That Feel Good Moment (Another Kind of Love Story)

We woke up to another glorious snowfall, this one a fluffy six inches deep and preceded by hoar frost that made all outdoors a glittery white. We bundled up in warm layers and snow boots in preparation for a trip to town for a few errands.

On the porch, the Gnome was fumbling with boxes destined for the recycling bin while I was busy locking the door. I turned around to see what looked like an apparition of Amber, one of our beloved pets of yore.

The dog was beguiling with her golden plume of a tail wagging in youthful enthusiasm. Where had she come from? We live far from a public road. How long had she been out? She must be hungry and cold.

For a moment we thought we’d once again been adopted. But she was wearing a harness. She must have been with her humans recently. Surely she hadn’t been abandoned by the side of the road.

As the Gnome held tightly to her harness, he felt for a tag. Appropriately, it read, “Not all who wander are lost, but I might be.” There was a phone number. I was already digging for my cell phone.

“Hello,” the male voice answered.

“Hi, we have a dog here whose tag has this phone number attached.”

I could hear deep worry quickly replaced by relief as he told me he and his wife were out looking for her at that very moment. We exchanged information; they were less than half a mile away. I told him we’d pile her in the car and meet them in a few minutes.

But they weren’t about to hang around waiting. Before we got to the road, we saw them hiking up the mountain on our very long, climbing, gravel road. Red-faced, wet-haired, and with tears rolling down their cheeks, they hugged each other, they hugged the dog, they hugged the Gnome. (I’m sure they would have hugged me, too, but I was still buckled up in the car at the moment.)

Turns out this young couple had been out on a romp with their barely one-year-old pup. They’d practiced letting her off leash at home for a few weeks with no problems and decided today, on the remote path they were hiking, would be a good time to try it further afield. But they turned away for a mere second. That was all it took for her to disappear. Probably spotted a rabbit or maybe a deer.

They’d been searching for a couple of hours, climbing ever higher in the deepening snow—exhausted, worried, with no idea if they were going in the right direction, and about to give up when the phone rang. In the few minutes she’d been in our custody, we’d already fallen a little in love with the dog, but our infatuation couldn’t hold a candle to the adoration this young couple showed for their furbaby.

Even though they insisted they could walk, we couldn’t let them trek another half mile home. They were on a natural high but obviously overheated and exhausted. We piled the humans in the car, too, with the dog safely ensconced between them.

After we dropped them off, I realized how full my heart was. I looked at the Gnome and said, “Doesn’t it feel good to do a good deed!” We had smiles on our faces, smiles in our hearts, and livelier springs in our steps the rest of the day.

Have you found your good deed for today? This day devoted to love is the perfect time to reach out. You’ll be glad you did.

Selecting the Airbnb that’s Right for You

(Read this to see why I like traveling with Airbnb.)

If you’ve wondered about Airbnb but been too uneasy to give it a go, read this post for tips to make traveling with Airbnb safe, easy, and fun. (Airbnb’s website changes from time to time, so things may be a little different when you try it, but these guidelines should still be useful.)

 

What a cheery studio apartment this was, attached to our host’s home but with a private entrance.

1. In the search bar at the top of the page, type the name of a location. (You can go through the entire process up to reserving a space to see how it works.) Additional options will appear including number of guests, type of place you’re looking for, and price range. These options help narrow your search, saving considerable time.

2. A list of places matching your needs will pop up along with a map showing the general location of each rental. So, if you’re looking for a place in the heart of a city, you won’t accidentally end up thirty miles away. You’ll see the per night price and, in smaller print, the total price, which accounts for cleaning, service fees, and taxes, so it’s all inclusive. Keeping this in mind, don’t let the nightly rate fool you. Sometimes the one that looks more expensive at first glance costs less overall because the fees can vary significantly.

3. When you select a property, click on the photo at the top of the page for a slideshow of the place. I don’t advise staying somewhere that doesn’t provide enough pictures—interior and exterior—to size up the place.

