to excavate the Christmas decorations.

The potholes look like something created when a meteor struck earth.

It’s still sunny after dinner (if we eat early).

The dogs are (sorta) willing to go outside voluntarily again.

When someone says “salt” we actually think of the food version first for a change.


And Erin Donovan describes Maine springs in the Bangor Daily News: “Winter is slow to release its grasp, removing only one icy finger at a time from our brittle necks. Just when you think it might be time to retire your lumpy and layered garb, winter will grab you by the collar and cackle, ‘You need to go to the gym for a few more weeks before those come off.’” (March 23)

Daffodils on a recent hike

True – the natural harbingers of spring can be a bit slow here. We have yet to see a tulip, other than in the form of potted plants, and daffodils are still in full bloom at the end of April. Until just recently, crocuses were still in charge – now they have some competition from small blue flowers whose name we don’t know. But considering that it was the coldest winter on the Maine coast since 1940, spring is doing a pretty decent job. On the 11th of April we were wearing shorts and working outside around the inn all day. (It was pretty amazing how effectively we both kept finding outdoor chores and postponing indoor ones). Wintering birds like ospreys have returned to the area (we wouldn’t have noticed, but we go by our housekeeper’s eyes and ears); and the snow, for the most part, is gone (save a stubborn dirty pile at the back of the parking lot, which is looking increasingly anorexic every day). And anyone who’s tried to ice skate on a lake in the past month better know how to swim.

And then there are the human signs of spring – where spring fever is even more noticeable.

While a handful of shops downtown still have limited “winter” hours, most reopened weeks ago, when boxes of new merchandise anxiously waited to be unpacked in stores like The Smiling Cow and The Village Shop. Restaurants have been re-opening or come back from their short March vacations – Long Grain re-opened April 10, Saltwater Farm is serving dinner again, on weekends; Atlantica is back with new menus, and Fresh has new (and wonderful!) owners and an exciting new menu. Boynton McKay, one of Camden’s all time favorites for breakfast and lunch has changed hands as well, hands that make all the popular classics as well as ever. (Lots of our regulars love this place – and have even been known to ditch our continental breakfast for some serious eggs or pancakes there.) Cellardoor Winery is now open Thursdays through Sundays in both locations – Rockport and Lincolnville, and starting Mother’s Day, will be open daily. Peter Ott’s Steakhouse just opened its new doors on the ground floor of the Grand Harbor inn right in time for Easter weekend, and has a cool new website and name (Peter Ott’s On the Water) to match. The Owl and Turtle bookshop has had new owners since the end of February, and now has a cool new café as well.  Just a few months ago, Selena and Ricky stayed at Towne Motel during their house inspection – and already they’ve bought and remodeled a popular Camden hangout place! Go Owl and Turtle!

Easter still outside the office, with pansies and forsythia

One of our housekeepers has been bringing us large bundles of forsythia, which bloom in almost no time. One bunch was recently transformed into an outdoor Easter bouquet with decorative eggs. It shares the table outside the office with our first pansies, which have taken over the basket that still housed a wintery pine arrangement three weeks ago. And, in anticipation of summer afternoons eagerly awaiting guests, we finally put up the new hammock seat we got at Once a Tree during Christmas by the Sea! Somehow we see ourselves doing curb-side check-ins this summer. And of course, it’s also for guests – we’ll try not to hog it.;)

Speaking of whom: our recent guests have been a fun and diverse bunch; from spontaneous spring walk-ins to boat people gearing up for the season, from builders and contractors working on local projects to island people coming for errands and getting stuck because of weather or ferry schedules, or just because they want to. We even had some guys coming to buy elver eels during the elver eel harvest this week. We’d never even heard of elver eels, much less of how lucrative a business they are here every spring. Innkeeping can be very educational indeed.

At least half of Camden seems to be working on projects to get ready for summer. We still have a few makeovers going on ourselves, big and small – stay tuned for details in our next newsletter and blog post! And do come visit in spring sometime – just because mother (or teenage?) nature is a bit confused and hormonal in spring, doesn’t mean she has nothing to offer. Maybe she’s just trying to offer something for everyone, winter and summer fans alike. When else can you have your first ocean-going guest (a recent Australian visitor of ours) the same week as another quarter inch of sleet and snow?

There is a German saying Katja grew up with, “April April, der macht was er will” – April, April, it does what it wills.  Maybe if we let nature do what it wants in the spring, it’ll let us do what we want in the summer.:)



Hosting the Toboggan Nationals Contestants!

