Sunday, November 29, 2009

The MIddle Day


When you operate a B&B, your time is not your own. Weekends are busy, and if you are going to get any time off, it falls during the week. That is not all bad. Weekdays everywhere are often slower, quieter, and more relaxing than a weekend.

Being a social animal, I love the business of the Inn. Guests are coming and going, employees are zipping through the kitchen (right beside my office), passing on a bit of gossip, and sharing the leftovers from breakfast. There are days when I have very little time to myself, and normally, that is the way I like it, but I do need to get away occasionally. With this in mind, I have developed a theory of “the middle day.” I’m sure it is not original to me (very few of my thoughts are), but it has proven true for me over and over concerning my own needs and in observing the experiences of my guests staying at the inn. Let’s see if I can put it into words…

To truly be “here” you need a middle day. If you don’t stay somewhere at least 2 nights, you are never fully “there” mentally. You are either coming (the first day) or going (the last day), and it is very hard to fully embrace where you are, and separate from where you came or to where you are going.

Now that I have put it into words, I am reminded where the thought originated. One day, 12-14 years or more ago, I was having a stressful season as a new Innkeeper (hard to believe, but it does happen!). I needed to get away. My friend Kim helps me escape. He is a musician and can easily get off in the middle of the week like me. We arranged to meet at one of our favorite outdoor escapes, a small fishing and hunting resort on Truman Lake called Reel and Trigger (see the link below). It is a simple, clean and neat, quiet, and inexpensive group of cabins in the woods, and only takes an hour and half to drive there. It is on a bluff overlooking the main body of the lake, and is a great place to just sit and wait (for whatever you are looking for).

We got there mid-day, found our favorite place to set up our day camp (comfortable chairs, food, drink, cell phones on vibrate, and time for quietness) on the bluff. After about two hours of just sitting and staring, saying very little, Kim turns to me and says, “Are you here yet?” Well, that caught me off guard, as conversations with Kim often do. “Of course I’m here!" I replied. "I’m sitting right beside you!” But I immediately knew what he meant. I was not “here” yet. I was sitting on a bluff, 80 feet above the water, watching the gulls make their way across the lake to that island over there, but I was still in Springfield -- still fighting the good fight, still mentally immersed in my problems, even though I had changed my environment completely.

From that time forward, I have tried to see how long it takes to really “be” somewhere, to truly be in the moment; to be “here.” For me, when I leave my business, that is not an easy thing. Most of the time it takes “the middle day” before I’m actually “here.”

I see this playing out with my guests. Those who come for only one night do relax; but in general, they don’t get nearly as much release from their world and their problems as those who stay two nights. “One nighters” sitting at the breakfast table the next day, deep in converstation with each other or other guests, will pass over the “tipping point” somewhere between the second and third cup of coffee (sometimes you can even see this happening!), and “head home” mentally. My theory -- they are no longer “here” at that point; they’re gone.

The “two nighters” often don’t get “here” until the next morning, especially if they are leaving the kids at home with sitters, or arriving late. For many, it takes waking up in a different environment, and knowing they are spending the entire day and coming back to the same bed that night, to allow themselves to release from the responsibilities and reasons they wanted to get away in the first place. “Two nighters” linger longer at the communal breakfast table, have more meaningful conversations on the back porch, smile and laugh more, and are just what we hoped and worked for; guests who are now a little more contented with life than when they came.

I don’t think we (the communal us) spend time thinking about this, and planning it out. But I do think, unconsciously, we are always looking ahead, for our own safety and security. The middle day makes it easier to release from this thinking, and really be “here,” really be in the moment.

If my theory is correct, then I would be doing my guests a favor to institute a two night minimum stay! But I won’t. One night is better than none.

What do you think? Does it work that way for you, or are you quicker to “arrive” than me? Do you have little mental exercises that help you live in the moment? If so, share them with us. We could all use a break!

Back in September, 2005, while sitting on that bluff, waiting, I wrote this little poem to myself.

Today, right now, I will inhabit the moment
I will be present when I'm present

I remember no past
I foresee no future
I feel the heat, suffer the cold,
Sense the cleansing power of the wind

Today, I am here for all eternity,
and it is good


Visit my friends at Reel and Trigger Resort at: http://www.reelandtrigger.com/
They are open March through November.