4. Close the slideshow to read the description and list of amenities. Each has a ‘read more’ option. For the record, all the Airbnbs I’ve stayed at had all the promised amenities and often others missing from the written list.

5. Scroll down fora diagram of sleeping arrangements. In addition to the slideshow, this shows where and what type of sleeping arrangements are available (bed, futon, air mattress).

6. Even farther down the page are guest reviews. I’m highly unlikely to stay in an Airbnb so new that there are no reviews. Sorry, but I don’t want to be the guinea pig. In fact, I like to see plenty of reviews. That way, I’m guaranteed a good cross section of experiences and perspectives.

7. The listing also has a host photo and usually a brief host bio. There’s even a place where you can contact the host if you have questions or need any clarification.

8. Lastly, you’ll see a neighborhood description. What you won’t find, for security reasons, is a street address. That’s provided one or two days before your arrival, along with instructions on how to get in. Some hosts will greet you in person to show you around. Others offer a keypad or lock box.

9. Read it all. Reread it. Just like real estate ads, you might find code words. If they give you pause, jump to the next listing. However, I’ve almost always found that the pictures and descriptions are entirely accurate. Hosts have a vested interest in portraying their sites accurately. After all, if you arrive with a set of expectations that aren’t met, your host can expect a negative review for all to see.

10. On the right side of the page you’ll see pricing detail and the chance to book. It’s an easy process.

 

This New Mexico casita was one of our early Aibnb experiments. We were astounded at the low price. Fresh, airy, filled with original art, it’s a mother-in-law home which the host rents out when she isn’t visiting. The patio was  perfect for taking in the mountain view. 

11. For each rental, there is a heart at the top right. Click on that if you’re interested but not ready to make a commitment. You’ll be creating a sort of wish list to choose from. By the way, each time you click on a listing, it opens a new tab, so you don’t lose the original.

12. Another menu item, ‘Trips,’ shows the places you’ve stayed before in case you want to return. Still another lets you message your hosts as your arrival date nears or even when it’s over. Who knows? You might start up a lifelong friendship.

13. A day or so after your visit, Airbnb will ask you to complete a questionnaire and review. Please do this. It helps others like you. All reviews are posted on the listing’s site. If you have a complaint, the host may respond. You also have a chance to give Airbnb private information which allows them to follow up.

More Tips

Consider your ethos. If green is paramount, you may be able to find it. If it’s community investment, you’ll want to shy away from hosts who hollow out neighborhoods by buying up multiple properties for short-term rentals. How about diversity? Airbnb hosts can’t state that they discriminate, but some make abundantly clear that they don’t, stating for instance that they’re LGTB-friendly.

You can change or cancel a reservation, though hosts have individual rules for when and whether you lose some portion of your payment. Airbnb may also deduct the service fee. Most of the time, nothing is paid up front. These details are on the website.

Respect the host’s rules, also posted. If something doesn’t appeal to you, simply pass.  Sometimes, hosts may want you to strip the bed or put used towels in a designated spot before you leave. If you rent an entire house, they’ll certainly want you to wash any dishes you use. They won’t ask you to vacuum or actually change the linens, but they’ll want you to leave the place basically as you found it—as you would with family or friends, right?

The view from our Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia, Airbnb included  both water and mountains. Best of all worlds.

Always, always remember that you’re staying at someone’s private property, whether or not they’re in the next room, and treat the space with the respect you want your own home to receive. If you accidentally break something, say so. Your host will probably be understanding, certainly more so than if you slink off without saying a word.

Planning a trip with Airbnb may take a while longer than making a reservation with your favorite hotel chain. But if you’re someone who comparison shops for lodging anyway, one process may not take longer than the other, though it’s easy to become infatuated with some of the Airbnb options. You may find so many desirable choices that you forget the original purpose of your travels.

In the end, Airbnb is a means, not an end. At some point, you may need to rein in your impulses and remember your travel goals. But if unique travel opportunities and adventure figure into those goals, Airbnb is one way to realize them.

