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, 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 13-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.

2) I have a great head shape for being bald. No bumps, no discolorations, just a nice round bald head. Apparently I wear it well. After trying the wig and wearing some beautiful scarves, I decided during the heat of the summer that I was more comfortable bald. And nobody cared. Nobody stared. No children pointed. Only one child asked a question, very politely, and I was pleased to answer her. Apparently bald IS beautiful. And perfectly acceptable for a woman of a certain age.

3) While chemotherapy was wiping out about everything - good and bad - my skin never looked better. Go figure! I saw my nephew, an international businessman, for the first time in quite a while, and the one thing he couldn't get over was how nice my skin looked!

4) Although I would never recommend it, the chemotherapy diet is very effective. While I was on chemo nothing tasted good - not even chocolate! I wasn't hungry. A long time "foodie," I didn't even want to look at food. I lost weight without even trying. And that weight loss makes me look good.

5)  After growing up with a despised Pixie haircut I am now happily heading back to that style. What goes around comes around. My hair is growing back in, slowly but surely. Although I really don't like my short spikey hair, I'm thankful that I have hair. And I'm right in style. It's all the rage. Who knew that after years of totally ignoring the current styles, I'm finally "on trend!"

I've often chuckled to myself after people looked me straight in the eye, even when I was at my worst, saying, "You look good!" Now that I've had time to ponder it, I think that it's really secret code for, "I'm glad you're still here." Friends and family have eyes that are blinded by love. My tired eyes, skin pallor, ill-fitting clothes... none of these mattered. I had Cancer, but I was alive. And to them I looked good.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Strength in Trying Times



"I have Cancer. I'm a Survivor."

Many of us can say those words, but there are many who cannot. Hearing a Cancer diagnosis is a very scary thing. Nothing I've done makes me a survivor. I fully believe that it's faith, the prayers and support of many, and the Grace of God that have gotten me through the past year. There are many that have contributed to my treatment and recovery. So many things gave me strength, beginning with my faith in Christ. 
Psalm 27 1The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid? 

I "went public" with friends and family very soon after my Breast Cancer diagnosis, because I believe in the power of prayer. What I didn't anticipate was the outpouring of support, often in material ways. I enjoyed Facebook messages, phone calls, visits, cards, and letters of support. We certainly appreciated the dinners, even when I could only eat a few bites. My stack of books to be read seemed to grow on a weekly basis. One friend crocheted a lovely pink butterfly doily to show her concern. I admit that it was hard to accept so many gifts, but one sweet friend reminded me that each gift was a tangible expression of love and support. It was something my friends could do at a time when they felt as helpless as I did. Each call, each card and each gift gave me strength.

Carrie, a past B&B guest and another survivor, sent me a devotional book called, Jesus Calling. JoAnn, my local florist friend has since given me a follow up book by the same author. So many days the devotions I read seemed tailor-made to meet my needs. Meditating on scripture and devotionals gave me strength to meet the challenges of the day. I also kept a journal, upon the advice of some of my other friends. As I read over it today, it's filled with brief descriptions of feelings and experiences, and entries are often humorous in some way. I drew strength from laughter.

I had a surgeon I trusted and many others that provided competent care throughout my treatment journey. Chemo wiped me out. It took my physical strength. Resulting Neuropathy made standing and walking a near impossibility. My fingers were impacted, as well. My first thought going into treatment was, "Well... I'll have a lot of time to read and do needlepoint and all the things I love to do in my spare time," but that was not to be since Chemo also took my mental strength. It made it hard to concentrate. For quite awhile, I didn't enjoy reading, or stitching, watching Hallmark movies, or any of the things I thought I would. Chemo treatment was a frustrating and challenging time physically, mentally and spiritually. It sapped my strength, but I held on. Psalm 121: 1I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? 2My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth. 

