Nov 29

“You Should Write a Book!”

 

 

 

Header Post

Jan 26

Cleaning Staff Challenges for Bed & Breakfast Owner

Every year I face the same challenge: How do I find reliable people to do the daily cleaning, laundry and bed-making here at the Habberstad House Bed and Breakfast? Every year one or more of our cleaning ladies exits for one reason or another. Reasons range from “I’m 65 years old now and my back can’t take working so much. I’ll need to cut back to 2 days a week” to “I’m getting a divorce and need to work full time at my old job where I have full paid vacation, sick time and health coverage” to “I don’t need to work anymore” to “I need my summers off so I don’t have to get daycare for the kids” and on and on. So here comes the 2015 version of the same old, same old. I started out by letting my current cleaning lady team know, asking them to put the word out to their friends and extended families (in this small town everyone seems to be related by marriage or divorce, so there’s a long reach to “putting the word out”) that we could use some more help to fill in the gaps. Here we end up needing cleaning help 7 days a week from May through October. It’s best to have 2 people working together to get everything done between 10 AM and 3 PM, which is ideal, because guests tend to try to check in early around 3 PM anyway, they have to get home for their kids who are getting our of school, and because the cleaning ladies have had enough of the work by then anyway. In spite having 2 washer/drier combos, laundry is a major task, given that we have up to 6 guest rooms worth of bed linens, lots and lots of white (often badly stained) towels and 3 sets of bathrobes that need to be dealt with. Making beds is not easy on the back, day in and day out. And cleaning the 3 two-person whirlpool tubs to my satisfaction takes time and agility. I provide all sorts of make-your-life-easier cleaning equipment to make dusting in high or low places easy to do, not require getting down on your hands and knees to wash floors, and so forth. I have had the occasional older cleaning lady who insists on cleaning the kitchen floor and other floors that old-fashioned way, with a bucket of water, toothbrush, scrub brush and countless rags, a process which takes quadruple the time and is very hard on the knees, and is not worth the effort by yielding that much cleaner a floor, in my opinion. I can see that once or twice a season, but the modern floor cleaning devices do just fine, and those old-fashioned-minded cleaning ladies no longer make it past the interview process.

We make the job attractive enough, offering a very good hourly rate, usually starting at around $14.00 an hour and working up to $20.00 an hour. I’ve even paid extra for working on Sunday, something I may have to resort to again in 2015, since Sunday is a tough day to get help. Unfortunately, we usually need to turn over all 6 guest rooms on Sundays. We also offer a cheerful environment, a positive attitude, paid lunch break, direct deposit payroll processing through a payroll service every two weeks, full workers comp, and the usual payroll-related benefits. We don’t offer health benefits, especially since everyone is very part time and we only have 3-4 people on payroll at any time. What is hard is that we’re a seasonal employer, since we are closed in the winter, and that means people have to pick up other jobs to carry them through to our next season, usually May through October. As the result, we lose some people to other jobs.

We’ve had high school students, and the challenge is their need for flexibility. And their need for training on how to clean. Enough said there.

We had a lovely Christmas dinner at a local restaurant for our cleaning staff last December, and included their spouse/significant other in the evening. We also gave them a box of Godiva chocolates as a gift. A nice time was had by all. Didn’t get a single thank you note, though. Times they are a-changing.

Well, enough rambling. I’ve posted a help-needed request on Facebook for my local friends to again, “Pass the word, please!” I am hoping I won’t have to put an ad in the local newspaper. That brings some interesting results that are not always the best use of my interviewing time. Flyers in the local bank and restaurants, grocery stores and down at the library are next.

Every year it works out, some seasons being harder on my blood pressure than other years, but I’m hopeful that 2015 will end up working out as great as 2014 did when it comes to that important part of running a 6 guest room premier B&B like ours: finding good help. Wish me luck.

Apr 10

The women in your family share more than recipes

My mother, my daughters, my stepdaughter, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law have all influenced what and how I cook. This fact makes cooking so much more special, so filled with memories, so infused with affection, that the process is not a chore, but a true pleasure.