Almost all the Airbnbs we’ve visited cost less—often significantly less—than any hotel or roadside motel we could have found, and were ever so much more interesting.

 

A few more places we’ve stayed with Airbnb. Sometimes you get amazing views, sometimes a hammock or even your own Airbnb cat. (Don’t worry, hosts make it very clear if animals are on the premises, at least in our experience. But you can always ask in a message, a good idea if you have allergies).

Have you tried Airbnb?

Why I Use Airbnb—Sometimes

Does the notion of using Airbnb sound a little scary to you? It did to me. But a couple of years ago when the Gnome and I took an adventurous cross country road trip, we decided to add one more adventure and selected three Airbnbs to add to our nights with relatives, old-fashioned Bed and Breakfast inns, and roadside motels.

We found we liked this relatively new lodging alternative and used it another time or two with equally good results. So, when we made another road trip last fall, this time to Nova Scotia, we decided we could happily and safely use Airbnb almost exclusively.

Airbnbs may be chic, quirky (waterfall Jacuzzi, anyone?) or rustic. (Click individual pictures to see a larger image.)

Happily and safely—those are the key words. The trick is to know how. In this post, I share a few of the reasons we sometimes choose Airbnb. But first, a disclaimer: I have absolutely no stake, financial or otherwise, in Airbnb—except to give it money in exchange for a good night’s sleep.

1. In our experience, Airbnb is a less expensive form of travel with a higher comfort level than hotels.

2. We’ve found Airbnb to be a homier option. There’s usually a choice of comfy upholstered furniture to relax your tired bones. We specifically look for this benefit.

3. Meeting Airbnb hosts is a good way to get to know the area. They’ll give you the local lowdown. If you’re in town for longer than a night or two, getting to know some locals gives your stay a whole new dimension. What better way to do that than stay in someone’s home? (However, if privacy is what you crave, hosts generally respect that.) Sometimes, the hosts don’t live on site, and you may never see them. Even so, many provide brochures or other information about areas of interest, nearby restaurants, etc. Some even have a three-ring binder chock full of helpful info.

4. Depending on your needs and wants, you can rent an entire house, a bedroom in a private home (with or without a private entrance), or even a shared room. Haven’t given that last one a try; don’t intend to. I’m not that adventurous!

5. If you’re traveling with family or friends, sharing a house, apartment, or condo cuts the price even further, and it’s so much more fun to spend your evenings relaxing together in a living room than stuffed into one or another’s hotel room.

6. Depending on your Airbnb selection, you can prepare your own meals. You can eat in your pjs if you want and even save a little extra money and time. Often, the hosts stock the fridge or pantry with a few essentials, but don’t count on more than coffee makings and maybe salt and pepper. Previous guests sometimes leave what they didn’t use, so you might find cooking oil, mayo, or other condiments. You never know.

7. Airbnb hosts provide most, if not all, the amenities hotels do: bed linens, towels, soap, shampoo. In my experience, hairdryers and irons have also been universally available. One place even had a selection of condoms and feminine hygiene products. (Again, you never know!) Sometimes there’s a washer and dryer, a real convenience on longer trips.

8. Typically, Airbnb hosts do not provide a hot breakfast, though we’ve experienced a couple of happy exceptions. However, they almost always provide a coffee maker with coffee and tea bags as well as breakfast bars and sometimes fruit or other snacks. You might even find a choice of yogurts, instant oatmeal, or muffins. We stayed at one place that stocked the fridge with soft drinks, and had an entire tray full of prepackaged baked goods on the counter. Another host left us some homemade whole wheat rolls. Yum!

9. With Airbnb, you’re almost certainly putting money into the local economy, often helping a self-employed craftsperson or a young family supplement their income. That feels a lot better than lining the pockets of faceless corporations to me.