My family was heavily impacted by my experience with breast cancer. Both Glenn and Valerie demonstrated amazing God-given strength through it all. Although Val was just 12, we felt that we should be straightforward with her from the beginning. She knew that I would lose my hair. She knew that I would lose my strength, but she believed that I would not lose my life. Glenn was with me for every chemo treatment, and he's done more for me than any man should ever have to do for his wife. Valerie stood in as innkeeper during the summer when the chemo effects were at their worst. I believe the Lord used others to lend me strength when I felt like I had none. Isaiah 40:29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 

I will never, ever, forget the infusion nurses at Simmons Cancer Center. I cannot imagine the strength it takes to do their work and to do it with such compassion. They knew when my "I'm fine" really meant, "I'm too wiped out to even tell you how bad I feel," and they knew what questions to ask me and what treatments to request from the doctor to help me. I'm not one to feel depressed, and Olivia was the only therapist I had, or needed. She's a therapy dog that, along with her trainer Sue, visits patients during chemo. Holding Miss Olivia was a great stress reliever. (That's Olivia with me in the picture at the top of the page.) I felt frustrated at times, but I never lost hope. After chemo, I saw Jill five days a week for radiation and she was a shining light who worked with me in scheduling to keep radiation from becoming the ruler of my day. 

It took a while, but after treatment for pneumonia I could tell that I was finally regaining my physical strength. Little by little, the Neuropathy has subsided for the most part, but I'm still taking medicine. I really can no long blame memory glitches on "Chemo Brain" and I'm doing well keeping up with my work, both at DCFS and with the B&B. My last radiation treatment was November 4th and that night Valerie and 10 of my good friends celebrated with me at Lonzerotti's Italia, our favorite local restaurant. When I didn't have strength, Valerie and some of these women stood in the gap. (Glenn was invited, but chose to encourage an all-girls gathering.) 

Trying times? Absolutely. Do I want to go through it again? No, thank you. However, even the most trying times are opportunities for lessons to learn. One thing I've learned is that I have many sources of strength, but ultimately my strength comes from the Lord. Psalm 121 7The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life;  8the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.





Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year, Fresh Start

I'm getting a fresh start this new year with a new blog post. Although I like to write, blogging is not my favorite pastime. I have good intentions, and... we'll see where they lead!

Glenn, Valerie, Kelly and I have been working hard to transform our B&B decor from Christmas decor to winter decor. Next week we will switch from our traditional bed covers to cozy winter plaid duvets and the sitting room connected to the Tranquility Suite will change from French Country to Amish decor, accented by artwork by N.A.Noel and P. Buckley Moss. Our front porch furniture has inviting red plaid pillows and soft warm throws for those who wish to venture outside. A few of the interior holiday decorations will stay in place until we start putting out decor for Valentine's Day and Sweethearts' Month.

As many of you know, a group of my gal pals, known as "The Elves," gather in November to spend a weekend decorating for Christmas. I have to say that those days are much more fun than our recent days of getting everything set for storage. However, this post-holiday time and effort is beneficial because it gives us a fresh start - a head start on our next Christmas decorating plan. We're better organized than we have ever been. Kelly has been a great support in this work. We've documented a clear plan of the number of lights that should go on each tree. I've already decided what the 2017 theme on the Tranquility Suite will be, and I'm leaning hard toward decorating our front parlor tree with the more traditional ornaments, i.e., multi-colored glass snowmen, ice skaters, and other wonderful Christmas images.

I'm focusing strongly on my B&B marketing plan as I make my fresh start in the new year. In a couple of weeks you'll see a recurrent theme in our page headers, linking our web pages, listing pages, social networking sites, etc. We're dedicated to developing a recognizable "brand" that, along with our logo, will enable you to consistently connect to Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. Young DECA entrepreneurs from Jacksonville High School are reviewing our social networking activity and will make recommendations for improvement as their project moves forward. I'm pondering, and have started preparing, a plan to offer inclusive small wedding packages. I may use my wedding research to also offer inclusive packages for reunions, showers, and other gatherings. I'm often asked about these events and I think it's time to formulate an event guide for Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. It is my hope that we will have the opportunity to collaborate with one of our local historic sites and many local vendors.

