An Innkeeper's Dream
Blessings on State is a casually elegant all-suite Bed & Breakfast located in Jacksonville, Illinois, in the heart of the Midwest. It is this innkeeper's "Dream Come True!" Many steps along life's journey led to the decision to move from our home and hometown of 25 years to purchase this vintage mansion and open as a Bed and Breakfast in the spring of 2008. I love, love, love hosting guests, cooking, decorating, gardening - everything that goes along with being an innkeeper!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Quilted Northern and Puffs Plus

A blog about toilet paper and facial tissue? Really? Stay with me, here...

When we first opened Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast, it was a start up. We moved to this large home from a home with 850 square feet when we bought it more than 20 years before. Finishing a walk-out basement added more space, but it was still much smaller than this home. Much smaller. Very few of the furnishings our children had grown up with were a good fit for Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. We had to do a lot of shopping to furnish our B&B. We had to determine what shampoo to use, which towels we could afford, which sheets, etc. We also had a lot of marketing expenses, including brochures, a web site, etc. It was all brand new and a financial challenge. It was fun and exciting, but it was a challenge. What were the essentials? Where would we get the most return for our money? As the years have passed, my brain has learned to calculate expenses in "room nights." How many room nights will it take to pay for... ?

Furniture, draperies, and room-darkening window blinds were high expenditures. We wanted items that looked good and that fit the style of our 120-year-old home, a vintage mansion in the heart of the historic district. I'd collected things like china and serving pieces, and my buddy Terry had started giving me Christmas presents "for the B&B" a few years before we opened. Furnishing The B&B was a lot of fun, but also a very expensive proposition. With no real background, it was hard to project how many room nights we would fill to help pay the bills.

We needed to provide good guest amenities. We started with the best products we could afford, but after investing in our home and all the furnishings, money was very tight.

We bought sheets and towels on January clearance at JC Penney's and Macy's. We started out with an eight-cup coffee maker and a canister of coffee on the guest buffet. We ordered stylish, but inexpensive guest mugs screened with our Blessings on State logo. Then we upgraded to a one-cup version with pods. Not K-cups. We used "pods". I don't even remember the manufacturer. We bought specially bottled shampoo, boxed soap and bath salts from one of the less expensive suppliers that puts the name of your B & B on every label. And, we bought name brand Northern toilet paper and Puffs (and Kleenex) facial tissue. No house brands for us. It's true that "supplier" products offer more for your money, but I was determined to stick with the highest quality in those two areas. I guess it was one area in which I could exercise some control and I wanted guests to have at least the same quality product I wanted to use. (If a guest is committed to an expensive shampoo, they're likely to bring it with them, but they're not typically carrying in boxes of Kleenex.) I remember when a visiting innkeeper was staying with us and commented on the decision to offer "real" toilet paper. I'd never considered anything else. I couldn't afford really high-end sheets and towels, but I could buy quality tissues for a guest with a head cold.

Several years have passed, we have established our business, and and over the years the quality of our linens and other amenities have increased. Attending professional innkeeper conferences has provided connections with B&B suppliers that offer wholesale discounts to the trade. I believe that hotel and B&B linens should be high quality with regard to comfort, ease of care and durability, and now we're able to focus on those qualities. I still look for the highest quality at the best value. Today, both JC Penney and Macy's offer a high-end line of hotel linens, too. We currently provide our guests with Comphy Company sheets and Peacock Alley coverlets. Our guests have luxurious guest robes and high quality Turkish Towels. (We also sleep on Comphy sheets, and some of our guests have purchased them for their home use. Our towels may well be Turkish Towels, too, since we get the "retired" guest towels for our suite.) Our bath amenities are now from Gilchrist & Soames and today's guests receive a whole array of bath and body items when they stay with us. We use a Keurig coffee machine on the guest buffet and guests may choose from a wide assortment of coffees, teas, hot cocoa, etc. to use in their beautiful hand-thrown Deneen Pottery Blessings mugs. Over time we have increased the number of room nights we fill, which has allowed us to pay for these upgrades.

When you live in a 120+ year old home, there are always expenses. We just spent money on a major plumbing repair which involved replacing vintage pipes. There's always something. Care to guess how many room nights I'll need to fill to pay for redoing the front wraparound porch? Or how about how many it will take to replace the roof? Go ahead! Take a guess!

I'd prefer not to think about it.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Be My Valentine!

Valentine's Day brings back memories. When I was growing up, my grandma from upstate New York sent us annual Valentine's Day parcels. I remember receiving, in addition to valentines, a fine selection of rock hard brownies and cookies. I remember that she always made the effort to bake for us, and we always thanked her. We never wanted to discourage her, but it took a few days to get the package to us, and by that time the baked goods were a bit past their prime. 