My mother was thrifty (a child of the Great Depression, raised by a no-nonsense mother who had to feed seven children), practical, intent on providing good nutrition, not particularly adventurous, but serving diverse dishes. She cut recipes out of magazines, newspapers, jotted them down on scraps of paper, all taped into notebooks or hand-written on 3 X 5 cards and stuffed into a recipe box. She kept discontinued library recipe books, adding them to her collection. She prized Canadian author, Edna Staebler’s Old Order Mennonite recipe books as well as her sister-in-law’s publications of recipes that featured familiar foods from Kitchener-Waterloo, in Canada, where Mom was born and raised. I still use these books, the pages stained and marked, dog-eared and falling open to my favorites.

Not everything she made for dinner was enjoyable, though. “Eat your liver!” she would admonish when we were growing up. Tending to overcook it, that liver was not an enjoyable item. My older brother and I deftly concealed pieces inside our metal milk cups, pretending that we had eaten all the dried-out washrag morsels. Ugh. We thought we were pulling the wool over my mother’s eyes, but hardly.

Snacks before dinner consisted of a piece of raw turnip, a wedge of head lettuce, a carrot or a cup of raisins. No sweets. No crackers. No soda pop. We rarely got Kool-Aid. Each morning the tablespoon of cod liver oil had a taste that I burped up for the rest of the day. When Mom discovered mint-flavored cod liver oil, it was a whole new adventure in taste that stayed with me until after bedtime.

She enjoyed making Italian food, since my grandfather was from Calabria, in southern Italy. Her mother was German and Polish, so sauerkraut rounded out our menu regularly. As a family, we went strawberry and raspberry picking, and frozen berries, homemade jelly (with the paraffin wax on the top of the sealed jars), and fresh berry pies were forthcoming. We would head for the markets and bring back bushels of corn on the cob that had to be husked and then blanched and frozen, along with huge sacks of green beans that had to be French-cut before being sealed in bags for the freezer. She grew her own tomatoes, green ones ripening on her windowsill. Varieties of yellow and green beans trailed up the string supports in her garden, alongside the carrots, beets, lettuces and onions. Mom loved her pomegranate tree that grew in the back yard at their winter home in Arizona, making jelly every year. We still ceremoniously put the same unopened jar of it on our table every Christmas, and with it came the memories of Mom and those pomegranates.

We were always forced to try something new, including the eggplant and the dandelion greens salad. Not my favorites, although the beef tongue was a treat, believe it or not. This was a very economical cut of meat back then and can be found in some grocery stores, but it costs a whole lot more these days. Her chicken cacciatore, meat loaf, roast lamb or beef, roasted potatoes and corn (soggy from being frozen on the cob) stand out in my memory. Dessert was canned or fresh fruit. Maybe some ice cream. And a pie or a cake on Sundays. I don’t ever recall having store-bought donuts or the like in the house growing up.

I think of my mother with great affection when I prepare anything remotely resembling her food. Her coffee parties, which always featured a simple dessert such as pound cake and whipped cream, were full of laughter and people smoking cigarettes. Whenever I make pound cake, cut up strawberries, make a pie, or whip up some cream for my guests, I hear her laughter inside my head, and a smile creeps onto my face. I feel her presence. She taught me to try everything and to feed healthy food to my family. And to never waste anything.

My daughter Anna is a foodie. She taught me how to roast a red bell pepper over the gas burner of the stove. She introduced me to slowing down in the kitchen in order to finely chop the fresh herbs, dice the sweet potatoes and make a gently simmered sauce. Organic ingredients take up a large part of her cabinet space. Gourmet coffee beans ground daily are a must-have. Trader Joe’s is on her weekly car-route. We’re always sharing recipes. I look forward to traditional holiday dinners at her home because there is very little traditional about it, just great flavors and new combinations, and always with a great bottle of wine.

Daughter Erin worked for several years at Let’s Dish!, located in the Twin Cities, and where members come together to prepare healthy family dinners in a centralized commercial kitchen, using pre-measured ingredients, under supervision of staff members like Erin. They are provided cooking preparation directions and a week’s worth of food. At the end of the session, they leave with their packaged meals, all ready to freeze at home, and thaw in the refrigerator when leaving for work. After a busy day, these meals can be cooked quickly. Daughter Erin believes in economical meals that are easily prepared. No cutting, dicing and chopping, because she had a hungry husband and kids ready to eat. Get it done. She taught me to appreciate being organized and to keep it simple. She does give me grief when I prepare dinner with as many as four vegetables, and I laugh when I hear her voice in my head.