Although we're quite busy between May and October, I've never really pushed for guests during the remaining months because of my DCFS work load. However, I'm scoring fewer and fewer plans each year and I believe that now I'm able to manage both my DCFS work and a more regular flow of off-season B&B guests. Watch our Facebook page for special offers as we work to promote business in our quieter months.

What are you doing to have a fresh start in 2017? I trust that the coming year will be one of the best years ever. We'd love for you to come for a visit at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

This is NOT Your Great Grandmother's House!

Sometimes I sit and ponder "my favorite things," and I think that if I lived alone in a home furnished entirely to my taste, I might be living in an "Old Lady's House!" My home would be surrounded by cottage-y gardens, overflowing with blooms, with seating areas here and there for reading, breakfasting, or just sitting in the sun enjoying a glass of sweet tea. If left to my own devices, living alone, perhaps I'd spend my days sitting on a big overstuffed chintz sofa, feet up, working from a computer on my lap, drinking hot tea out of an china cup and saucer, with a King Charles Spaniel tucked in around my feet. That's not the way I live, but it's certainly something that I could envision myself doing!

Now, keep in mind, that although I am not eligible for Social Security, I do (just barely!) qualify for Senior Discounts in many business. So, to young eyes I might sort of, a little bit, kind of seem to be an old lady, but those who know me know that I'm not! In my heart I do tend toward a more traditional lifestyle and my home is a reflection of that. I live in a 120-year-old mansion in the heart of the Jacksonville historic district, so it's not a problem that I enjoy antiques and vintage style furnishings - but... maybe it could be!

As an innkeeper, I recognize that to be successful in this business I need to appeal to guests of all ages and interests. My home needs to be welcoming and inviting to people with varied tastes. There's no age limit to enjoying carved mantels and sparkling chandeliers, and believe me, I see a fair amount of iPads come in with of our guests of all ages. Our vintage home style is a large part of our appeal, and it would be easy to focus only on days gone by, but we offer digital satellite television and wireless internet from the front porch to backyard gazebo. I enjoy antiques, but even I am uncomfortable when surrounded by what I perceive as stiff Victorian furnishings or pieces that I'm afraid to touch. I love vignettes that tell stories, but I would never decorate every surface in my home in so many layers. I work hard to demonstrate a respect for the past while decorating in a French Country style that engenders a casual elegance... an invitation to set aside the cares of the world, put your feet up and relax. And yes, there's space to put your book and glasses on the bedside table.

I do try hard to reflect the heritage of this home by using furnishings reminiscent of days gone by. However, you won't find any horsehair here. I'm using reproductions rather than antiques. I seek out style and comfort. Which should be more important? In this case, I'm going with comfort. I love big floral prints and would certainly love the look of a dozen pillows across each bed - some might even have ruffles and lace! However, since I'm decorating for guests, I'm very conservative in colors - avoiding the frilly and the feminine. I don't stack a pile of pillows on each bed because I don't know where my guests would put them when it was time to go to sleep. Who wants to move a bunch of pillows just to go to bed? After all, this is a Bed & Breakfast! Each bed needs to be inviting and welcoming - not a 10-minute project to uncover! Now, if it was just me...?!

Though I admit that perhaps I could lean in that direction, given the opportunity, this is not your fluffy floral country cottage, nor it is a stiff and stuffy "don't touch" Victorian Great Grandmother's house. Our furnishings are warm and casually elegant, inviting you to come in, relax, and get comfortable. We have a carved Victorian staircase and beautiful pocket doors along with lap desks and power strips and a Keurig coffeemaker on the cherry wood buffet for our guests to enjoy. Come visit us and take a step back into the past while we keep you in touch with the present.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Neighboring"

Do you "neighbor"? "Neighboring" is what we called it as I was growing it in the big city of Newton, Illinois. Neighboring involved the use of only the back door, never the front; it meant that you could sneak over even when no one was home to borrow a cup of sugar; catching fireflies and dark tag had no boundaries; we played at each others homes, both indoors and outdoors, and a baseball crack in the family room window wasn't a huge deal; gardens were fair game, especially when the corn came on; funerals meant enough food to feed 100 of your closest relatives; and, if you needed someone to quickly come hold your hand - or your child - for any reason, you called your neighbor.