10. Airbnb is always an adventure, in our experience a happy one filled with little surprises, homey touches, unique decorating styles, and other treats. Think about how different the homes of your various friends and family are; be prepared for a quirk or two. It all makes for much more interesting travels. If you’re not a person who can go with the flow, the Airbnb experience may not be for you.

This welcoming two-bedroom home is one of the least expensive places we’ve stayed, even though we had the whole place to ourselves.

To be sure the experience is a positive one, it’s important to do your homework and make your Airbnb selection judiciously. In my next post, I’ll share tips on selecting an Airbnb site that fits you to a T. Stay tuned.

A New Find

I’ve occasionally played around with found poetry, that genre that refashions existing texts to present them as poems.  Poets.org describes found poetry as a literary collage and notes that it usually comes from newspaper articles, speeches, letters, etc.

But I recently discovered another rich source for found poetry: musical titles from the SXM station I most often listen to while in the car. In turning these titles into short poems, I’ve almost always left the titles just as they are, making only the rarest addition of a pronoun or preposition and even more rarely omitting a word from the original.

To offer the greatest possible freedom of interpretation, my SXM found poems are short, generally untitled, and mostly lacking punctuation, choices that seem to offer the best opportunities for individual interpretation. Just the way I like it.

Here are a few. I’ll drop in more in future posts. Because each one is so short but distinct from the others, I think they’re best experienced in small doses. If something particularly strikes you, one way or the other, I hope you’ll comment. I’d like to hear what you think as I keep working on this intriguing poetry style.

I.

all dreams
are made within
looking through
voices of the past

 

II.

the wind
whispers visions
stretching my wings
as the story unfolds

 

III.

desert afternoon
bright sky
dark dreams
in a long lonely light

 

IV.

Swimming with stones
in a dark and silent space
as a clearness of light
beams out of the silence;
now I let it go.

 

V.

miles from nowhere
wind whispers
on a lazy afternoon
I could live here
at one with you

 

Need a Winter Project?

I’m tickled pink, purple, and every hue of the rainbow to announce that the current Winter issue of Heirloom Gardener includes an article by none other than moi! It’s all about making a personalized garden journal—an excellent day-brightening project for the short, dark winter months. 

Now, you could go out and search for Heirloom Gardener at your local newsstand, but you can also read the article online using this link. You’ll find my article front and center under the “Current Issue” section. If you’re into gardening, whether veggies, flowers, or fruits and nuts, you may want to check it out.

 

Nova Scotia: Land of Kindness and Humor

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Due South, you know the running joke about the uber politeness of  Benton Fraser, the Canadian Mountie assigned to work in Chicago. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch.) The nice Canadian is such a tired stereotype that I’m a little embarrassed to acknowledge I found it to be true, at least as far as Nova Scotia is concerned—-New Brunswick, too, which we passed through on our way to and from.

Not just polite, but downright nice. Folks struck up conversations with us from the next table in a restaurant, on hiking trails, at roadside overlooks. It was more than politeness; there was a real genuineness to their overtures. The bonhomie was contagious—everyone seemed friendlier in Nova Scotia. We had long, delightful chats with folks from the Philippines, China, New Zealand, and Scotland. It’s hard to define, but the truth of it was amplified as soon as we returned to the States. After 2 1/2 weeks in Nova Scotia, a Maine “I’m sorry” uttered after an accidental brush sounded mechanical, almost brusque, by comparison.

Sorry to my Canadian friends if you’re sick of hearing this cliché, but there are far worse character traits to be had. After all, niceness is a moral virtue. And I thank you for it. You brought out my best self.

Speaking of niceness, I found it particularly touching that from the first Canadian we met to the last, as soon as someone knew we were from North Carolina, the first words out of their mouths were about Hurricane Florence. Almost to a person. They’d been following the news, they’d mourned the losses, they commiserated with us.  Even though the Gnome and I were virtually unaffected by the hurricane’s wrath, we were comforted by this display of concern and caring.