Daughter-in-law Molly knows how to put on a production, rounded out by a fantastic dessert (or several to choose from) for a major family get-together. She is always ready to jump in and help when visiting us, although granddaughter Kira now competes for her time when we’re prepping the feast. Her Seafood Dump combines lots of great food and a simple way to serve the lobster claws, sea scallops giant shrimp, boiled corn on the cob and boiled potatoes, all cooked in big pots on the stove—just dump it out on a table that is covered with big sheets of plastic. Then dig in, truly family-style! She taught me to not be intimidated when preparing a BIG meal.

Step-daughter Jill is very concerned about food sensitivities, allergies and healthy eating on a tight budget. She has been vegetarian (on and off) and gluten free (as much as possible), blaming bad food choices for not feeling energetic, bloated or at her best. The Paleo Diet seems to help her, and I’ve found that eliminating certain foods is not a bad idea. I would love to look as good as she does!

Sister-in-law Mary is much more sensitive to certain foods than Jill, over a longer period of time, and has demonstrated a fierce determination dedicated to maintaining a diet that keeps her feeling good. Fresh produce is a hallmark, and is raw whenever possible. No meat, no gluten, no dairy. Eggs are OK. Legumes are a staple. I’m amazed when I watch her pull together a vast variety of delicious ingredients when she comes to visit, creating a power-packed tasty meal. That creativity is called on whenever we have guests with what I call “food issues,” and we can have a diverse sampling of diets at any single breakfast seating.

Thank you to all of my family’s women who have influenced my cooking, and who nourish me in uncountable ways!

Mar 13

Small Chocolate Cake Recipe From My Mother’s Vintage Cookbook

Many of our guests are coming to stay at the Habberstad House Bed and Breakfast to celebrate a special occasion, like an anniversary, birthday, honeymoon, getting engaged, even getting divorced (rare). Sometimes they want flowers, a bottle of champagne or a favorite bottle of wine , and we have our Romance Package, which includes those things. But sometimes just a small cake will do the trick. I used to get them from Brett, our pastry chef downtown at the Pastry Shoppe, which he does a nice job with, adding those professional patterns of buttercream frosting. I must admit that he is not always the most reliable, however, because he tends to forget, or even worse, writes the wrong frosting name on the cake. Like the time he made the cake for Mark but wrote “Happy Birthday Steve” on it. Mark happened to be married to a good friend of ours, so we took the chance at the last minute, hoping they’d get a kick out of it, and had Brett put a big “X” through the name Steve, and write “Mark” above it. It turned out great, with a lot of laughter, and a delicious cake to boot.

As an alternative to Brett’s small loaf-sized personal cake, I am making the “Small Chocolate Cake” that I first made when I was 14 years old. The recipe comes from the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Clover Leaf Cookbook, from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. It was my mother’s cookbook, very well-used, published in 1948. This book is actually available on a vintage books website in Canada, and I’m about to place an order for it! I’m so excited to have a usable copy because it is imbued with so many memories for me.

This recipe is so easy! My mother baked it in a bread-loaf pan, which is the perfect size for a couple celebrating that special occasion. A butter-cream frosting will work well, and if you have some frosting tips in your kitchen, you can spoon the frosting into a zip-lock plastic bag, cut the corner off the far end and squeeze a written message out onto the finished product. A personalized small cake is a lovely and inexpensive gift from you to your guests as they are being shown their room or placed there for when they return from having had dinner out at a restaurant. You can charge for it, or not…

Here is the recipe as it appears in the cookbook. I used to grease the loaf-pan and fit wax paper that I cut to size inside the pan so that the cake slipped out easily. Nowadays I just use baking spray. The recipe is provided by Mrs. (Florence) Huehn, who was my mother’s matron of honor at her wedding to my father.

SMALL CHOCOLATE CAKE

1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa
3 tbsp. lard or butter
1 cup boiling water
Vanilla

Beat egg. Cream with cocoa, sugar and shortening. Add dry ingredients and lastly boiling water. Bake at 350 to 400 deg. F., for 20 to 25 minutes.
Mrs. H. Huehn

Mar 09

Steps to Simplify My Life as a Bed and Breakfast Owner: Step Two

Looking at the things that have caused me the greatest aggravation over the years, I would say that crashed computers are ranked at top of the list. One a scale of 1-10, with 10 being near to a complete melt-down, mentally, emotionally and psychologically, our series of 3 computer crashes over the 13 years we’ve been in business have brought me to a 10. The perfect aggravation score.