I'm so happy to report that the neighboring tradition continues at Blessings on State! One of my favorite "neighbors" lives down my street about two miles, but she's still my neighbor! My neighbors are loving, caring, and giving. They know how to reach me in this big old house when there's no way for me to hear a doorbell or a knock at the door. They know they can stop in to borrow "a cup of", or to pick up a stack of new magazines to read, or to put their feet up for a little while and enjoy a sweet of some kind. Front porch, or back, porch sitting is a popular activity. Stopping to chat while taking a walk or walking your dogs is a regular event. They know that if there's any reason at all - a parade, a car show or a holiday - there will be a party on my front porch and/or a cookout or homemade ice cream social in the back yard. If they need a listening ear, a ride, impromptu child care, a shoulder to cry on, or some other kind of support, we are here.

What are the neighboring benefits I receive? They are too many to list! Before we were even approved to open the Bed and Breakfast, our next door neighbor went to the city to speak on our behalf. When Valerie moved in with us she was immediately accepted by the family on one side and the older couple on the other. Val's had more Rhoda hugs and kisses than she can count. She spends almost equal time playing on one family's playground and visiting with the neighbor and his dog on the other. The first month I lived here I got stuck in a snowbank trying to get into my driveway. (Glenn was on the phone telling me to just "commit and go for it" while I was insisting that we had ten inches of snow and it would never work! I was right.) A neighbor I'd never met promptly stopped and, along with others who stopped to assist, worked hard to free my car from the snow drift.  I've had school placement questions answered by the elementary principal across the street. I've been given zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers, and now we're receiving gifts of freshly prepared gourmet foods. When there's a campfire next door, we're invited. (I can be counted on to provide S'mores!) When I overbooked the inn (ONE time!) I learned that rather than booking into a local hotel we can temporarily camp out in a home next door. We've heard stories of tours of foreign countries, viewed fine art, and eaten fine meals with our neighbors. We've shared Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. Our neighbors have helped us promote our Bed and Breakfast, have assisted with our open houses, and have served as Christmas Elves during our decorating weekends. Most of all, we've had a lot of laughs, shared some tears, have received advice and counsel, and have had strong shoulders to lean on.

How about you? Do you know your neighbors? Do you spend time being neighborly? Take time for porch sitting. (Or if you're a Southern Lady, porch "settin!") Wave as people pass by.  Share a glass of sweet tea, the "house wine" of the South. Share something you've prepared or picked. Who knows? You, too, may be part of the revival of neighboring!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Sweethearts" Month at Blessings on State



Forget Valentine's Day - it's Valentine's Month at Blessings on Sate! As an innkeeper, I enjoy decorating and celebrating each holiday and each season. For me, it's always an opportunity be creative and artistic in both food preparation and home decor. Valentine's Day is a big holiday for us at the B&B, so we've decided to extend the celebration. We're calling it "Sweethearts Month." Our guests have ranged from young newly married couples to those closer to our age who have been married for many years.

This year I determined to find red and white china for my "Sweethearts" place settings. Mixing and matching items (and sellers) on EBay paid off with a beautiful set of red and white china! Loving reminders are prominently displayed throughout our home, including vintage red heart garlands strung on the fireplace mantels in each suite. The mantel is the front parlor is graced with a collection of wooden hearts. We've served heart shaped cookies at bedtime, and chocolate covered strawberries with breakfast. We're playing romantic music on our baby grand as guests arrive and in the background as they have breakfast. Though not all of our guests are couples, it's been fun to think of ways to enhance the romance, and I'm thinking Sweethearts Month has a chance of becoming Sweethearts Year at Blessings on State!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dorothy's Little House on the Illinois Prairie


I know I've been quiet, but I finally have something to say...
A dear friend's sweet mama left her earthly home early this week, relocating to her new home in Heaven. The angels are rejoicing, but it's sure causing mixed feelings for those of us left behind. Sadness that she's gone from our lives for this moment, but renewed anticipation of Heaven's glory when we'll be reunited with those who have gone before.

