Might Could Be a Watershed Moment Nov06

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Might Could Be a Watershed Moment

In the south, “might could” is a valid way of presenting an option. As in: You might could run over to the Walmart and get you a little space heater, darlin. As if inflection and the already implied openness in the word “could” isn’t quite enough, some southerners throw in the word “might”. Maybe it’s for added politeness. Southerners are nothing, if not polite. I just love being called darlin all the time, I really do.

Anyway, my “might could do” needed to turn into can do, should do, want to! That’s what I was looking for in that week of time with my family and the B&B Conference, some UMPH behind my thoughts and desires about running a Bed and Breakfast as our next career. Allison already had plenty of umph. She’s been carrying this dream for a long time. But since we’d spent 99% of our trip thus far being super-tourists, flitting from place to place, there really hadn’t been a lot of time spent on career-thoughts. Our “chasing what’s next” had been relegated to a month or two in the future, we were sorta neglecting our longer-term path. It was time for us darlins to put it in park for a while.

We rolled up to the gate of my parents’ neighborhood in Hendersonville, North Carolina on Monday, September 9 where they were waiting on the other side to lead us up to our special camp spot. We had unhooked the car so that we could race the RV through the security gate more nimbly. We did fine that day at the construction gate because it’s wider and meant for large trucks to pass through. The Sunday we came back from the conference we had to use the regular visitor gate which is much narrower. Nimble or not, 29 feet moves a little slower than a car and the gate closed on Allison as she was half way through, thankfully with only a gentle metal tap and not a long scrapping hug.

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Near the top of the mountain in Cummings Cove they’ve finished the roads, but many of the lots for future houses are still untouched. We had special permission from the HOA Board to park our RV in an empty cul-de-sac up the mountain from my mom and dad’s house. It was flat pavement, quiet, beautifully wooded and we even had our own waterfall. All that, on top of being free, made it perfection. We slept up there in our own bed, but spent most of our time 3 minutes down the hill with my parents.

The B&B Conference didn’t start until Friday that week, so we had time to settle in and enjoy being home. My mom and I grew up in Northern Virginia, Annandale and Falls Church, and it wasn’t until later that she met my step-dad, John, and they retired to Hendersonville. So North Carolina and their house in Cummings Cove isn’t technically my home. I’ve never lived there, but it is most certainly home in every other sense. It’s a place where I am always welcome, loved beyond any question, where I can be myself, be with my family, you get hugs and kisses before you go to bed each night, oh and there’s laundry. HOME!

Happy to be home!

Happy to be home!

We mostly stayed in, played games, did laundry and talked and talked and talked. Mom had tickets to see a local production of Cats, so that was an evening out for sushi and a show. (Yes, you read that right – believe it or not, Hendersonville, NC has an incredible sushi restaurant!) Another night we were invited over to a close friend’s house to view the opening of the Night-Blooming Cereus. It’s a flowering cactus that blooms only once a year and only at night. There’s a wonderful metaphor there for someone’s story, but we’ve been blooming all day, every day since we left so it’s not a metaphor for us.

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We were having a great time, really relaxing and enjoying our non-touristy-selves, but there was one thing hanging over our heads. We still hadn’t heard anything from Amazon yet. Our itinerary was planned only through the end of September which had us arriving in Nashville as our last stop, thinking that Amazon would start in October in nearby Kentucky. If Amazon wasn’t going to hire us, we were going to start our way back to the west coast, but without an answer from them we were in limbo. This darlin don’t like limbo. (Forgive the grammar – I’ve been in Kentucky for 2 weeks, it’s rubbing off.)

I sent off one last email to our recruiter explaining our need to start planning our return to California if the jobs weren’t going to come through and that did the trick. The next afternoon we got a call from Kelly wanting to schedule our interview. I did a mini-happy dance in the kitchen. The next morning over the speaker phone, he asked a few questions about us, mostly confirming the info on our applications, then he described the 4 types of jobs that were available. He explained that they were hiring for the November 4th group that would work through December 23rd, and “if everything I’ve said so far sounds good to you, and you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions, I’ll offer you the jobs right now.”

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We had to agree that we could walk 10-15 miles per day, work 10 hours per day, lift up to 50 pounds, climb stairs, withstand a 40 degree swing in temperature, and work mandatory overtime. “YES,” we said. After we hung up it was time for my full-length happy dance. Allison watched with a patient smile, pleased to see me so happy, but inside, I’m pretty sure she was cringing and replaying the list of work-requirements she’d just heard. With a start date of November 4th, we now had the whole month of October to fill up with east coast travel, but first, it was time to pack up the RV and drive out to Lake Lure for the B&B Conference.