My husband Dave and I finally got it. A Macintosh, that is. Our last computer crash was in 2012, and that HP laptop had cost a pretty penny when we got it about 3 years prior. But the motherboard died and when the motherboard dies, there is not much left but tears. Learning how to use the whole Apple technology had intimidated me so much that I was paralyzed, but I eased into it over a couple years with an i-Pod, then an i-Phone and then an i-Pad. Smooth sailing with the Mac, after a few pointers from our friendly local computer whiz. And software. Oh, yes, we had to replace most if not all of our software so that they were compatible with the Mac. Expensive. But worth every penny.

So here’s my simplification:

Firstly, keeping my computer continuously backed up has made my life less cluttered with fear.

Secondly, My Mac has a big screen and makes it simpler to see what I’m doing.

Third, our calendars are synchronized on the Cloud. We can make reservations when the phone rings while away from the house, because we can access our calendar. And thus far, the Cloud has not disappointed us. In fact, it has simplified my life. Knock on wood.

Whatever you use for your computer, Simplify your Life as a Bed and Breakfast Owner by backing up your calendar and other important data (like your bookkeeping) every time you shut down your computer. You’ll thank yourself.

Feb 14

Steps to Simplify My Life as a Bed and Breakfast Owner: Step One

My life has gotten way too complicated, by my own making, and it’s time to simplify it.

My father used to say that he had to get something done. He had a lot to do, even post-retirement from his job as a Professor at the University. By then he owned three properties; his home in St. Paul, MN, a log cabin that he had built on a Wisconsin lake, and a townhouse in a retirement community in Green Valley, Arizona. And all those properties created a lot to do.

Over the years, he kept them all going, with the repairs. I don’t ever recall him enjoying life, but then, he was a child of the Great Depression. I don’t think he ever really enjoyed anything. But he took pride in his hard work. Something about my father, as the years passed, was that it took longer for him to complete the work he set out to do in a day. He accomplished less. He napped, dozing in the chair, and he went to bed earlier, slept just a little later in the morning. It wasn’t by choice, but by necessity. His body and mind were simply not capable of going full-tilt continuously anymore.

As I look back, I see myself determined to “get something done” in a day. But it seems like I try to get too much done, setting unrealistic goals to my day’s agenda. In so doing, I invite stress and frustration. I make mistakes. I feel caught in a web of my own spinning. I tend to put off the things that give me the most personal satisfaction, like chatting with my husband about whatever comes into my mind, like walking for 20 minutes, like having lunch with a friend, like chatting with my children and grandchildren over the phone. Before I know it, the day has sped by and I am feeling strangely dissatisfied. Instead of the mantra, “get something done”, I’ve adopted over the years a variation that’s more like “I got a lot done!” And that was at the expense of something else. It also led to increased self-induced stress, and burnout.
Owning a bed and breakfast is an invitation for over-achievers to out-do themselves. In reflection, I have seen the error of my ways, and am working instead to simplify. With that focus, with that philosophy, a mission statement can serve as a guide for my daily and long-term planning in maintaining a successful B&B business. This series of my blog will explore steps to bring simplicity to my world.

Step One: Create a short mission statement, a single paragraph, that reflects the philosophy of “Simplicity in all things.” Type it, print it, maybe frame it. Tack it up or hang it where you can look at it regularly; next to your computer, on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator.

My blog will share with you what happens as I explore the effects of attaining simplicity in my life as a B&B owner, and we can see how it all shakes out together. I invite your comments, your stories. Let’s journey on.

Feb 07

Toilet Paper Roll Loading: Over vs Under?

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Feb 07

Bed and Breakfast Owners – Prevent Burnout! Take a Vacation!

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After an intense 2013 season, we planned a trip away to a tropical sunny paradise. It was recommended by a friend whose daughter has built a house there. We found a whole-house rental via VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) that sounded like It met our requirements for king sized bed, swimming pool, reliable water and electricity, relative solitude, good view of the ocean, a kitchen we could cook in, and WIFI internet access that was not subject to frequent outages. Where? In the mountainside surrounding San Juan del Sur, on the southern Pacific Coast of Nicaragua.

