Sunday, January 27, 2008

Water, water all around

There has been a lot of ink lately devoted to the issue of why Americans, who have some of the best and safest drinking water in the world, consume so much bottled water. Indeed, all those bottles create a series of issues including resources used to make those bottles (plastic is made from petrochemicals and requires additional energy - from fossil fuels - in the manufacturing process), fuel for transporting the bottles and the disposal problem of all those bottles once empty. The vast majority of states do not include bottles from still water in their deposit programs, so they are thrown away after a single use.

Although we don't advertise it, we try very hard here to reduce waste and recycle wherever possible. We would probably fall into the category of a "Green" lodging establishment. We compost all vegetable matter from the kitchen in the months where the compost isn't likely to freeze, we make extremely limited use of chemical cleaners preferring natural products as much as possible, and we sort and recycle as much material as we are able.

Our town does not make recycling easy. We are required to sort glass from plastic and metal, returnables from everything else, remove caps and rinse everything so it does not attract critters. We then bag them and take them to the transfer station, where they must be removed from the bags and placed in the appropriate bins. Newspapers must be bundled and cardboard flattened. We do it because I feel it is my duty as a responsible citizen to recycle and reuse to conserve energy and resources. I pull bottles and cans from guest room trash baskets (unless they are truly icky), rinse when necessary and sort them.

It does not bother me at all when guests bring beer, wine or soda to drink during their stay. Even a couple of bottles of water aren't a big issue. It does, however, distress me when guests bring cases of 1-liter or smaller bottles of water with them. Do people really think we don't have good water here? Or is it just a habit?

Our water comes from a private well. There are no additives; no chlorine or fluoride. There is no mineral or sulfur smell to our water. We test it monthly in the busy season as required by the town and the test results are consistently fine. The only thing we test slightly high for is sodium, which is not surprising considering our proximity to salt water. And even that is not something that would bother anyone unless they are on an extremely low sodium regime for some reason.

A couple of years ago we installed a water cooler with a hot water spigot in our dining room. We did it for our own convenience so that we don't have to put out a pitcher of water in the mornings (a pitcher that would have to be washed) and so that guests desiring a hot beverage in the evening could make one without us having to put out either an electric kettle or an insulated pitcher of hot water. Several guests have asked me if the cooler is there because our tap water is not good to drink and my guess is that quite a few more just make that assumption. Truly, that is not the reason. And if you want your water cold, all you have to do is let it run for a minute and it'll come out cold from the tap - another advantage of a well.

So I put the issue in your hands, folks. Leave the water bottles at the store. Bring ONE you can re-use and fill it from the tap. If you absolutely must, you can even refill it from the cooler. But help me out here. Those small plastic water bottles make up about 70% of my recyclables in the busy season. I shudder to think of what happens to the ones people bring to establishments that are less conscientious about recycling.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Two by Two

Winter business is so very different from summer business here. It makes sense when you think about it... this is, after all, a summer vacation area. People come for sun, surf and fried seafood. The fact that any come in the winter at all is somewhat amazing, really.

When they learn that we are open all year, the next question guests ask is almost always "Do you have any guests?" Followed by "Why do they come?" Here are the answers:

Yes, we do have guests. We are rarely full in the winter, but there are few weekends that we have nobody here. They come for very specific reasons:
1) Visiting family (but want their own space);
2) Looking for property - either to rent over the summer or to buy;
3) They own a 2nd home here and it is being renovated so they can't stay there;
4) A quiet getaway.

Nearly all our winter guests are last-minute reservations. Sometimes they call a day or two in advance, sometimes they call in the morning on the day they wish to arrive. Many are coming just for one night, although the ones visiting family usually stay two or three nights if they've traveled any real distance to get here and especially if there are grandchildren. Why so last-minute, you ask? Weather. They are waiting for the weather forecast to make sure they're not going to be driving in snow or ice. It took a couple of winters for us to figure this out, but it makes perfect sense.

This past week we had guests Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, one couple each night. In all honesty I would much prefer to make breakfast for a full house than just two people, but it is what it is and we adapt.

I'm handling breakfast a little differently this winter when we have only two guests. Normally, our breakfast is set up as a buffet with fresh fruit salad, yogurt, bread for the toaster, scones or muffins and a main dish. For a number of years we've used a simple form to help us plan a scaled-down breakfast when we've had just one couple in the house, which has helped, but I'm making further improvements on the system. For one thing, I've started to do some more interesting things with fruit that become individual servings rather than a buffet item. This allows me to take better advantage of the best of the winter produce and it cuts down on waste. Two of my new offerings are broiled grapefruit with brown sugar and coconut, and poached pears with creme fraische. Both have been hits. I've also been making more egg dishes in individual ramekins. I still set scones, bread, butter, jam and yogurt on the buffet if any of these items are requested. So our winter guests are getting some things that our summer guests will never see and a little extra personalized attention as well. Not bad for the time of year when our rates are lowest as well!