Kindness in Nova Scotia extends to the environment. A friend of mine once noted about our outdoor clothesline that she didn’t know anyone else who had one. Well, if she lived in Nova Scotia, she would! Every dry day in every part of the province, we saw laundry drying in the breeze. And I was impressed to see that almost every public trash receptacle in Nova Scotia was accompanied by not one but two, and usually three, recycling units, including one for food waste. Note how well-maintained they are.

 

Containers for almost all ready-to-serve beverages, not just soft drinks, are recycled. Got a half-gallon orange juice carton? An individual apple juice carton? Recyclable. They’ve been doing this for more than twenty years! (We didn’t realize until too late that we’d been paying deposits on all our containers and could have gotten refunds. Guess we’ll  file that info away till our next visit.)

Nova Scotians are serious about their recycling. Every Airbnb, every restaurant, every attraction we visited featured recycling bins. Good for them.

And what could be more hospitable than to discover a set of red Adirondack chairs waiting for you at random scenic spots? The red chair program was first put into place by Canada’s national park system. Now, it seems to be a ubiquitous trend. We found them at other public venues as well as in the backyards of several of our Airbnb hosts. We relaxed in them every chance we got. Is there a better way to invite your guests to stay a while?

Even the postal boxes are festive and welcoming.

There’s another side to the people of Nova Scotia: their sense of humor. We encountered it over and over. There was the sign at the entrance to the Telegraph House in Baddeck exhorting guests to avoid trying to close the screen door, stating that “he is lazy and will close in his own time.”

There were more examples. For instance . . .

This public sculpture on the Halifax Boardwalk, titled Got Drunk, Fell Down, features not only the ‘drunk’ lamp post but its friend whose head hangs in embarrassment and (a little further away but unseen in this photo) a less engaged post who’s trying to ignore the whole thing.) Poignant, yes, but also funny.

Granted, this Disney cruise ship isn’t from Nova Scotia, but that’s where we saw it. We couldn’t help smiling at this scene.

I have no idea why we happened to pull off the road at this particular spot, but when we did, we came upon this sign. I’m glad we stopped. It gave us a chance to . . .

DSCF5152

do our part to keep the sea serpents at bay.

Pitch perfect sign on the bathroom door of a Yarmouth restaurant

We’d gotten used to seeing Nova Scotia houses painted in happy reds, purples, greens, and yellows. But this is the only one we saw that actually IS a painting. Gotta love the whimsy of it.

And then we saw this ‘news’ notice in the North Shore Community Museum—a new take on fascinators that highlights the amount of snow likely to be found in that part of Cape Breton.

With that chuckle, I say a nostalgic goodbye to our Nova Scotia road trip and will return to my usual fare of Living on the Diagonal miscellany.

 

Traveling with Airbnb

(Part of a series from a recent trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia.  To read from the beginning, start here.)

How do two naturally reticent travelers get to know the people of their host country? It occurred to us that staying in real homes where we’d get to meet honest-to-goodness Nova Scotians on a more than fleeting basis might be a good way to do it, so we decided to take a chance on Airbnb rentals. (Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Airbnb except as a customer.)

Ultimately, we were looking for safe, clean, convenient places to lay our heads, perhaps cook a couple of meals, and occasionally run a load of laundry. And we wanted a reasonable amount of privacy. But we also wanted to get to know our hosts, where possible.

With those goals in mind, we began scouring Airbnb sites at each of the locations we anticipated spending a night. We splurged a time or two because we were so taken with a particular listing, but overall, we booked on the cheap. With service fees, taxes, and in some cases cleaning fees, our nightly rentals ranged from a mere $47 (for a whole house!) to $103 (for a bedroom and private bath, but the location—and our hosts—made it worth the price.)

We stayed in a couple of garage apartments attached to the host families’ homes but as private as we wanted. In one, our laps were kept warm by Mustache, the hosts’ loving cat.