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Monday, November 23, 2009

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

A dear friend asked me on Facebook today, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” That got me thinking of how much creatures of habit and tradition my families are, both on my wife’s side and on my side. We rotate between Paula's family and my family for Thanksgiving, based on health and who can make it this year. The more family that can make it, the more the chances are it will be that family’s “turn.” This year we are at my sister’s house in Thayer, Missouri. We are driving to Thayer that morning to have Thanksgiving lunch with my sister and brother-in-law, my dad, two nieces (one has four young girls) and my brother-in-law's 98-year-old father, Scotty. It will be noisy and fun. There are always multiple dogs weaving between everyone’s feet, looking for their Thanksgiving treats, and claiming their territory under the table.

We have the traditional foods: turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, spiral cut ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, brown beans, cranberries, broccoli and cheese casserole, and pickled vegetables (green tomatoes, cucumbers, onions) from dad’s garden to clear your palate before the next bite of potatoes.

To me, the cranberries are an important part of the tradition. The red stains on the plate let you know who in the family really understands a Blankenship Thanksgiving. The tartness and the pop of the berries in my mouth shouts “Happy Thanksgiving” to my tongue, and gives me one more thing to be thankful for.

Then there are the rolls. Before she died, my mother always made the rolls. Luckily, a good family friend, an amazing baker, has taken up the duty of the rolls for the family, and we are so grateful. They are big yeast rolls, three inches tall, browned on top with butter, and smelling so good you can't talk for fear of drooling on your shirt. You can always tell when the meal is about to be served: the rolls are in the oven, the smell of the bread overtakes the turkey, and it gets quieter, as we salivate and wait. When I was a boy, this was when time would stand still. That last 30 minutes before the prayer would take days to pass.

Since my mom died (nine years ago), my sister puts one long stemmed red rose on the table. That simple act allows mom to sit with us and listen to the conversation. No one mentions it. The rose is just there, listening, and guiding us with quiet strength, like she always did. Her absence has changed us, allowing us to float a bit farther apart as a family. But when we are together, when we are quiet, like when we are all finally seated and Grandpa Scotty gives the Thanksgiving prayer, we are one again.

Then the carnage begins. You would think by now, after decades of doing this, we would have worked out the most productive way to pass the plates of food. But no, the gravy goes before the potatoes, the turkey is too heavy to pass so plates go this way and that, the salt and pepper is always at the wrong end of the table, and the butter goes before the rolls. Chaos! We are frantic to get just the right mix on our plates, and it does happen. It just takes too long! Finally, we fall in rhythm and the meal is consumed.

The pies, usually pumpkin, apple, and pecan, are kept in the garage until the meal is over because there is no room left in the kitchen. Then they show up with homemade whipping cream and groans of overindulgence as we say, "just a sliver...of each."

Before and after the meal, we make an art of complaining about having to help, while elbowing everyone out of the way so we can. My sister is in charge, but as my nieces have become adults, they take over more of the operation, allowing moments where the older adults can talk or lobby for Christmas plans, when, in 30 days, this all takes place again!

This is about the point I start getting antsy about the Dallas Cowboy football game. From the time I was old enough to understand football, the Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving, and for that I am very thankful. This year, it is the later game, so it will be on when we load up the van and head back to Springfield. I’ll be very careful not to listen to the radio, so when I get home, it will be recorded and ready to watch, fresh, and I with no knowledge of who won or what happened. If I stop for gas, I have to hum with my fingers in my ears as I go into the gas station, for fear of hearing a score.

My family, friends, my little company, my country, traditions, the peace of belonging, all these things I am thankful for every year. I’m asking you now, what do you do for Thanksgiving? I hope your traditions bring a taste to your tongue, a tear to your eye, and hope to your heart, like mine.

Happy Thanksgiving from Gary, Paula, & Cat


Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tess Harper at the Inn!


One of the many fun things you get to be involved with running a B&B is folks wanting to film at your property. Need an 1890’s background? Hey, what about the Walnut Street Inn!

Today was one of those days. Tom Carter, Programming and Production Manager for Ozarks Public Television asked if they could film part of a documentary at the Inn called “Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Life Stories of a Pioneer Girl.” Any publicity is good (well, almost any) so I said sure. The stories written by Laura represent the good folks of the Ozarks the way they should be presented, with a quiet dignity and strength, so it is a project I wanted to be involved in from the beginning.