We were ready for a slight change of pace from our usual vacation spot. Nicaragua also sounded cheaper than our favorite spot just south of Nicaragua in Ojochal, Costa Rica. That tiny town is home to ex-pats who have established an fantastic restaurants that feature cooking from Indonesia, Italy, France, Italy and Germany to supplement the usual pizza and local Tico family-run chow-stops. Five trips there left us feeling pretty darned comfortable. Sure, we had experienced problems with reliable water, electricity and WIFI access, and the back roads accessing our house rentals were at times long and arduous, but we liked it. However, prices seemed to be getting out of hand, and so we were looking for a change. No, we don’t speak more than about 15 words of Spanish, but it had never been a problem for us in Costa Rica.

Part of dealing with the stresses of a typical intense B&B season is the ability to look forward to what has become a month-long far-away vacation for us, with complete detachment from people, a chance to write, do some day-trips, identify some birds we haven’t seen before,  think about things other than the  B&B, and to read a few good books. Heck, now with our iPads in hand, a couple sets of Bose earphones, and a NetFlix streaming subscription, I was going to be in heaven.

I uploaded the Nicaraguan map from the internet onto our GPS and carefully stashed the device with my other electronic devices and digital camera equipment into a carry-on backpack. Minimal clothing, some must-have cooking equipment (tongs, knife sharpener, potato peeler, grater, zip-lock baggies, stuff like that) that I knew would likely be absent from our rental home kitchen. Plus the usual other necessities like prescriptions, anti-itch creams, insect repellent, SPF 30 sunscreen that we’ll probably never use, Aloe gel that we will need as the result, hygiene stuff, all in small quantities. Anything we don’t have, and need once we get there, we’d have to pick up or live without. Passport and license photocopies, in color, stashed.

We contacted the bank, our credit card companies, arranged for internet payment of our usual bills, arranged for Patty, our wonderful friend and cleaning lady, to watch our doggie Lena and our house, got our necessary immunizations. Our friend and local kayak/canoe outfitter, Kenny, agreed take care of getting us to and from the airport. Itinerary e-mailed to family members, check. Car insurance, check. Car rental, check. All systems go. We were closed for three months, and ready to rock and roll for the first of those 3 months. Ready to detach and realign ourselves, re-balance and re-energize. I suggest some such getaway for every B&B owner. To someplace that makes you feel gone, safe, happy. I would not suggest unstable areas of the world like in the Middle East. We were getting away from the coldest winter Minnesota has experienced in recent history. Someplace wonderful, like Nicaragua.

So here we are, 3 weeks into our vacation. One more week to go. And it’s been a mixed bag, to be honest.

I am more relaxed, yes. I have had exactly zero exercise, but my blood pressure has dropped to 114/51. That’s pretty darned good. We have taken a daytrip to the city of Granada, which has a reputation for being quite a 15th century Spanish colonial hotspot for culture and museums. We also traveled by car to nearby Masaya and the surrounding little villages with their local artisans, volcanic geological scenery. That trip was pretty benign in terms of adventure.

I almost got thrown out of a modern grocery store in Granada for taking a photo of a Mennonite woman. A regular Mennonite woman, not Old Order, which is known for avoiding any photos of themselves because they’re considered graven images, which is bad, I’ve heard. I came to find out later that the Mennonites in the area are hiding an American lesbian-turned-straight woman who abducted her daughter from the USA in order to escape a court ruling that awarded her lesbian partner shared custody of that daughter. She fled, with the Mennonites’ help, to the shelter and protection of Nicaragua, where now the FBI is relentlessly searching for her. So I can understand the sudden alarm and reaction of the Mennonite woman and her husband when I snapped a shot or two of them in the grocery store. They must be just trying to stay off the grid with the FBI.

Our stay in a less-than-wonderful hotel in Granada was uneventful, except that we noticed that the locals in the park across the street (who were selling their wares) and in the hotel breakfast service area were maybe just a touch disinterested in us Gringos unless there was a direct financial benefit. To them.

We got a little daytrip in, finding our way to the National Park featuring a view of the active volcano, one of several in Nicaragua. Except that we couldn’t see down into the crater that day because of weather conditions. Oh, well. We did get a couple photos of the area and of volcanic rock with graffiti.

