Check-in and Check-out times

Today was my final weekday of summer vacation; I am back at school full-time on Monday. I spent the afternoon with my B&B ladies, having a wonderful lunch at Lokal Resto & Market. We get together as often as we can (about once a month at this time of year) to take a quick break, get caught up, problem-solve, and support one another.

A disconcerting trend we have all noticed in past weeks is the number of early check-ins this season. If you book over the phone with us, we normally ask whether you are planning to arrive in the afternoon or evening, and will tell you that check-in time is anytime after 3pm. If you book online, the confirmation you receive via email clearly states that check-in time is after 3pm on the day you have booked.

A bed & breakfast in Nova Scotia is defined as being four rooms or fewer, must be owner-occupied (it’s our home), and breakfast is included in the price of the room. 

Because it is our home, the time between check-out and check-in is our window of time to get things accomplished – room cleaning, laundry, ironing, shopping, appointments, maintenance… It’s during that time we allow our kids to have friends over, or practice their music or dance, or for us to get out – together – for a run or bike ride… if there is time. The five B&B’s in the Truro area are one or two person operations, so it becomes difficult when we lose that small window of time. In a one-person operation, especially, they need that time to get groceries for breakfast.

We recently had a day when all three of our rooms (travelling separately) had arrived and settled in “to rest” between 1-2pm, without making prior arrangements. That meant the scraping of the house for painting stopped, as did the hammering and sawing of shelf-building. One day this week, we had a couple show up to check-in shortly after 11 am. Our check-out time is 11 am, so the prior guests had just departed! One operator in this area had a call earlier this summer from booked guests at 8:05 am looking to check-in at that time – some of their guests were still in bed at that point!

Earlier this summer, we went to the afternoon funeral of a neighbour and left as soon as the service was finished, skipping the reception, so we would be home in time to greet guests at check-in. When we arrived home at 2:40, the house was full and guests were resting, having arrived at 2:00. Our kids welcomed them and got them settled, so they were looked after, but not necessarily to the standard we try to uphold.

I honestly think that the issue of early check-in stems from the perception we are the same as a hotel and have unfilled rooms we can slide people into, or staff on-call 24-hours per day. In essence, we do; it’s just always us. Many people are surprised to learn that we live here.

We want to be clear: if you have an event, an early flight, or an appointment, we are happy to make arrangements ahead of time to be here to welcome you, so you are not sitting in our driveway wondering if we are ever going to show up.

As I mentioned earlier, I return to school on Monday (August 29), and D’Arcy returns to school the following week (September 6) which means my dad, Dave, comes to the house on weekdays to welcome guests and get everyone settled in until we arrive home at suppertime. If our guests show up early, he is not necessarily going to be here yet, which doesn’t make for a great first impression – which is important to us to avoid.

September is one of our busiest months, and historically we run at close to 100% occupancy. While chatting with the other B&B operators at lunch today, I decided that perhaps the best thing to do is to send each confirmed guest a welcome email the day before their scheduled arrival to explain our policy and tell them we look forward to meeting them the following day, any time after our 3pm check-in.

We’ll see how that goes.

One of our many issues, solved! 🙂

We’d like to say “thank you” to our attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly server, Courtney (and super-talented chef, Brad), for the outstanding experience at Lokal Resto and Food Market today. Your chowder is now being marketed to guests at the five Truro B&B’s as one of “the best in the province”!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

 

Vegetarians welcome!

At a bed & breakfast, two things are especially important – a comfortable, non-saggy bed, and a delicious, hearty, nutritious breakfast.

Here at Belgravia, we are happy to accommodate a wide variety of dietary concerns. As is well documented on this blog, our youngest daughter has anaphylactic peanut, egg, and soy allergies, so we understand how important it is to have peace-of-mind about food safety while traveling. We pride ourselves on keeping our guests safe and happy. This summer we have had a number of guests who do not eat meat (whether by necessity or choice) and we are happy to offer meat-free tasty, colourful options to accompany the fruit, yogurt, granola, flax, juice, and D’Arcy’s muffins which are always on the table.

And the wall came tumbling down…

We know this makes a lot of people sad.