Are you thinking about a winter visit? Call us! The weather out here is typically 5 - 10 degrees warmer than in Boston, the beaches are deserted and lovely for walking, a few good restaurants are open and Mother Nature saves her most spectacular sunsets for the colder months.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Two things I forgot to mention:

One, I will spare you the customary list of resolutions. Nobody, including me, ever follows through with them anyway. I simply hope each year is better than the last, not just for me but for everyone.

Two, a friend of mine left town this holiday after living here for nearly a year. I feel oddly bereft despite the fact that we weren't terribly close nor did we manage to see very much of each other due to our extremely bizarre and conflicting schedules. His departure is not so much going to leave a hole in my social life as it leaves me missing just knowing he is here in town. The connection we shared was through college which was a difficult time and one that isn't easily understood by anyone who didn't go through that particular department at that school during that period in time. He was two years ahead of me in school and we weren't even particularly friendly with each other back then (twenty years ago - ouch), but we had this shared experience that gave us a bond of sorts. I don't know if he thinks of it that way, but I do. Until he came back into my life last year I hadn't realized how deeply I felt bonded to a few people I knew so briefly and so long ago. I wish him luck in his next venture and hope we will stay in touch.

And so it begins...

New year, new post. This one is a little unfocused, please bear with me. Think of it as a buffet.

Before I get rolling, happy new year to anyone who actually reads my ramblings. Post a comment now and then so I know you're there, okay?

We had a lovely New Year's eve. We hosted a party at Adam's mom's house so as not to disturb our inn guests. It was a nice mix of local and out-of-town friends, good wine and way too much food. Oddly, the party really coalesced around a game brought by one of our guests. It was a lot of fun and it didn't seem to matter to anyone that we simply left off where we were at midnight to ring in the new year and we never got back to it.

The sky last night was gorgeous. The quarter-moon was low in the sky and the stars stood out in such clear relief against the inky blue-black of the night it looked like you could prick your finger on their sharp points.

Driving home at an hour that was far too late for someone who had to get up and make breakfast this morning, I saw a coyote trotting down the middle of our street. I've seen them a number of times before on side streets or along the state highway, but this is the closest I've ever seen one to the house. It got out of the road when I switched on my high beams about 30' behind it, but didn't seem particularly concerned about me until I stopped my car to get a good look at it. At that point it bounded off behind a house and I continued home. Adam followed about an hour later. I'm not sure how he got up at his usual hour of 6 a.m., but he did.

Inn guests and out-of-town friends had all left by about 12:30 this afternoon, leaving us free to attend a New Year's day brunch hosted by some friends. Late in the afternoon I indulged in a much-needed nap. Room cleaning will wait until tomorrow since we aren't expecting anyone for a few days.

Today marks a bleak two-week period in which NOT ONE restaurant in Wellfleet is open. I find this distressing both for myself and for any potential guests. In order to hold a year-round liquor license in this town, restaurants must stay open all year (sounds logical, right?). They are permitted to close for up to four weeks for "renovations". I put the term inside quotation marks because it is interpreted pretty loosely by the local population and the Selectboard that governs the town. Everyone understands that restaurants are barely breaking even in the winter and nobody begrudges them a period of downtime, but in the past few years it seems that several of the restaurant owners have begun to take advantage of local goodwill in this matter.

One year-round restaurant closed for a major kitchen overhaul a few years ago that lasted about three months. That was completely understandable as the project was large and delays do happen, but something changed after that. Up until then they had adhered pretty carefully to the 4-week rule but in years subsequent to the kitchen renovation they have closed after New Year's eve and not reopened until Valentine's day; far more than four weeks by my calendar. Another restaurant with a year-round license closed for a full winter for the first time three years ago because the owners decided they were tired and they wanted to sell. I'm not quite sure why they felt they had to close other than burn-out - which I do understand - but the restaurant did not sell that year or the year after or this year, yet they have closed each of these years in October and not reopened until April. This really seems like flaunting the rules to the detrimient of the locals. If it were up to me, I'd yank their year-round liquor license and make them reapply for a seasonal one. A third restaurant, one of our favorites, kind of arbitrarily decided to take six weeks off this winter. A fourth is taking the permitted four weeks and no more and doing it at exactly the same time he always has, it just happens to coincide with all the other closings.

It used to be that the year-round restaurants would coordinate with each other so that at least one restaurant would be open at all times - possibly not seven days a week, but at least Thursday through Sunday. This is the first time in eight years I've seen all the restaurants in town closed at the same time. We've had discussions with several friends about having pot-luck dinners and that could be a lovely way to pass some of these evenings; I hope one or more come to pass. Unfortunately that won't help anyone from out of town. If anyone calls us for a reservation during this time we will have to explain that they will need to plan their dinners in Orleans or Provincetown unless they're here visiting friends or family who will cook. That's liable to loose us a couple of reservations, but we'll see what happens. I'm not too happy about it in any case.

I've rambled on enough for one post. Tomorrow is back to work on winter projects; more about that another time.