Monday, August 10, 2015

Water in our Country Landscping

With all the talk about water during our current drought, I thought about how important water is when you live in the country and your only source of water is your well.

We have always been concerned about how much water we use. We have been lucky with our well. It is not particularly deep and gives us an average of 12 gallons a minute production. Many residences in the are have only 3-5 gallons/minutes production. One of the first things we did was purchase a 5,000 gallon holding tank. The tank has a float which signals the well pump to send more water when the tank gets to a predetermined level. We have two pressure tanks at the holding tank to send water to the house. At the time we built Lucinda's we were not required to have a holding tank: we just thought it was a good idea for our water supply. Now, all new construction must have holding tanks. All the wineries are required to have multiple holding tanks;  the size of the winery determines how many tanks.

The majestic oak tree across the drive from the house is our visual focal point, but the real thing to look at is the open area in front of the tree,and its natural look.  The horseshoe pit is in the right middle of the photo
We have minimal landscaping at Lucinda's. We are a country inn and should look that way. The surrounding natural vegetation should be the focus of the landscaping. Those of you who have visited the Inn have probably noticed the large open area in front of the majestic oak tree. At one time we thought about making a terraced lawn in that area for croquet and badminton. But the amount of water needed to maintain a lush green lawn of that size made us decide not to have the lawn, natural is a great look. Instead we have a horseshoe pit and a pentanque court  which do not require water.

Planning landscaping in the country is challenging. In addition to water issues, we have our native population who eat everything that is nice and green. Our deer have not read the list of "deer resistant" plants. And if you think the deer are bad, they are nothing compared to the time one of our neighbor's cows escaped and decided to check out our property. I had not realized how large the mouth of a cow is. A cow can devour several day lilies in a single chomp. Over time we have found the plants that work best on our property. In general, our deer don't bother the day lilies other than the occasional nibble. The pyracantha is holding its own and slowly growing. Our butterfly bushes attract hummingbirds and butterflies. In the spring and summer we do have baskets of "color". Most of it is out of reach of the critters. All our planted vegetation is on a drip system.

Trellis with the hanging pots at the Tower Entrance

You may have noticed that the winery tasting rooms in Fair Play also have minimal formal landscaping. Any need for water is focused on the crop -- grapes. Except for irrigating the vines in the early years, grapes in the area are dry farmed. They get moisture they need during the winter and do not need to be watered as much in the summer. In fact, they like to get stressed a little. Most of the soil in Fair Play is decomposed granite and very loamy; great for drainage but not for holding moisture and therefore watering the deep roots.

We are always concerned about our water situation, but particularly this year. Our rainfall was about 2/3 of an average year, but we are dependent on the water table. Let's hope for more rain this year. Let's hope the El Nino, the weather people have talked about, happens.

'Til Next Time....


Monday, June 15, 2015

Mid-Afternoon -- A Day in the Life of an Innkepper

I'm back to tell you about the rest of my day.

Mid-afternoon, I again start the prep work for the next day's breakfast and begin preparation for evening wine and snacks.

On Friday & Saturday we host wine and snacks in the Great Room from 5:30 to 6:30. This is an opportunity for us to get know our guests and for our guests to get to met each other. (Another blog will tell some stories of our guests during wine & snacks.) We offer a white and a red wine for tasting, each from a different winery, and often one from Amador and one from Fair Play. We talk about the wine and winery mentioning some of their other wines. We inquire about dinner plans and make their reservations when needed. By 6:30ish folks are ready for their dinner adventure, in their room or at one of the great nearby restaurants. They usually have selected their DVD from the library.

This is wine and snacks at one of our Murder in Fair Play weekends. We never know what our guests will do, but it is guaranteed to be fun.

We clean up the plates and glasses, put away the wine and snacks, that were not devoured, so the kitchen is ready for the next morning. Then we start thinking about our own dinner and what we need for the next day.

I keep an on-going shopping list in the kitchen, adding depleted supply items and adding new things for future breakfasts and snacks. Since we are mainly a weekend business, I concentrate planning menus for those meals and fill in for weekdays. To plan for next week's meals I refer to our Webervations guest management system. I find who is new and returning guests, then I look into our meals log section for each returning guest to find what they were served that last few times they were here, so i don't repeat their menus. I look for anyone with food restrictions or allergies or special diet requests. Is someone gluten free, veegan, peanut allergic? I need to accommodate those needs to know what to serve so I know I have the correct ingredients.

If we have the opportunity, on Sunday afternoon we try to visit a couple area wineries, to stay in touch and know what they have and what is currently the "good stuff". We must also keep up on the local gossip. Monday and Tuesday are usually focused on cleaning and laundry. Then there is always website review and refreshing, marketing activities, rack cards to be distributed and minors repairs around the Inn that needs done. (Light bulbs! If you haven't noticed we have about a 1/2 million of them.) Our shopping for the weekend is usually Thursday. By that time we normally have an good idea of how many guests, and what their needs are, for the following weekend. There is a bouquet of flowers in the dinning room most of the time and flowers bought on Thursday will last the weekend.