Dorothy was the mother of one of my closest friends and colleagues. (My Facebook friends have heard of Terry - she is one of my dedicated Christmas Elves and a big supporter of B&B's for Vets.) Her mama's home was my safe landing place when I lived in Alton and needed to stay overnight to work in the Springfield office. It was so much better than staying in a cookie-cutter hotel - there was just no comparison! Dorothy's home was my own personal Bed & Breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner!) Even after moving from Alton to Jacksonville I visited Dorothy, both in her home and in her new (nursing) homes.

Ya'll probably know that our current home is a vintage mansion in a grand neighborhood of many large, beautiful homes in the flourishing town of Jacksonville. I can't tell you the number of square feet - I can't even remember the number of rooms without counting - but, it's big! Dorothy lived in a very small house in a very small town. My house is huge and her house size was tiny, by comparison. However, her house was tiny only in size. The warmth and feelings of love and belonging were immeasurable. It was a beautifully decorated little house and was always so warm and welcoming. I never felt like a stranger at Dorothy's. She always welcomed me with open arms, a sweet smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eye. (More about that twinkle in a bit!)

The second that I walked in Dorothy's front door all the cares of the world, all the work concerns, all the things that tugged and pulled my mind and heart a hundred different directions, drifted away. (It might have helped that Terry had often planned ahead and there was a pot of soup on the stove or dinner on the table!) I remember that it was an amazing transformation to total relaxation. It was like coming home.

We visited a lot when I stayed with Dorothy. We chatted and watched Little House on the Prairie and Hallmark movies. We went for fruit and waffles at Ruby's. We carried in fried chicken from Cherry's. She talked with me about my Bed & Breakfast while it was still a big idea full of hope. She knew that it was a long-time dream, and she wholeheartedly supported me as it came to fruition. She loved my family and welcomed them to come with me to visit. When Valerie became an even bigger part of our lives Dorothy loved having her visit, even without me, often sending her home with a stuffed kitty cat. Dorothy's home welcomed many visitors - she had many, many friends - and I hope that my B&B guests feel even a portion of the love, warmth and welcome that was "Dorothy's house".

When I was there we talked a lot and laughed a lot. Dorothy was so much fun to spend time with, although she did have an ornery streak, and I got caught more than once! The funniest illustration I can remember - funny NOW - is the time that Dorothy and Terry were in the kitchen early one morning while I was still sleeping soundly. Dorothy wore a call button around her neck, and I'd often wondered what I'd do if she fell and had to push the button while I was there. (I'd spent some time reviewing in my mind what steps I'd take.) The story goes that as I was sleeping away, Dorothy asked Terry what she thought would happen if she pushed the button, buzzing the alarm box that was set about six inches from my pillow. Terry insists to this day that she discouraged it, but... Dorothy thought it might be funny, and.... she pushed it! I flew from the bedroom to the kitchen, feet barely touching the floor! As sleepy as I was, I could quickly see that there was no crisis, only a slightly sheepish Dorothy, with an impish grin, watching my panicked flight. After catching my breath and getting my heart rate back under control, even I could see that it was a little bit funny. However, as time passed it became funnier and funnier and Dorothy reveled in revisiting that buzzer-induced early morning wake up call!

I have many, many fond memories of Dorothy, and like others who knew and loved her, will miss her greatly. It's a blessing to know that she's enjoying her new home in the warmth and wonder of Heaven, and we'll be visiting again before too long.