During the past two days, D’Arcy and the boys have been tackling a job that we’ve put off since 2009 – our stone wall. On Easter Sunday of 2009, when he turned the corner to go to church, D’Arcy discovered that part of the small section of our stone wall had washed away in heavy rain and part of it had fallen. (Story and photos here.)  At the time, he cleaned it up as best and as safely as he could, saving all the stones – in our garden – with the plan to rebuild.

Belgravia B&B was named such after we had learned that the original name of Broad Street was Belgravia Avenue. Two months after we opened, I ran into a man who had grown up in the house from the 1920’s – 1960’s who informed me that the house had been known as “Stoneycroft” from the time it was built, due to the stone wall. (Wish we had known.)

The wall is part of the house’s history.

It soon became apparent that rebuilding wouldn’t be as simple as we had hoped. The wall, 105 years old at that time (111 now), was not built on a foundation and the mortar has turned to sand over the years.

The long part of the wall has shifted as well, and half of it is leaning sharply towards the sidewalk. Last summer, we had hoped to get the entire wall fixed, so had professionals come and give us quotes.

We’re looking at a price range of $20,000. 

For a wall. A wall that’s beautiful and sentimental but, sadly, not a necessity.

We have four children to put through university.

D’Arcy & the boys spent the past two days taking down the short section of the wall that originally started to fall six years ago. They were able to save the posts, and D’Arcy graded the lawn to the sidewalk. We have planted raspberry bushes in between the posts, with the intention that they will become a hedge that gives back. We have a picture of the house from 1916 and there was originally a hedge behind the wall, so putting this one in is like returning a different piece of history of the property.

As for the long section? D’Arcy is marking provincial exams for the next two weeks, so there won’t be any work done on it until later in the month. He has an idea to try to stabilize it, but if it doesn’t work, that section will have to come down for safety reasons as well – we hate the thought of having someone sit on it, or a child climb on it, and get hurt.

Not an easy decision; one six years in the making…

We understand.

We’re sad too.

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Deconstruction begans

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What was left of the short section of wall when they started to take it down.

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Work in progress…

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Raspberry bushes are planted; sod arrives tonight. Happy to have been able to save the pillars at least.

Stoneycroft, 1916. Note the driveway used to come in off Prince Street (the address was 416 Prince Street at that time) and the hedge behind the wall. Thank you Colchester Historical Society for the photo.

Stoneycroft, now Belgravia, 1916. Note the driveway used to come in off Prince Street (the address was 416 Prince Street at that time) and the hedge behind the wall. Thank you Colchester Historical Society for the photo.

Change of (email) address

As we sit here, buried under mountains of snow, our thoughts turn to warm weather and escaping to other destinations. We know that others are doing the same thing because we are finding inquiries and bookings in our inbox and the calendar is starting to fill. We have been experiencing some difficulties with our Eastlink email account; receiving emails, but having difficulties sending for some reason. As a result, we have made the decision to change our email address, something we have contemplated for a very long time. This will be a gradual process, as we’ve been using our Eastlink email on all of our marketing materials since 2002. We’ll be checking both, but our replies will now be coming from: BelgraviaBB@gmail.com from now on. Once we are certain the transition is complete, we will cease using our Eastlink address, so please update us in your contact list!

Not kidding about being buried under a mountain of snow these days...

Not kidding about being buried under a mountain of snow these days…

Two new gluten-free breakfast recipes (Egg & dairy-free too!)

This morning around the breakfast table, we were dealing with gluten-free and egg-free diets, as well as no cheese for another guest. We tried two new recipes, both which were successful. Since I posted the photo on our Facebook page, I’ve had requests for the recipes, and also from the guests, so thought we’d post them here for easy access.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free banana muffins

Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free banana muffins

Gluten, egg, and dairy-free banana muffins

Mix the following together with beaters until smooth:

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil (we use canola)
  • 2 tsp. egg replacer mixed with 1/4 cup water OR 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine the following dry ingredients, then add to the wet mixture and stir until moist. Do not over-mix.

  • 2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (We used Bob’s Redmill)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Line muffin tins with papers, divide batter between 12 muffin cups, and bake in 350*F oven for 20 – 22 minutes.