We try to go to the movies once a week. It is our opportunity to relax and most important, eat popcorn. After our movie we enjoy going to the Wine Smith in downtown Placerville. There is usually someone we know there and it is a quiet place to enjoy a glass of wine (or beer).

Whew. That makes me want to take in a movie then a glass of wine.

That's all for now.


PS: I'm still learning the blog process. Some day I might learn it, maybe.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Day in the Life of an Innkepper

Our guests are here for a short time. They enjoy weekend evening wine and snacks. They go out to dinner, come back and watch a movie (at least they start to watch a movie before falling asleep), relax and get a good night sleep. They get up, have some coffee or tea, eat breakfast and away they go for their day's adventure or return home.

I thought some of you might be interested in what goes on the rest of the day.

Breakfast is served from 9:00 to 10:00am. I am up 6:30ish, shower and dress, and am usually in the kitchen by 7:00.

I am emptying the dishwasher, like I do mornings & afternoons. I am also wearing an apron one of our guests gave me. I really like it and I appreciate the gift.

Hopefully I have done some prep work the day before (mixed dry ingredients for baked goods, chopped veggies and fruit, etc.). I finish the prepping for baking muffins, scones or whatever, then I move on to the egg dish. Although we have some casseroles that can and are prepared the day before and refrigerated, in general I prefer to assemble and bake these in the morning. If we are having Country Eggs Benedict (Daryl's dish he concocted and his to cook) I need to time the baking of muffins with the time to bake the pastry shells -- they usually are not baked at the same temperature. Daryl sets the tables while I continue the kitchen work of cooking, baking and putting the food in serving dishes. Although we try to have the food out for our guests promptly at 9:00 am, sometimes casseroles take a few minutes longer than anticipated. After our guests arrive for breakfast, I pour coffee and explain what is being served on our buffet bars while Daryl goes to the computer to prepare guest checkouts. During breakfast one of us answers questions and helps guests with their plans for the day. (Being a personal concierge is a big part of what makes our place so special.) Most people are here for wine tasting; we talk with them about our area wineries and their individual wines. Some people prefer to do some shopping in nearby towns or go to Apple Hill for fresh apples and other produce. 

Here I'm slicing fruit for a fruit medley, a prep job.

After our guests have finished breakfast I begin the clean-up process. This can be quick and easy or very time consuming, depending on the number of guests and what is being served, We like to have Daryl cook omelets to order, but there is a lot of prep time and about a million dishes and utensils to be cleaned up! We clean off the tables, putting the salt & pepper and the other condiments into their storage places. Then all the placemats and tables get sanitized.  Once the hand-washing is done the dishwasher gets started. I'm ready to start laundry. Napkins with food stains need sprayed and soaked before going into the washing machine. We have two sets of washers and dryers. The sheets and table linens are washed upstairs. The towels are washed downstairs. When we have a full house both set are going non-stop for a couple days.

Once the kitchen is cleaned up and laundry started, we move on. If guests are staying more then one night we "fluff" their room -- empty wastebaskets, replenish snack items, etc. Rooms that have been vacated need to be cleaned and santized. Silva, one of our wonderful neighbors, takes charge of cleaning rooms. When we opened the Inn, Daryl & I did all the cleaning. Now, I don't know what we would do without Silva. Some of you may have met her and enjoyed her great personality. Depending on what time of year, plants need trimmed or watered, patio and deck cleaned -- the outdoor chores get completed.

Daryl does the check-out and check-in duties. Once he has processed the credit cards for the last night's guests he does the check-ins for our new arriving guests. Daryl stays on top of our website needs and changes, Webervations (our online booking and reservation system), writes his blog and helps me publish mine (I'm still learning the process). He also does the business accounting and annual taxes. After all he worked for the California Franchise Tax board and he cheats by using Turbo Tax.

Mid-afternoon -- whoa. This is getting way long. I'll stop her for now and give you the rest of my day in another post. As soon as I learn the process.

'Til next time...


Monday, March 16, 2015

Innkeeping as a Retirement Pastime


We often have guests ask us if we enjoy what we do and if being an innkeeper is what we thought it would be.  Others ask if this is our retirement (ha!).

First of all, yes I enjoy being an innkeeper and it is what I thought it would be.  Our primary goal in building and operating a bed and breakfast inn was to have the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, geographical locales, professions and avocations.  In that respect, innkeeping has exceeded my expectations.  Our guests are interesting and friendly folks.  They come to our area to enjoy themselves, be it wine tasting, hiking, exploring the Gold Country, or just relaxing at the inn. My job is to help them in any way I can.

Retirement?  I don’t think so.  This endeavor was more to redirect our lives from a “9 to 5” job to another career, and to live in a beautiful environment. Innkeeping is not glamorous; it is a lot of hard work.  But it is infinitely interesting and ultimately extremely enjoyable.  We live in a beautiful part of the Sierra Foothills.  Daryl and I have been visiting this area since we were teenagers—long before there were any wineries.  We thought Fair Play was beautiful and fantasized about living here.  But what would we do for a living?  The area was cattle ranching and walnut orchards.  We knew nothing about farming or livestock.  We thought Sacramento was too far to commute (although we later found out that a high school classmate of ours had been commuting from Fair Play to the Valley, about 60 miles one way, for 35 years).  So, oh well, Fair Play was a nice place to visit but we probably needed to live closer to civilization (i.e., Sacramento).

