Ten years ago, before I started a website, or knew what blogging was all about, I was an innkeeper. My husband Bob and I bought a beautiful 10-room inn in southwestern New Hampshire, an area known as the Monadnock region. I won’t tell you which inn we bought, only that looking back on it, it was exhilaration and fear all wrapped into one.
The Monadnock area comprises some of New Hampshire’s prettiest towns, Keene, Swanzey, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Rindge, New Ipswich and Fitzwilliam to name a few. Real Currier and Ives towns, the types that immediately come to mind when you say the words “New England.” A ride down a country road for seven or eight miles until you come to another town “center”, that’s how these little towns are connected one to another. Each downtown has a bank and a library, a historical society and trendy little coffee shops, a garden center and of course, the proverbial white church complete with tall steeple.
When we arrived in New Hampshire it didn’t take us long to realize that the inn was in terrible shape. Once our initial unpacking was done we began to realize how neglected the guest rooms were. It wasn’t just the dust on the dressers either; with buckets of water and sponges, brooms and cloths, Bob and I would literally descend on one guest room at a time and starting with the walls we would scrub and wash every corner, every wall and window, pulling out all of the furniture, vacuuming in places the vacuum hadn’t been in years, and washing curtains and comforters until each room took on a fresh, scrubbed look; its pretty patina returned to it.
Then, on to the next guest room.
It was such fun to rearrange rooms; to bring in my own, what would you call them, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac? Lamps and books filled corners that suddenly took on soft, warm glows; extra fluffy towels and jars of night-creams, soaps and shampoo were always waiting for our next guests.
As the months rolled by I loved the idea of color-coordinating hand-knit afghans with each guest room. It was a big undertaking, but something that I enjoyed doing in the evening once guests were settled in for the night or no longer needed us as they headed out to their various weddings or reunions or wherever else they headed out to.
Afghans can be knit in many different yarns; there’s acrylic, of course, but also wool and cotton. Whether you choose a soft yarn, or prefer something bulky or chunky or even very lacy, each afghan is decidedly your creation, definitely something you won’t see somewhere else! 😉
There were weekends we were VERY busy. Summers and Fall were a given with booked weekends, but Winter, especially the first winter we were there, could also be very engaging.
It had been some time since New England had seen a good snowy winter; at least two years had gone by (we were told) that there had been very little in the way of measurable snow. But, just a mere ten days or so after we arrived it began to snow. It was early November (around the 9th, I think) and every morning we would awake to at least two to three inches of new snow, interspersed with the larger amounts of eight or nine inches. It was EVERY day and it was unrelenting.
Talk about living through a real New England winter! Then by early December we started getting those big blows, you know 15 – 18 inches, then two feet, just for good measure. And in the mornings the thermometer would say “minus 20 degrees”. Minus twenty! And that was the temperature, not the wind chill! Outside, cars and trucks just kept chugging along as usual. Because to New Englander’s, this is usual! Plows would keep the roads clear at all hours of the day and night; it seemed they never stopped passing by and they never stopped to sleep!
Once snow layered the ground, and the ski resorts were operating on real snow, not the blown-in versions, guests started pouring in. They came for the smaller downhill ski resorts and a very popular cross-country ski place in the next town down. Summers were for climbing Mt. Monadnock, winters were for enjoying all the skiing that was available.
Mornings were busy; with ten rooms full up, we could have upwards of 20 people and more, with the extra beds in our suites. Hot coffee and teas, blueberry french toast, crisp bacon and baked eggs, fruit salad, lemon souffle pancakes, pumpkin or cranberry breads, “real” maple syrup and raw milk from the dairy farm next door; our guests never went away hungry!
We would love having two full dining rooms for breakfast. I can recall before even my first guests would appear for breakfast at 8:00 a.m. I would walk through and make sure each table had everything it should; tweak a napkin here, light a candle there, have the classical music at just the right volume, re-arrange the hot muffins once again and drop liquid potpourri into the ring around the light bulb for that cinnamon or sweet apple aroma, which left guests wondering where that sweet smell was coming from. (I never did tell!)
That first winter we were SO busy every weekend, but inevitably there were days when we had no one in the inn. Laundry was done, beds and baths were re-cleaned and made anew, vacuuming was finished and all there was left to do was to walk through the rooms.
The inn ran on half radiators and half electric heat registers. (That’s RAD-iators for all you Mid-Atlantic folks, and RAY-diators for those out New Hampshire way!) Most of the rooms near to the common rooms were older and relied on the radiators for heat. Floors were wide-pine planks with throw rugs and there were shades and pullback curtains on the windows. One of the rooms right off the main entrance had a large radiator in it and I LOVED visiting there on a quiet evening and sitting on the twin bed nearest the front windows, where the candles burned brightly, just listening to the steam wending its way through the pipes, the quiet whistle at times of that warm heat that enveloped me entirely as I bent over the windowsill.
On frigid winter nights, it was one of my favorite things to do!
Then, up the stairs, where one of the treads always loved to creak loudly, to the second floor. Two guest rooms in front, three more in back, with a long hall that ran from one end of the house to the other. Candles in the windows up here, too; and an occasional candle sconce in the wall. Quiet seemed to live here in these old walls, and a contentedness as well. I always contended that there was the “spirit” of one of the owner’s family living there in the inn with us. For more on that, read this blog post.
She was a gentle, loving soul who made her presence known to me early on, and also to a few of my guests, too! I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before, and expect I may not ever again.
Lastly, there was a third-floor guest suite, replete with additional sleeping areas and a large sitting room with its own kitchenette. The view from there was sublime; you could see all the way to the silo’s of the farm fields which surrounded our inn. On freezing winter nights, the wind would howl down those fields not stopping until it literally slammed into our house! But, I figured if the place had withstood these calls of Nature for over one hundred years, it would continue to do so while we were living there.
In time we moved on from our Inn. Circumstances turned out to not be in our favor, and rather than allow them to swallow us whole, we were able to sell the place in a record four months time! (Usually businesses like ours sell, on average, in 2-3 years.)
Living in an old house was certainly a challenge, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world! We worked harder there than anyplace else we’ve been, but we had to. It was OUR business, our reputation on the line, our good name that our guests would take with them when they left, and hopefully would return. Many of them did.
In the quiet times, I continued to knit for my guest rooms. Nothing fancy or spectacular, you see, just pretty, and practical for nights when you’re far from home and a cozy afghan will make you feel like everything is going to be okay.
Knitting has always been a part of my life. Maybe that’s so because I can take it wherever I go. Wherever I live. In whatever mood I happen to be in. For whatever circumstance today throws at me. It’s something to DO, and when you’re done doing, you have something to show for it. Knit and purl, yarn-over and knit two together. Cast on and bind off. Choose your colors and your yarn. Decide which pattern and which needles. A lot like life.
Go for it.
As always, take your knitting to heart.