Egg, dairy, and gluten-free crepes

Egg, dairy, and gluten-free crepes

CREPES:

  • 3 Eggs worth of prepared egg replacer
  • 3/4cup rice milk
  • 3/4cup Water
  • 3 TBSP oil (we use canola)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (We used Bob’s Redmill)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 TBSP potato starch
  • 1/2t Salt

Combine together all ingredients in bowl and whisk until combined. Batter will appear deceivingly thin. Cook crepe in hot, oiled frying pan and top with desired filling. This morning we served our egg-free guests crepes filled with asparagus, tomato, basil, chives and boursin cheese; and our cheese-free guest, the same herbs & veggies in scrambled eggs. (Pictured above.)

As you can see from above, these recipes are also soy-free. However, the flour we used (Bob’s Redmill) is processed in a factory that uses soy and tree-nuts, so we consider these recipes both “unsafe” for our daughter.  If we used a different flour, they would be safe.

Please let us know how they turn out for you! We will definitely serve both of these recipes again!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast

Yummy Rhubarb Struesel Muffin Recipe

Beautiful rhubarb. Photo credit: Taste of Nova Scotia

Beautiful rhubarb. Photo credit: Taste of Nova Scotia*

As spring arrives in Nova Scotia, so does the growth of one of our local food treats – rhubarb! I LOVE rhubarb. Although technically a vegetable, in Nova Scotia we mostly treat it as a fruit. Rhubarb will be found growing in many people’s gardens and will then be found at the breakfast table for the next few weeks in various forms: warm from being stewed with maple syrup and a touch of lemon (perfect with vanilla yogurt and some granola!), and often chunked in muffins. The tartness of the rhubarb is perfectly offset by the sweetness of the struesel topping. The following is one of our favourite muffin recipes:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (We use egg replacer)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 cups chopped rhubarb
  • TOPPING:
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter

Directions

  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, if using or add egg replacer. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture and alternate with sour cream, beating well after each addition. Fold in rhubarb.
  • Fill paper-lined or greased muffin cups three-fourths full.
  • Combine brown sugar, maple syrup, and cinnamon in a small bowl; then cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.
  • Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Serve warm. Yield: about 1-1/2 dozen.

We hope you enjoy – either at your breakfast table or at ours! 😉

*Taste of Nova Scotia

Belgravia Bed and Breakfast

Belgravia Honored as a Top Performing Bed & Breakfast as Reviewed by Travelers on the World’s Largest Travel Site

What a nice surprise to open our email this morning and find the following notice and press release. Thank you to all of our guests who take the time to write reviews for us! We appreciate each and every one!

Excellence-Badge_2013_en

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast Honored as a Top Performing Bed & Breakfast as Reviewed by Travelers on the
World’s Largest Travel Site

TRURO, NOVA SCOTIA – 22/05/2013 – Belgravia Bed & Breakfast today announced that it has received a TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence award. The accolade, which honors hospitality excellence, is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews on TripAdvisor, and is extended to qualifying businesses worldwide. Only the top-performing 10 percent of businesses listed on TripAdvisor receive this prestigious award.

To qualify for a Certificate of Excellence, businesses must maintain an overall rating of four or higher, out of a possible five, as reviewed by travelers on TripAdvisor, and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months. Additional criteria include the volume of reviews received within the last 12 months.

“Belgravia Bed & Breakfast is pleased to receive a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence,” said D’Arcy & Anne McDonah. “We strive to offer our customers a memorable experience, and this accolade is evidence that our hard work is translating into positive reviews on TripAdvisor.”

“TripAdvisor is delighted to celebrate the success of businesses around the globe, from Sydney to Chicago, Sao Paulo to Rome, which are consistently offering TripAdvisor travelers a great customer experience,” said Alison Copus, Vice President of Marketing for TripAdvisor for Business. “The Certificate of Excellence award provides top performing establishments around the world the recognition they deserve, based on feedback from those who matter most – their customers.”

What happens when things go wrong?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that “life happens”. Depending on the situation, it can make things really complicated when you have a house full of paying guests. The charm of choosing a bed & breakfast means that you are staying in our home. All B&B’s in Nova Scotia by regulation are owner occupied. When we say you will receive an authentic experience, we mean it! In the ten years we’ve had our bed & breakfast, luckily there have only been a handful (or two) of times when things have gone “wrong”.