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It was just a 45 minute drive out through the rolling hills and apple orchards. In a car it would probably only take 30 minutes, but the roads that surround the lake are very narrow and curvy. We felt like we were going to tip over if we drove much over 25 mph. Lake Lure is a town of about 1,000 people that surrounds a beautiful mile long lake which was used in the filming of Dirty Dancing. Our weekend conference for Aspiring Innkeepers was at The Lodge On Lake Lure, a 12-room B&B, with a full restaurant and a wonderful conference room. All the other attendees were staying in rooms at the inn, but Allison and I stayed at an RV park 10 minutes down the road.

The first afternoon at the introductory session, we received an overview of the agenda for the conference and met our fellow B&B enthusiasts. Ten of us were attending, three couples and four singles and our B&B Team leaders were two husband and wife teams, Peter (real estate broker) and Peggy, and Rick and Janet (ex-innkeepers from Kennebuckport, Maine).

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The backgrounds, ages and the stories we heard from everyone as they introduced themselves varied quite a bit, but obviously we all had this one major thing in common – a passion or at least a deep interest in opening or buying a B&B Inn. Common interests breed friendships. We ended the first session and fell effortlessly into bigger conversations with each other over wine and hors d’oeuvres. (That’s the first moment we knew that our new friend Tanja Bean was a kindred spirit.) Kim and Tanja, two of the women there alone, and Allison and I, chatted non-stop until dinner was served. We fell asleep that night feeling that even if the conference didn’t provide good information, at least we had a really fun night talking to bright, passionate, charming people. We felt happy and tired.

The sessions continued the next day on topics ranging from “a typical day in the life” and marketing to an incredibly thorough financial valuation methodology that we reviewed in detail. I really, really appreciated that session. I needed it. It was tough to wrap our heads around everything that was being so quickly presented, but it cut through all the talk about cooking and cleaning and passions for hospitality right down to the business. Most people think the B&B business is break-even at best, you choose a life-style and you’re content with that. Fact is, there are many profitable B&Bs. You just have to have the right mix of location and property features to start with. I felt a big splash of UMPH being poured into my cup when I realized and believed that Allison and I might could find ourselves with fulfilled passions AND a healthy business.

View up the hill to the lodge from their boat dock

View up the hill to the lodge from their boat dock

The other very rewarding exercise was a round table, where everyone described their vision for their ideal B&B to the group: location, size, features, style, ambiance, the experience you want to give your guests, your unique selling proposition. Allison and I had talked this to DEATH while we’d been driving all over the country and for a couple years before, but we’d never shared it with anyone else. We were like proud moms leading our B&B dream down the steps slowly in her prom dress. Not only had we given birth to her, but we’d spent hours doing her hair, makeup and nails for this day and now we were waiting to see that first reaction on the face of her dates. Grin – our new friends thought she was pretty stunning. Glug, glug, glug – that’s the sound of my UMPH cup filling up.

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By Sunday afternoon, all of our heads were ready to explode from the amount of great information provided by the B&B Team. They will continue to be a very valuable resource to us as we search for a potential inn. But now, it was time to ensconce ourselves up on the top of the mountain again in Cummings Cove and PROCESS.

We needed a decision matrix, no, in fact, we needed two – one for weighing out all the needs and wants we have for our next home town, and another for all the potential ideas we have for how to spend the next 5-10 years. Buy a B&B and be our own bosses, live a simple life on a small farm, work from home as a consultant in ecommerce, start a food truck, write and publish our story, teach something, find a job in hospitality working for someone else, continue to travel in the RV, but do it differently. Port Townsend, Ocean Shores or Gig Harbor, WA. Bend, Florence or Ashland, Oregon. Idaho, Colorado, wine country in New York, coastal Maine or New Hampshire. Santa Cruz. GAH! Take a breath. Climate, cost of living, nearness to family and friends, politics, access to airports and cultural things, heart fulfillment, income, healthcare options, level of financial risk.

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Mom and Allison and I sat in the living room and stared at the daunting boxes of options and decided that we should do the exercise once without wine and then try it again with wine and see how the results compared. We got about a third of the way through the home town matrix before we cracked open a bottle of Chardonnay. Figuring out your life is a tough assignment. In the end we left the matrix project unfinished, but it’s waiting patiently for us. We decided to move on to the project of planning our travel for October, knowing that our time in Kentucky on the Amazon warehouse floor might could should provide plenty of hours for life-dream-percolation.