 

 

We stayed in the upstairs loft of a former nautical museum. How’s that for quaint? And our host, Ginger, wowed us with her homemade whole wheat rolls.

 

We stayed in a former B&B honeymoon suite complete with waterfall Jacuzzi, right on the banks of the Annapolis Royal River.

 

The gracious Cheticamp hosts where we rented a bed/bath suite, are former teachers who once lived in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, largest, and most northwestern province. Their home, shared with a cat and seven former sled dogs, is filled with Inuit art. Each morning we were greeted with a full breakfast, not at all the norm with Airbnb. We hugged our goodbyes while the dogs sang for us.

 

Private home so no pics, but here are a couple of views of the river just outside and of one of our hosts’ seven dogs.

A couple of sites we picked from Airbnb listings were more traditional B&Bs, though small ones with just two or three rooms each. Both featured shared baths along the lines of boarding houses of the past. That worked out just fine; we never had to compete for bathroom time. Salty Rose’s and Periwinkle Cafe, run by a pair of sisters, was above a combo bakery and craft shop. We got a complimentary breakfast and left with a few locally made souvenirs. At the Crab Apple Inn, we were treated to a full breakfast (as well as complimentary homemade wine the night before). These places were almost as cozy and familial as single-family Airbnb spots.

 

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A couple of places we stayed were touted as 200-year-old homes. That really appealed to us. And there were two places where the host wasn’t on site and we were completely on our own. In Halifax, we stayed in a modern apartment in a residential neighborhood in easy walking distance of eateries and no more than a five-minute drive from every site on our long list of places to visit. So convenient! A colorful, fully decorated home greeted us in Cape Breton’s Sydney, where we had a good view of the Sydney River from the living room window.

 

 

Each of these places had its own charms. And with each, the Gnome and I took a little informal survey. What did we especially like or dislike? It was a way to hone our preferences for future searches. And let me tell you, sometimes we had to scratch our heads to find a ‘dislike.’ We never had trouble coming up with a wow factor, though.

Two places really stood out for us. One was billed as a ‘former prospector’s cottage.’ We had the whole rustic place to ourselves on a quiet country road in rural eastern Nova Scotia. It reminded us of our long-ago dream of finding and loving an old farmhouse in the country. We really loved this place. We fell in love with our host, Gail, too. Maybe it was because we’re the same age. Maybe it’s because we saw the ‘old hippie’ in each other.

Or maybe it was her keen insight. She sensed how much we loved this maritime province. As we were chatting, she looked deep into our eyes with her witchy ones, an enigmatic smile forming on her face, and out popped these words: “You’re going to move here!” Of course, she didn’t know how bound by love we are to our own home, but neither did she know that we once seriously considered moving to Nova Scotia nor the hold it’s had on us all these years. Gail brought us warm eggs from her henhouse for our breakfast. Yum!

 

Gail calls this a heritage home. We call it perfect.

The other stop that filled our hearts wasn’t in Canada but Vermont, in the charming village of Newbury. When we read the description of this 200-year-old home and its location in an honest-to-goodness New England village, with a village commons, town hall meetings, and all. (Newhart, anyone?), we added a day to our trip so we could make this detour. In theory, we prefer to nix places where we have only a bedroom in a private home; we can’t help feeling that we’re imposing—never mind that the hosts have chosen this path and we’re paying for the space. Irrational, I know, but we feel like we have to tiptoe and whisper.

This time it was different. In essence, we had the whole downstairs to ourselves. But it was more than that, and more than the charm of an old home in a quintessential New England village that dates to the revolutionary period. It was also our host, Linda. You can read more about her and our stay in her home here.

No pics of Linda’s private home, but I snagged this one of the village store from Creative Commons.

In a head-to-head competition between traditional lodgings and this entrepreneurial one, Airbnb wins hands down in my book, at least for this kind of trip. Our experience was so enriched by these homey, sometimes quirky, stays—and ever so much more by the hosts who extended us such hospitality and friendship. Thanks to every one of you!