We brought an early newborn Sarah home from the hospital on Hallowe’en night 2004 to an almost full house. Those guests I’m sure will never forget the excitement of the two little boys welcoming their sister, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating! (Although, as I tell my tourism students, that’s not an experiential tourism activity I’m willing to repeat!) 😉

Rooms after Hurricane Juan when we had no power for five days? Our German guests proclaimed that they “take cold showers anyway”. Breakfast on the barbeque and evenings by candlelight were a novelty – and dare I say, fun?!

Six months of strict bedrest while pregnant? The rest of the family stepped in.

A phone call that a motorcycle accident claimed the life of a cousin as we had breakfast plates in hand, ready to serve? We put on our “stage faces” and grieved when our guests had departed.

Scarlet fever in the house? We called our guests and found alternate arrangements before they arrived.

Anaphylaxis while a party is happening? One of us stays to “host” while the other sneaks out the back door to the hospital.

One of our favourite (maybe not the proper choice of words?!) stories is the time I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic when we had a full house. I lost all feeling in my arms and legs. D’Arcy called 911 and the paramedics carried me through the hallway and downstairs to the ambulance in the middle of the night while I shushed them the entire time. One of them asked, “What’s the problem? Is this a boarding house or something?” Our guests had no idea!

Last night, we had a new experience. Our youngest daughter was sick. She was running a fever and her breathing was labored. It didn’t take long to realize she had moved from “bug” to “sick”; she was really struggling to breathe. Our previously booked guests (from Australia) were already checked-in and were on their way to go Tidal Bore Rafting. I told D’Arcy that I thought we needed to get her checked, so he drove us to the hospital (holiday Monday), leaving our boys in charge.

We had just been admitted to triage when my phone buzzed. It was Evan (our 14 year old) and his text read, “We have drop-ins”. D’Arcy left us and ran home quickly, to find that Evan had already taken the new guests on a tour, and signed them in! He said he “wasn’t comfortable” but did his best! 🙂

It turned out that Olivia was admitted to hospital immediately with bacterial pneumonia and the rest of us went into overdrive, making and changing plans. My dad came to our house to chat with guests  while D’Arcy looked after supper, bedtimes, and getting ready for a substitute at school today. The plan was made that I was going to take the night shift at the hospital and he was going to relieve me in the morning.  Our guests may have found it odd that a 14-year-old let them in, but I don’t think they realized the busyness or stress behind the scenes until D’Arcy admitted to them this morning that he was on his way to the hospital to be with his daughter.

We recognize that you go on vacation to leave the world behind and we do our best to ensure that happens when you stay with us. It’s just that sometimes are easier than others! 😉

Olivia is home now. Although not perky yet, the IV antibiotics helped. She’s a real trooper and didn’t cry or complain at all while we were there. (Other than telling me she wanted to go home.) That being said, our own beds feel really good tonight!

Olivia in the Truro hospital, on IV antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. Yes, she wore her Bluenose Marathon Youth Run shirt each day from Saturday to Tuesday!

Olivia in the Truro hospital, on IV antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. She’s worn her Bluenose Marathon Youth Run shirt each day from Saturday to Tuesday!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

Taste of Nova Scotia Porridge Bread (Recipe Included)

Breakfast by request this morning? French toast with fruit and “Acadian Maple” pure maple syrup, made on D’Arcy’s porridge bread. This is a recipe we discovered years ago in our “Taste of Nova Scotia” cookbook and D’Arcy makes it at least once each week, usually twice. Described as, “a wonderfully fragrant, soft brown bread”, it gets rave reviews by all. We often make this bread for the kids’ teachers as thank-you gifts, and one teacher in particular has come to the house offering to pay D’Arcy to make it for him! For the record, I like it best when it’s still warm from the oven and slathered with butter and molasses!

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Recipe by Taste of Nova Scotia:

Porridge:

  • 3 cups boiling water
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups rolled oats

Bread:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 ½ tsp granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp dry yeast
  • 2 cups porridge
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt

In a saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil; add rolled oats and bring back to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set porridge aside. In a small mixing bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water; add yeast and let rise until foamy. In a large mixing bowl, blend together porridge, brown sugar, oil and molasses. To porridge mixture, add yeast mixture, stirring to combine. Add flour 1 cup at a time, stirring to blend well, and continue to add flour until dough starts to come clean from the sides of the bowl but is not dry. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and somewhat elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size. (60 – 90 minutes).