Fast forward a couple of decades.  We raised our family in Elk Grove when it was a very small town.  After our children went out on their own, I had the opportunity to relocate to Southern California to work at the South Coast Air Quality Management District in the Technology Advancement Office.  Daryl was working for Franchise Tax Board and was able to transfer to a district office in Santa Ana.  We were working and enjoying our jobs, the weather and the beaches.  But after several years we started thinking about the next phase of our lives.  We knew we wanted to return to Northern California.  We could keep working for the government.  (I already had 30+ years in state and local government.)  That really didn’t sound like much fun.  We wanted to change our lives and do something completely different.  On a wine tasting/buying trip to Amador and El Dorado Counties, we noticed quite a few “for sale” signs on some beautiful pieces of property.  When we returned home to Orange County, we started talking in earnest about plans for the future.  We both had jobs where we met a wide range of people in different professions.  We enjoyed that part of our jobs immensely.  So, what could we do that would continue to give us the opportunity to meet new people from different backgrounds, professions and geographical locations?  Somehow, through hours of discussions and calculations, we decided that innkeeping was the answer.

We didn’t know anything about innkeeping and knew we needed a lot more information before making the leap.  We went to several “aspiring innkeeper” seminars and learned lot about the industry and the job of innkeeper.  We started carrying a notebook and tape measure every time we were away on vacation or business.  Every hotel, motel and B&B room was scrutinized and measured.  We measured dining rooms, sitting areas, and living rooms. We had an ongoing list of the good and bad of overnight accommodations.  And we started a list of what we thought would be important to guests in a B&B. We found that B&Bs are endlessly variable—in size, amenities, furnishings and style. 

We started looking for property in the Foothills, both Amador and El Dorado Counties.  We didn’t see any “historical” or significantly interesting existing houses or other buildings.  That led us to the decision to build our bed & breakfast.  It would be exactly the style we wanted, and we could build a contemporary, durable and energy efficient house. 

It took us four years to find a piece of property that fit our criteria—on a public road, 10+ acres, bare land, hopefully an existing well--in the Fair Play or Amador wine areas.  During that time, we searched through home building magazines, looking for a plan we could use as a basis for our bed and breakfast.  We purchased our property, and spent the next couple of years cleaning it up and establishing some amenities (a picnic area and a place to pitch a tent; a makeshift solar shower).  We came up from Southern California every opportunity we had to work on the property.  Although our property did have a well, we had no electricity and no way to use it.  We brought water with us in several gallon milk jugs.  On Saturday afternoons, after trimming trees, clearing walking paths, etc., we would take a shower and then visit area wineries.  We spent a lot of time at Granite Springs Winery, where Karen or Sheri would let us fill our water jugs.  We went to the other existing wineries (6 at the time) as well, establishing friendships that continue today.

In September 2000, we relocated to El Dorado County from Orange County and started the County approval process for building and operating a bed and breakfast.  We commuted to work in Sacramento until 2002, when we retired from our State jobs to pursue our dream full time.  Our decision to retire and pursue the project full time was a wise one.  Going through the bureaucratic building approval and Special Use Permit process was excruciating and was a full time job in itself.  We were very familiar with local government in Southern California.  Both of us had attended many City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings there, representing our employers.  But the “good ole boy” rural government is very different.  (And that’s all I am going to say about that!)  We finally broke ground in July 2003.   Construction activity at that time was very active and we could not find a local contractor to take on our project.  So, with the help of a retired contractor friend, and the willingness of our son to join us, we became owner-builders and put together a rag-tag crew.  Amazingly, we were able to complete construction of the “big house” in a little over a year, and received final approval from the County September 4, 2004.

There were a few “minor” things to complete—floor coverings, baseboards, the B&B kitchen sink.  We opened with one room complete—the Vineyard Suite.  We worked our way through each room over the next six months, and completed the Fair Play Cottage a year after that.  And we have continued to improve the buildings and property since then.

Innkeeping is a wonderful career.  Our commute is very short—walk through the door from our private quarters into the inn.  We enjoy living in a small, rural community.  There is never a lack of chores—cleaning, laundry, and gardening.  But the best experience is meeting and getting to know our wonderful guests.  We enjoy hearing about their families and travels and getting to know them as friends.  An important part of the B&B experience is food.  We plan our breakfast menu very carefully.  I like to cook and bake.  I am always looking for new and interesting recipes to prepare for our guests.  I am happy to share the recipes I use, and sometimes our guests give us new recipes.

Innkeeping as a retirement pastime?  No way.  But as a second or third career, it is wonderful.  If you are thinking you might want to be an innkeeper, do as much research as possible.  Hospitality 24-7 is not for everyone.  But if you enjoy meeting people and entertaining, ironing napkins (whoops, maybe that’s not part of the fun), you too might have a B&B in your future.

Think about it.