I also remember decorating shoe boxes at elementary school to hold valentines from my classmates. It always took some time deciding which sentiment to give to which friend. I remember the delight in reading what each of my friends sent to my valentine box.

I taught school in Eastern Pennsylvania for three years before Glenn and I were married 35 years ago. We were engaged over Christmas vacation and wrote letters and spoke on the phone daily for the remainder of my final school year there. We invested a lot of time in our relationship even at the distance. We were separated by hundreds of miles on Valentine's Day, so we couldn't celebrate in person. I lived in an apartment, and somehow Glenn talked my apartment mate into hiding dime store valentines, complete with messages, throughout our apartment. What fun I had, finding and reading those funny and sweet messages from my husband-to-be. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Where's Abe? Looking for Lincoln

Happy Birthday to our 16th President!

Stay in our vintage mansion in the heart of the historic district as you follow in the steps of Abraham Lincoln in Jacksonville, Illinois. Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast is located on the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail, a driving tour that shares intriguing Abraham Lincoln stories unique to many communities throughout Illinois. Travel the circuit as you learn about Abraham Lincoln and the people and events he was connected to. Jacksonville hosts 10 Wayside Exhibits, a series of exhibits which highlight Lincoln's ties to our community. Many of these exhibits are part of the Voices of Jacksonville Audio Tour, with entertaining and educational dramatizations of stories about the local Lincoln connections.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My Heritage of Hospitality

Dad, Aunt Reet and Uncle Steve

I grew up in a stereotypical American family. Two parents, two kids, red brick ranch style home on a corner lot... my parents even drove a wood-sided station wagon!  It seemed that we knew everyone in our small town, and everyone knew us. We were strongly connected to our extended family and my family was actively involved in our church and in the community.

I first learned about hospitality from my parents and extended family. We didn't have fine hotels in town as I was growing up, so visitors often stayed in our home, eating meals with us. My parents held an annual New Year's Eve soup supper which was attended by several families we knew. My family was always heavily involved in the local Baptist church, and I've been to many church potlucks. Great chefs of the world have nothing on our Midwestern "Church Cooks." There was always a risk of duplication - I mean how many ways can you make deviled eggs? My dad was known for his Porterhouse Rolls, a recipe memorized as he worked his way through college in the university bakery. Church groups have a reputation for putting together great shared dinners where everyone is welcome, and it's always a time of great fellowship with one another. Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

We've Got a Gala for That!

Jacksonville has more galas than you can shake a stick at! I'm not a big gala girl, but I'm trying to be more involved, since most of them are fundraisers. As outgoing as I am, I'm still a bit intimidated by these soirees. I'm never sure what to wear. I never know who I'll sit with. (Glenn's not big on these events, and Val's still a little young.) Our friends Ron and Mary hosted us at the Grierson Gala for many years. I could handle that because our whole family was invited and we sat at their table. Valerie enjoyed the Civil War dances and even had her own Civil War ball gown, complete with hoop skirt!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Friend in Need

Olivia the therapy dog visited 
to keep me company during chemotherapy.

When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer I wondered what would happen with our Bed & Breakfast. Innkeeping had been my dream since our honeymoon in 1982. I knew that Glenn and Valerie would be stretched thin as they cared for me. What if I couldn't keep it going? The alternative was heart-wrenching and challenging to even consider.

I pondered and prayed and prayed and pondered. I put a note on Facebook that I was in a quandry. Offers of support came in immediately. "You're in my prayers." "I can't cook, but I sure can clean!" "I can greet guests." I'll clean your inn." "I cook a mean breakfast!" There were too many offers to track. I was on many prayer lists and certainly felt the power of prayer as I was going through treatment. I was a friend in need.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cancer Makes You Look Good

From family and friends to incoming Bed & Breakfast guests I'm meeting for the first time, all seemed to have the same response to knowing that I had Cancer... "You look GREAT!" Apparently, Cancer makes you look good. 

Here's what I've learned:
1) My hair fell out in clumps. Early in chemo, I'd touch my head and come away with a handful of hair. It was a big risk running a B&B, preparing food, etc., so after a few days we shaved my head. Family and friends gave me beautiful scarves to wear. It's kind of fun choosing a hat and a wig when you have the help of your 12-year-old daughter and a good friend who is a hairdresser. I tried on only a few wigs, because we all chose our favorite early on. It was medium blond with chin-length hair. And it made me look good.