For Everyone who already misses winter (anyone out there??) or wants to give it a proper send-off!

Our automotive guests at dawn

Our automotive guests at dawn

Tailgating on Hosmer Pond

Tailgating on Hosmer Pond



Down the Chute!

Down the Chute!

The view from Hosmer Pond

The view from Hosmer Pond

Not a sign we see every day...

Not a sign we see every day…

“You’re gonna have a lot of fun,” Rick and Jane, the previous owners of the Towne Motel, told us when asked about the Toboggan Championship weekend in the beginning of February, and about the guests we could expect. Many of these guys, we heard, have been coming to the championship for years if not decades, and almost as many have stayed here at Towne Motel each year. And of course, like every other venue in town, we would be fully booked, which is always a “beautiful thing,” as Rick would say. Especially after the quiet weeks of January.

We hadn’t had a lot of snow during the previous weeks, but just on cue, a big storm hit Wednesday before the big weekend, and we spent most of that day engaged in snow removal activities. (i.e. a few hours of back-straining sweeping and shoveling and moving snow around). We wondered whether our Thursday check-ins would make it up here  – after all, the entire East Coast had once again been snowed and iced over. Some called to say they might get here later than planned, but no one canceled – massive outages back home be damned (or escaped). These guys and gals just HAD to be here for Toboggan weekend, and they were.

Clearly, we needn’t have worried about them. These guys drive serious cars – all trucks and jeeps and Explorers; none of that winter sensitive stuff without four wheel or all wheel drive. The problem wasn’t for them to make it here; it was more about getting all these vehicles parked in a lot without clearly visible lines between parking spots, while snow mountains were taking up space around the perimeter. It worked out – just about – probably because the University of Connecticut Toboggan team said they weren’t planning to drive an inch until check-out. So they, together with us, parked in the back, in random, haphazard, diagonal fashion (not quite like parking and driving in Rome – if only because our cars were bigger – but close). The parking lot felt very important and muscular that weekend – all that vehicular testosterone. Not that there weren’t female guests; they just didn’t drive feminine cars -if there is such a thing. After all, toboggans had to be transported, along with cleaning and winter supplies, and whatever else is needed for a partying championship weekend in freezing temperatures.

Because that’s what the Toboggan weekend is like here in Camden, not surprisingly: COLD, but with a cold-be- damned- let’s-party-outside-for-three-days-anyway attitude. We watched a video of it on YouTube last year – it felt as crazy as it felt cold. We couldn’t wait to see it in person this year.

Before we could, though, we met our tobogganers. Two couples from Pennsylvania, the PA state champions and their toboggan virgin friends, were among the first to check in on Thursday, and the last to leave on Monday. The PA state champions were the winners of the previous year’s best crafted toboggan. The first morning, they showed us their two beauties – all splayed out across the bed in their first floor room (good thing they had placed their own blankets underneath, wisely preventing any house- or innkeeper heart attacks): shiny, polished wooden specimens, with colorful cushion upholstery for comfort. They looked good enough to win again, but what did we know about toboggan design??

For whatever reason, they didn’t win this year. But they did get far into the championships, so that when we finally made it to the Snow Bowl for the final races, we ran into them at the top of the hill (the athletic part of tobogganing being less the descent “down the chute” than the climb up to the top of the chute, toboggan in tow). Had we tried to go Saturday (when we were much too busy with housekeeping and baking and guests), we would’ve taken the $2 shuttle from the Camden Village Green –  there wouldn’t have been enough parking. Even on Sunday, every driveway within a mile of the championship posted a huge No Parking sign (in Jersey, they would’ve rented out even the tiniest driveway for a hefty parking fee). But actually, by Sunday afternoon, many of the eliminated teams and their supporters had left, so there was plenty of (muddy) parking. But there was also still a lot going on, especially in Tobogganville, a little makeshift snow village of food stands, hot cider vendors, a bonfire for warm-up, a cell phone charging station, musicians, sponsor tents, and truck beds selling toboggans and related items. The final races for the 2 person teams had just begun, so we watched, listened, took pictures, and climbed up to the launch area to see the beginnings of launches and not just the fast zoom through the chute. We concluded that the quick drop to the chute, followed by a rattling ride would probably not be good for our backs. But we haven’t ruled out forming a team with our housekeepers for next year. We’d just have to make sure to be eliminated by Friday check-in time. J

The Toboggan weekend is full of offbeat people and events. While the 2014 Olympics in Sochi were having their opening ceremony, Tobogganville had its happy hours: the Down the Chute beer and wine challenge from 3 to 7, nicely wrapped around the optional 2 and 3 person division first runs, which were from 4 – 6:30. Nothing like a nice cold beer when you really need it – and who doesn’t, on a 20 degree  late afternoon??