Anyway, we got back to the rental house and stayed pretty close to home until it was time to go to pick up Daughter Jill at the Managua International Airport, predicted to be no more than 3 hour drive. She would be staying with us for a week. We started out early, around 8 AM, armed with a couple PB&J sandwiches for breakfast, bottled water, GPS functional and back-up road map in hand. On the way, we were stopped twice by local National Police for traffic violations that didn’t seem to apply to the local Nicaraguans, but only to us Gringo’s who happened to be driving rental cars. It was pretty traumatic, being motioned to the side of the road, asked to hand over our driver’s license, lectured at in a foreign language that we did not comprehend, and then commanded to hand over cash. We made the mistake opening up Dave’s wallet, showing the cash contents, both American and Nicaraguan (Cordoba’s) currency, and the Police Officer seemed to openly salivate. What should have been a simple 100 Cordoba payout ended up being 4 of the 500 Cordoba bills, the equivalent of $80.00 US. And that was for just one of the two stops that day. A few minutes later, a young female National Police officer motioned us to the side of the road again, and we were nailed for an additional $20.00 US for some vague transgression that we could not comprehend. My blood pressure was climbing. Dave was strangely silent. We continued our journey to pick up Daughter Jill at the airport in Managua.

Jill arrived without incident, a slightly delayed flight of no consequence, and we headed back to Granada, about 40 minutes from the airport in Managua, for an overnight there. We enjoyed a step up stay at a premier hotel, located a block away from the less-than-premier spot we had stayed in a week earlier. This one was about the same price but had premier service (Hotel Plaza Colon). We enjoyed a great dinner, a nice stroll through the central park and a lovely breakfast. The buffet breakfast service was impeccable, although watching our server pick his nose over in the corner was a little disconcerting. Something any B&B owner would take note of.

Finding our way out of Granada was difficult, because we found ourselves on the narrow, thronging street that contained every type of conceivable merchant, stretching about 8 blocks, and filled with people who could care less that we were trying to get through in our white SUV. We did not run over anyone, by some miracle, and finally found ourselves on the road out of town, where once again, we were pulled over by the National Police. Peering into our car,, which they had already obviously identified as a rental vehicle, they found their basis for yet another “fine”: Daughter Jill, in the back seat, did not have a seat belt on. Despite her pleadings, we handed over our third fine in less than 48 hours.

We did manage to do some local sightseeing before returning to the rental house. But now we were ready to stay put for awhile. Off the highways. Away from the National Police, which seemed to be targeting the Caucasians, especially those driving rental cars that had those bright red stickers in the upper right corner of their windshields, visible from a distance.  THs is something that was substantiated when we did some internet research later on. But, what the heck. We have spent most of our time here ever since, rather quietly. We’ve enjoyed the sunshine and the solitude, as we have re-grouped.

Some challenges have been those Nicaraguan Police, as well as the dreadful road conditions up to our rental house (I call them jaw-breaking roads), and the critters. I am not a wuss. A few bugs and spiders don’t make me crazy, but the snake on our porch was a little over the top for me.

I must say though, that was balanced out by the amazing visit from about 14 Howler monkeys this afternoon, moving through the bamboo trees just feet from us at the house. The sunset view of the ocean, and the sight of dolphins and a spouting whale in the distance are now lodged in our memories.

Amazingly, the WIFI, electricity and running water have all worked here, unlike our experience in Costa Rica. In our business, staying in touch through the internet is a plus. Can’t really get away from those reservation requests, right?  The solitude has worked its wonders. We’ll be ready to head back when it’s time. Back to Minnesota’s below-zero temperatures. Well, not ready, but maybe more prepared.

 

Jan 30

The First 6 Months – a Look-Back on a Self-Published Book Launch

A race to the finish line! Book publication! Launch parties! Six months later and now what?

Straining to cross the finish line during the hectic months of July, August, September and October, I came to realize that I hadn’t finished a race, but instead have begun the next chapter of my journey. It’s a familiar theme.

Behind the Door Marked “Private”: Confessions of a Small Town Bed and Breakfast Owner  is now out there, in people’s hands, being read. It’s on Amazon.com, both as a hard copy and as a digital version. It’s also being ordered from people in Canada and across the USA via Facebook requests and on my web site. I’m getting e-mails from people telling me how much they love it. Very nice.

Yes, the launch party was a great success, and the Lanesboro Arts Center continued with steady sales through the Christmas selling season. The collaborative event with Chef Stephen Larson at his restaurant, QUARTER/quarter wasn’t particularly well-attended, but it was still a success, thanks to the Harmony Arts Board. Every author should get in touch with those small-town Arts Boards to help set up such events; but what about the independent book-sellers? My first bookstore event at The Book Shelf in Winona, about 40 minutes away, was held on a particularly nasty winter night, Minnesota-style. But people showed up. In fact, that particular reading/signing event unearthed a long-lost friend who happens to live in Winona nowadays. She brought her 90-something year old mother who was using a walker, and who had in her possession the very old registration ledger she used when she checked guests into her little hotel some 50 or 60 years ago. Cost of a night’s stay was pretty reasonable: $1.40. But it did not include breakfast. That was extra. Thanks to Chris for hosting the event, and for continuing to sell my books in his great store. Along with most independent booksellers, he takes great pride in selling books that you can hold in your hand, turn the pages and make scribbling notes in the margins if you are so inclined. None of that digital book selling, thank you very much. And I love him for it.