Punch dough down and divide into six equal pieces. Shape into loaves and place two loves each into three greased 10 – x 6-inch double bread pans. Cover and set aside to rise in a warm draft-free place until double in size, approximately one hour. Bake in a preheated 325*F  oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until loaves are golden brown. Makes three double loaves.

** If you are so inclined, we’ve been nominated as Best Bed & Breakfast in the Truro & Colchester Chamber’s 2013 “Best of Colchester” awards. Voting takes place until May 15th. We’d be so grateful if you’d click on the website and vote for “Belgravia” as “Best B&B” up to five times per IP address. You do not need to register, nor do you need to vote in every category. Thank you in advance!

Best of Colchester Award voting

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

The more things stay the same, the more they change?

D’Arcy & I are both teachers. He teaches in the public school system and I am faculty in the School of Business at the Nova Scotia Community College. When we began our B&B ten years ago (I can’t believe we’re at the beginning of our 11th season!!) D’Arcy commuted to Halifax during the school year as a permanent teacher with the Halifax School Board. I was a “work-at-home” mom, and running the B&B was my full time job. Back in 2003, my dad had just retired from his career with Lafarge, and my mother was still teaching primary. My dad has been involved with our B&B from the very beginning, as has Lori, who helps out on Mondays and Thursdays.

D’Arcy made the leap in 2006 and started working at a school in our local school board that was half the distance of his commute to Halifax. (One hour drive from Truro – Halifax.) He worked at that same school for five years, and earned a permanent position in the local school board. Wanting to be rid of the daily commute all together, two years ago he was able to secure a position at a school just a five minute drive from home. At the time, I was working at the Truro campus of the college, which is located just 1km from our home; an easy walk.

Last year at this time, my term position at Truro Campus ended and he got caught up in the cuts that the local school board were forced to make. Because he has a permanent contract, he is guaranteed a job, we just weren’t sure where in the Board which runs from Amherst to Pictou, and as far South as Elmsdale. As it turned out, he was placed in a position at a school in Pictou County, about a 45 minute drive from our home. Shortly after, a continuing full-time position came available that I was qualified for at Pictou campus, and since I knew D’Arcy was driving that way anyway, I applied for it and won the competition.

So, long story short, we have both been teaching in Pictou County this year and have loved it. We hired our neighbour, Ruthanne, this Fall to help out with breakfasts and cleaning on school days, and my dad still loves to come and welcome guests at arrival and chat over breakfast, helping to plan itineraries. D’Arcy & I enjoy making the 45-minute commute together daily; (“Best carpool ever!”) having the time in the car together to talk without any other distractions, and we are both really happy at our respective schools.

We weren’t sure what this year’s round of hiring in the public school system would bring, but on Friday we received the wonderful news that D’Arcy has been hired for next year in a position at his same school and will now be attached to that school. For the first time in ten years, we know where we’ll both be for the foreseeable future. The school where he works is actually a school that is growing in numbers (many of our rural schools have declining populations) so his position should be secure even if there are future cuts.

Stability – a new concept in the McDonah household!

People have been asking if we will sell our home & business and relocate to Pictou County. The answer is no. We love our home and our business and love the community we have in Truro. I grew up here. My parents still live here. Our children are settled in great schools, involved in so many activities, and have wonderful friends. D’Arcy’s brother and his family live on the other corner of our street. Although it is expensive to drive, at least we are commuting together and can remain a one-vehicle family for now.

Will we still operate our B&B? Absolutely! A reason our bed & breakfast has been so successful is because we love what we do. We really love welcoming guests from around the world into our home and getting to know them. We love to show-off our beautiful province to people, whether it is the first or tenth time they’ve been here. We love discovering connections and making relationships with people. Most of all, we’re proud to be a local business that supports the local economy in our community.

We will have to look at how things might change. We have already stopped hosting events such as weddings and parties, and no longer cater private lunches and dinners. Perhaps we’ll eventually turn into a more seasonal operation… These changes remain to be seen after we have some discussion this summer.

What we do know for now is that we are open for business and in full swing for the 2013 tourist season already. Our weekends in May are  filling up and summer reservations are coming in steadily. It’s shaping up to be a great year and our whole team – myself, D’Arcy, Dave, Deanna, Lori, Ruthanne, and the kids –  looks forward to welcoming many familiar faces, and meeting new friends this summer!

Belgravia Bed and Breakfast website.