As anyone knows who’s ever been to or read about the Toboggan weekend, the team names seem to be what it’s all about. More than 400 teams competed this year, most of them not too seriously, at least if their names and costumes are any indication. There were, for example, the liquor teams: Free Beer, the Flying Beer Boys, the Rum Runners, Whiskey on Ice, or “3 Jackasses and a Dumbo Walk into a Bar.” Lots of bathroom jokesters, too: Gas-X, Skidmarks, Chute or Get Off the Pot, Scared Chuteless, or the Red Ashed Baboons. And word gamers:  Ice Scream, Toboggageddon, the Throbbin Bobbins 1, 2, 3, and 4; Two Soggy Boggin Boys, Sled Zeppelin, The Greatful Sled, Just Chute Me Now. Well, you get the idea: the Tobogganers don’t take themselves too seriously, and they come with a devil may care attitude towards winter: if you can’t beat it – and you sure couldn’t this year- join it. (And yes, they are about testosterone. But there were a few all female teams too: the Valley Kingdom Babes, Grandma and the Girls, Desperate Housewives, and Hot Women on Wood, to mention about half of them)

Entertaining as it was to watch the different styles of barreling down the chute, it was also cold, so we needed to get moving. And what better place to take a walk than a frozen lake? Hosmer Pond, where the tobogganers end up at the bottom of their runs, was frozen solid, and if we had had any doubts, the many trucks and SUVs on the lake reassured us. There were snowmobiles, winter bikes, skis, and pretty much any wintery type of transportation you can imagine. And yet it was still a pedestrian’s paradise: no crosswalks necessary to cross the whole lake, and even in the midst of a busy winter carnival, we got that peaceful Maine feeling walking all along the pond’s perimeter, smelling the pines and the sunny fresh winter air, imagining what the summer houses would look like a few months later, with their boat docks and swimming decks.

Quebec and the Europeans have carnival to make it through the last weeks of winter; Maine has a  carnivalesque equivalent just a few miles from Camden. Check it out if you never have; you might just get hooked! But reserve early – more than half the town’s rooms are booked out before Christmas.

We’ll leave you with a few tips for first time competitors from the Toboggan Nationals Website (http://winter.camdensnowbowl.com/24th-annual-us-national-toboggan-championships)

  1. Wear old clothes
  2. Be sure costume is not too bulky
  3. Consider wearing goggles and/or helmet
  4. Keep face covered
  5. Plan to stay all day, there’s lots to do and see and food for sale at the lodge and at the Toboggan Chute


And here is a piece on some of the fun costumes this year:   http://www.penbaypilot.com/article/clever-naughty-who-wore-it-best/28389



Pies on Parade

p on p On a very cold Sunday a few weeks back, we experienced a uniquely-Midcoast Maine form of winter fun: the 10th Annual Pies on Parade, in nearby Rockland.  We’d seen ads for Pies and spoken to a couple of past participants, but we didn’t quite “get” the concept of this giant pie sampling at various businesses in Rockland.  Now we know that the only way to get Pies is to do it: to gorge yourself on pies and tromp around in the cold and get into the spirit of antic fun and pie camaraderie. 

As is our usual M.O, we didn’t decide to go until long after tickets had sold out (they go on sale the day after Thanksgiving–when you’d think the idea of yet more pie would have zero appeal.  Not so).  But through an insider contact, whose identity will remain secret, we scored two last minute tickets.

Did we mention it was cold?  Like, really cold; and the sidewalks were icy.  At 1:00–the start time for Pies–those sidewalks were pretty empty (except for the ice).  Well, we said, it’s just too cold; of course people aren’t going to come out for this!   Wrong again.  The crowds built and built, and by three, every pie-donating business was packed and we had to struggle through a sea of down coats to reach the next offering. 

We began our journey at Captain Lindsey House, a historic B&B owned by the Towne Motel’s former neighbors, Ken and Ellen Barnes, former captains of the Steven Tabor windjammer.  Ken shared some fun stories about Towne Motel (more on that in another post) and it was great to meet them and see their beautiful property. Siobhan drooled over the book-lined study overlooking the back garden. 