Hand-delivering the official report to the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council secretary, having made the 45-minute drive up to Rochester to make sure it got into her hands by the 30-day deadline, was a huge weight off my shoulders. Receiving the letter from SEMAC stating that they had officially accepted my report with no further questions was amazing. I could hear the final ticking of a timer that had been wound up for a nine-month countdown, with the “DING!” releasing me to sigh in relief. Thank you for the money, SEMAC! Thank you to the Minnesota State Legislature! Thank you to the McKnight Foundation! You’re all tops! To be seen as not only a writer, an author, a story-teller, but also to be supported as an artist – now that’s really something. Really supported. Not just on paper, not just with words, but with actual money. Wow. Lots of thanks are running through my head and my heart.

Speaking of thanks, well, the thanks have been given, with hugs, kisses, thank-you notes, letters, and checks written. Everyone involved has gone back to their other stuff. You know…we all have things to do. Sarah, who had the patience of a saint, is out there doing her photography business. If I need her for something or other, she’s right there, on my shoulder, giving me the answer, pointing the way. My guardian angel. Eric is working the Amazon.com beat. Cathy is ready when I need more books shipped from the printers. Husband Dave tells guests about the book, which sits on the front desk in the foyer, on a nice bookstand. The cleaning ladies dust the front desk and shift the books around so they are highly visible when guests check in and check out, or when friends stop by. Thanks, folks!

As a side note, reviews are really a big deal. I appreciate it so much when people take the time and effort to post one! Getting people during the first month or two, before the official launch, who said they would read my book and post a review on Amazon.com and/or on my website was in many cases an exercise in futility. Even my own kids haven’t done it, and I have four of them, including my step-daughter Jill, plus the three spouses of my kids.  But on the other hand, the most unexpected people have posted reviews, like the owner of a Michigan B&B who identified with some of the tales I shared. I have lots of friends who shoot me e-mails, or who have enthusiastic kudos expressed in person while passing each other on the street, even on Facebook, but I guess it’s my challenge to get them all somehow integrated into the reviews sections that people read when making a decision whether or not to buy a book. That’s one of the tasks for the next six months…

Let the next six moths carry me on. Now that we are closed for three months, and I have a little time to unwind, I am looking forward to doing some pretty serious blogging, and to chatting about B&B ownership! Send me your questions, send me your comments, tell me about your stories. I will listen, commiserate, and probably offer unwanted advice, because that’s in my nature. Sigh.

Nancy

 

 

Nov 18

Awesome Almond Torte Recipe

Daughter Erin’s mother-in-law Bonnie is a self-sufficient woman who cooks everything from scratch, even her mayonnaise! Whenever I’ve had the chance to partake of her delicious Almond Torte for dessert at family gatherings, I’ve been pulled into tastebud heaven. Bonnie shared this very simple recipe with me, and our guests rave about it. Just this last weekend, they ate every bite off their plates, and proclaimed that it was “Perfection!” It’s too good to keep a secret, so here it is for everyone to share.

Almond Torte

 

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Line a 9″ spring-form pan with aluminum foil.  
  • Grease foil with spray oil (Pam).

Ingredients for the batter:

  • 3/4 cup of softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar for batter
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla
  • 2 tsp of almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour

Ingredients for the top:

  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp sugar

Directions:

  • Mix all batter ingredients together.
  • Spread batter into prepared pan – batter will be very thick.
  • Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds over batter, then 2 Tablespoons of sugar on top of them.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes
  • Cool, invert on plate – remove or peel off foil and then flip torte back on a serving platter.

Comments: I am going to try this recipe using an 8-inch spring-form pan next time I make it. My 9-inch spring-form pan is really 9 ½-inches, and I think it would be better if a little smaller. I will need to assess how that affects cooking time, though. I’ll post my findings! Let me know what you think of the recipe by posting your comments! Nancy

 

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