The fun part was the narrator of this production is Tess Harper! You know Tess from her years in the movie and television industry;Google her and you will instantly remember who she is; Silkwood, Crimes of the Heart, Ishtar, The Man In the Moon, The Jackal, etc, and lately – No Country for Old Men. But my most lasting memory was her first big hit opposite Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies, a quiet, amazing story about a fallen country singer. There is a scene in that movie, toward the end, where Robert and Tess are working in the vegetable garden in west Texas… It touches me every time.

Anyway - Tess has stayed at the Inn several times, so it was good to see her again. She attended MSU and is a great spokesperson for the theater department and other local causes. I’m a little star struck, but she always loosens me up with her charm, beauty, and un-pretentious grace.
The film will be aired on Ozarks Public Television around March of next year and will be out on DVD at the same time.

Being an innkeeper has its risks and frustrations, but they are outweighed by the rewards that come our way, through our guests and visitors. There is a verse in the Bible, well known to Innkeepers everywhere. My wife, Paula, just sent me a new version from the Message Translation. It reads:

Be ready with a meal or a bed when it's needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!
Hebrews 13:2




Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Just Down the Road" WSI on KC TV!

This week a television show called “Just Down the Road” out of Kansas City came and filmed a piece about a road trip from Kansas City to the Walnut Street Inn and the Springfield area. The company and their work can be seen at www.justdowntheroad.net. They have 6 episodes of this travel show in the can, and hope to have it edited and on the air in the spring. It will be posted on line as well. You can see one of their shows through a link on their website by clicking on "Watch Online" on the left of the opening page. The hosts, Jeremy Wood and Diane Robertson, were fun and interested in the Walnut Street Inn’s history as well as the fun stuff to do around the Springfield area. When the episode is finished and available on line, I will send you a notice…as long as I don’t look too dorky in my face time in front of the camera. If I do, this will be the only mention of this TV program!

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is there a ghost at the Walnut Street Inn?

Last night we had 4 ghost hunters here at the Walnut Street Inn looking for our ghost. While we have had 3 sightings by guests, and two bizarre encounters by staff (including me)we can't get her to perform on que. Last night's paranormal activity reporters had several strange things happen (their fan came on, something standing behind them in a photo, their camcorder shut off the minute they left the room)but no face to face encounters. I guess I'm glad. I would have liked to call one up for them, but having a spirit in the house might scare some people away. I'm here 7 days a week, and I have never found a house to be more inviting and at peace than this one. Many families have graced our rooms since it was finished in 1884, and if there is a spirit present, they are a friendly ghost, at peace with their location.
Our ghost hunters from last night had a great time, and according to the note they left in the room journal, to celebrate the trip, they "all got tattoos to remember our night in Springfield." Now who says we don't leave an endellable mark on our guests! Come on down and see for yourself. And if you want, I'll tell you the stories.

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sometimes you gotta sleep around...

This past week was slow, so for the owner, you don't work less, you work more. When the Inn is full you have enough income to have a full staff. Things are hopping, phones are ringing, folks are checking in, making dinner plans, asking questions, staff is coming and going, cussing and discussing, the kitchen is the happening place. But when there are few guest checking in, it all slows down, and I have to call off the employees. This hurts, me and them. But you do what you have to do to keep the doors open.
So, all that said to say, if I'm the only one around, it is still busy. Even when guest are not checking in, the phone is ringing, deliveries and enquires are ringing the doorbell, repair work is being done, painting, painting, painting, always to be done when you have three, 100+ year old buildings. I swear, the paint jumps off after just two years...any way, and you are the only one there to do it all. So I decided this would be a good time to sleep around. Every innkeeper should do this, and most do. You pack your bag, pick a room you haven't been in in a while and you check-in, just like a guest. You unpack, spread out your stuff on the sink, pack away your cloths, shoes, snacks, and settle in for at least two nights. This is when you find out things like, there is not enough room to spread out your bathroom stuff, there is too much light coming in the curtain, the bed is too hard, or too soft, the clock ticks too loud, or the digital numbers are too bright, all things that the guest notice, but don't mention because it is a small thing. You become your own worst critic.
Well, this time I checked in to the Carver Room on the first floor of the main house. I won't tell you the things I wanted to change, but I will tell you it is a great sleeping room; dark, cool, quiet (as an urban location gets), firm, even matress, and just enough air flow to help you snuggle, grabbing another 30 minutes of sleep in the morning. And the commute distance, for me at least, about 15 feet.

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

The Walnut Street Inn

The Walnut Street Inn
the Inn is made up of three 100+ year old buildings.

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