And from there, it was a three hour pie odyssey to, we think, almost ALL of the 25+ Rockland businesses that had donated samples of pies in support of the Area Interfaith Outreach Pantry. We read later that 60,000-odd pieces of pie had been consumed.  Totally believe it.  It was a true pie frenzy and at some point, we forgot the cold (or were too pie-insulated to feel it) and got caught up in the zany spirit of the event.  It fel like a cross between a scavenger hunt and an adult trick-or-treat.    At the Breakwater Winery tasting room, where we sampled some wine and had cheese and grapes in addition to pie, a fellow participant captured the beauty of the nibble-and-run (to the next nibble) afternoon: “I could eat like this alllll day!” she exclaimed  And so we all did.  Some highlights for us: cottage pie at Rock City Cafe, key lime and coconut tarts at the Winding Way B&B (loved their cottage-style rooms), something amazing with sausage and blue cheese at Rustico, puffin-shaped cream puffs at Project Puffin, and the best pecan pie we’ve ever had, at Berry Manor Inn. 

Berry Manor was our final stop, and a  perfect end to the afternoon. The common rooms were warmed by fireplaces and filled with tables of people happily indulging in one last slice of pie and a cup of coffee.  We really enjoyed meeting innkeeper Cheryl Michaelson and hearing her stories of the Berry Manor’s famous Pie Moms.

The Rockland inns were booked solid for the weekend.  And even though Pies is a Rockland event, we’re hoping to lure some pie-eating guests to Towne Motel next year.  Rockland provides a shuttle for the event so maybe we will too: to quote the innkeepers who organize Pies, no one should be driving under the influence of pies! Many, many pies.  







Innkeepers’ Housekeepers: A Tribute to the Towne Motel Team!


A guest's note for our housekeepers

A guest’s note for our housekeepers

The Towne Motel may not offer the most luxurious digs in town, but we are convinced it has the best group of housekeepers any inn could wish for.

Not only were these guys patient, generous and courageous enough not to run for the hills (or up Mt. Battie) when their two new employers rolled in from New Jersey, they also continued to do their jobs just as well, reliably, professionally, and honestly as they did for the wonderful previous owners. And on top of that, they turned into mentors and teachers, without whom we would’ve never been able to get through the first crazy weeks. Or any other week, for that matter! These guys are fun, collaborative, super clean, detail-oriented (or, as Gale says, obsessive), and – most of all – they are proud of their work and seem to care as much about this place as we do! They knew the building long before we did, all its nooks and crannies, all the little differences between one room and the next.  They almost never need to be told what to do; if anything, they used to tell us what to do (and sometimes still have to). So -it’s about time to pay tribute to the TM Housekeeping team, the gals and guy who are responsible for more than half of our positive Tripadvisor comments. – Thank you so much, you guys, you’re the best!!

We started here in the end of September, so we had the pleasure of getting to know and work with all five of our steady housekeepers for a good month. Now that it’s the middle of winter, we miss not only our full house of guests, but also our full team of housekeepers. We’re glad it’s February, and we’ll soon have both again for at least two weekends – the annual Toboggan Championship weekend (Feb. 7-9) and the Camden Conference two weeks later. It’ll be like having summer in winter– the pleasure of a busy breakfast room, the bustle of housekeepers coming in and out of the office and kitchen, delivering towels for the downstairs washer, giving progress updates, or swiffering the kitchen floor, and their funny negotiations over splitting up tip money at the end of the day (they’re always willing to get less than their fair share).

One of our magical helpers is Gale, who is low key, fun and never has a complaint. Her hilarious dry humor sneaks up on you when you least expect it, like in shop talk about towels. We’ll never forget her lesson about folding our bedspreads without making them into a wrinkle fest. Unlike most of the others, who are either on healthy diets or tired of seeing sweet breakfast leftovers, Gale indulges us and often has a muffin or a piece of coffeecake. But most of all, she just makes us happy we have her, and cracks us up.

There is also Aini, who is the sweetest and sunniest blonde girl you can imagine – plus smart. Her lesson in how to pronounce her name stuck with us: just think of “eye,” then “knee,” and you got it. She is young, has kids, a lobsterman partner and the lobster expertise to go with it, at least one other job, and a lot of family responsibility. But she never complains about any of it, not even indirectly. She just doesn’t seem to mind hard work, and she is fine with extra hours. She can do phones and check-ins, too, which comes in handy on a super busy day. And she’s great with the cats! Tibby let her pet him the second week she was here.

Another smiling face is Andrew, our lone male housekeeper and semi-handyman. He reminds us of some of our ex- students – the sweet, good-natured, uncomplicated ones who’re always willing to work and learn something new. (Come to think of it, Katja doesn’t remember many such students– but Siobhan does).The girls tease him about his folding skills (only marginally better than ours, or so he says), but he makes up for it by getting along with everyone and being a bit of a Jack-of-all-Trades: he does the leaf blowing, the mowing, the heavier lifting, and he loves to work with and learn from our “real” handyman Craig. It was fun to see them wrap up air conditioners for the winter together. Andrew can even help shovel snow and clean all the outside walls. One day he agreed to stay late to help us move a piece of furniture we thought would easily fit up the staircase. We were wrong – but he never seemed to think the obvious: that we could’ve done some better planning and measuring. Andrew used to get here by bike, from Rockland, but now he tools around in a red sports car!

Kendra is Ms. Super-efficient and eagle-eyed. She spots the tiniest stains and smallest strands of hair; she trains new staff, and she works fast and independently. Kendra figures things out even before we tell her, and she always puts other people, whether at work or at home, ahead of herself. In October, she did a fun daily countdown to her birthday on the laundry room blackboard. She is willing to drive far even in the winter to do just 2 or 3 rooms. She thinks of things that need to be done in addition to the usual routine. And she double-checks all the rooms at the end of the day, just to catch any potential missed detail such as a wrinkle on a bed scarf. We know she will eventually go back to college or work a full-time job in a different field, but in the meantime, we’ll count ourselves very very lucky to have her. And so does the rest of the team!

And then there is Leah, a tough, independent Mainer whose hard work and seriousness are complemented by a wicked sense of humor. She’s worked at Towne Motel for many years, and unlike most of the others (except perhaps Gale), she doesn’t hesitate to tell us how to do something or to point out what needs work. Leah gave us a bit of a hard time in the beginning, and it wasn’t easy to get on her good side. We think we’ve (almost?) arrived there now, but one never knows – we better keep on our toes!

There are some scary things about Leah: Her “Ok, you’ll have to come see this” face, and her “I need to tell you something” voice. Oh no, we used to think (now we just say it)- what do we have to brace ourselves for now? Sometimes it’s something one of us did wrong (in which case we tend to blame each other or play innocent – although it’s better just to fess up), like folding or storing the “zippies” (inside pillowcases) incorrectly, or not having flipped the No Vacancy sign yet. Other times it’s something more expensive, like a hole in the wall in room 8, or the announcement that it’s time to order some new bedspreads or sheets. Or it’s something about the weather – sub zero forecasts, ice on the staircase, impending storms… She probably just wants to scare us, like the Mainers we talked about in an earlier blog post (From Away in Maine, December 12 )

Leah is, for all intents and purposes, our head housekeeper. She can come almost every day all year round, and although her eyes are a few decades older than Kendra’s, they’re just as sharp when it comes to perfection. Leah has shown us that housekeeping is both an art and a science. We don’t know what her science background is, but we do know her art history: her father was a well-known artist, and there are other artistic and creative threads in her family. Leah is an artist herself: she sews dresses from myriad different materials, often matching them with pieces of jewelry. She works with fabrics the way others work with stone, metal, clay, fictional characters: listening to them to find out what they need and what they want to be. Some of the inn’s bathroom curtains are made by Leah, and we’ve been asked never to throw out any fabrics; if she can’t use them, she (or we) can take them to Goodwill. (There’s a nice big one in Rockland). When we gave her some dark curtains we didn’t need, they quickly became parts of a stylish dress. She’s also a hat woman! Wish we had taken her picture the day she cleaned rooms in a hat she could’ve worn on 5th Avenue.

Plants and cooking are some of her other arts: she’s brought us wintery homemade soups, paper whites, and an incredibly fragrant plant that’s thriving in the kitchen now. We keep forgetting what it’s called (actually, it’s Rose Geranium – she just reminded us), but we’ve been able to keep it alive and healthy. We’d be in trouble if we hadn’t!

One thing for sure: whatever we know about housekeeping here (and it isn’t enough yet), we know from Leah most of all. If we continue to practice, maybe we will actually be able to make a bed as well as she and this team can! (But we’re not holding our breath on that one – and neither, we suppose, are they) But here’s what we learned too: to begin to see various things and decisions from a housekeeping perspective, like any smaller or larger changes we want to make to the rooms and amenities. It can be quite a different perspective compared to the guests’ or our own! And finally, what we’ve known from Day 1 but didn’t begin to truly feel until later:  these guys are not “just” housekeepers, they’re fellow innkeepers, and we wouldn’t be able to be innkeepers without them!

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