Tag Archives: Between Water & Main bed and breakfast

My Long Journey to Andra Watkins


Written in gratitude to Anne Becker and in memory of Ruth Wilkinson, whose invisible hand has nudged together another generation of kindred spirits under the roof of her home-sweet-home in the tiny town of Belhaven, NC.

The river takes, the river gives. Which is exactly how the Wilkinsons, who lived at 367 East Water Street in Belhaven when the road was known as Front Street, long before their house became an inn, ended up with a collection of Blue Willow plates. Ruth Wilkinson, the family matriarch, arrived at the collection one plate at a time as they washed up on the shore of the Pungo, a bounty claimed by some Victorian-era hurricane, decades before hurricanes had names. Floatsam or jetsam, who knew? Who cared? The river practically delivered them to the Wilkinson’s doorstep.

The plates, I’m told, have graced the Wilkinson’s Thanksgiving dinner table, accommodating family recipes inspired by Ruth, for four generations. I know this from Anne Becker — Ruth’s great-granddaughter, author of the “Wilkinson Plates.

Although she now lives in Washington State, which might as well be a different country if not for social media, Anne’s connection to the river is strong. Eastern Carolina calls her home just about every year.

Aside from owning the same house in different lifetimes, my connection to the Wilkinsons starts with Anne’s Aunt Becky. Becky and her husband showed up at the inn one sunny afternoon. They were taking a drive down Memory Lane and wanted a look around the old homestead. They didn’t have much time; they wanted to get back to their home in southern Virginia before dark. Becky promised to return, and she did — always unexpected — gifting me with her memories, a copy of the “Wilkinson Plates,” and finally, before she died, connecting me with Anne. The river takes, the river gives.

While researching another book inspired by her Belhaven family, Anne spent a few days with us last summer, sleeping in the bedroom once occupied by her Aunt Iris. We became fast friends, bonding over our early political careers, writing, reading, gardening, baking, old houses and the spirits among us.

A few months ago, Anne surprised me with a package that contained a beautiful cowl she knitted while channeling the cold Pungo River breezes, and two novels written by author Andra Watkins. Without giving away any secrets, Anne knew I would love Andra’s novels, based on our shared fascination with Theodosia Burr Alston, Vice President Aaron Burr’s less-infamous daughter, whose death remains a North Carolina legend, as unsettled as the fate of the Lost Colony.

I had just started reading Andra’s second book when out of the blue, I received an email from Andra Watkins herself.  Anne Becker had suggested she contact me about hosting an author’s night at our bed and breakfast.

At first, I was like – What? We can’t afford to host a New York Times best-selling author! I almost responded, politely of course, without opening her proposal. But I loved Andra’s books, so I couldn’t resist.  I opened the document, and my concerns amplified — What? We can’t accommodate 100 people! But then I thought about the flotsam-or-jetsam Wilkinson plates and how that one book connected me to Anne, and how one book connected Anne to Andra, and Andra to me. The river takes, the river gives. It’s my turn to keep it flowing.

Sponsored by Between Water & Main Bed & Breakfast, Andra Watkins will be coming to Belhaven’s Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Sun., Feb. 11, 2018, 3-4 p.m., to present “I Walked 444 Miles to Make a Memory,” a hilarious, motivational program about her New York Times best-selling memoir “Not Without My Father.” Book sales and signing to follow. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by calling 252-943-0367.



Under the Rainbow

As the cook-in-residence at our bed and breakfast, guests often ask for recipes. They also ask me which one is my favorite.

Since I get bored easily, I like switching up what I make for breakfast, sometimes creating my own recipes. It’s hard to settle on a favorite. Naming a favorite for a particular season would be easier, since I like to work with as many local ingredients as possible.

A few mornings ago, as I was standing over my well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, sautéing peppers, onions, potatoes and broccoli in unsalted butter from the Simply Natural Creamery, I finally had a good answer.  I realized that the garden vegetable frittata is my favorite, but not for any other reason than I can name where all the ingredients come from, including the eggs. Although I belong to the Community Supported Agriculture program at Petals and Produce, that morning I had selected only vegetables and basil harvested from the inn’s garden.

I remember Craig Shelton, the first New Jersey chef to win the James Beard Award and an early leader in the farm-to-table movement, talk about the science of cooking. Shelton holds a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. As many accolades as he has received, the chef told the small audience (and I paraphrase) that he can never replicate the taste of a strawberry, picked from his restaurant garden, still warm from the sun, perfectly made by God.

Last year, our first summer garden in North Carolina, a rainbow appeared after a steamy rain shower. There is now photo proof that the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the abundance of riches buried in our own backyard garden. And yours, of course.



The First 30 Days

IMG_1543First came the pirates. Then two couples, making Belhaven, NC, a stopover between the Outer Banks and home. Another couple came in off their boat due to choppy waters. They were en route to Savannah from Delaware, cruising the Intracoastal Waterway on a small boat because she likes camping, and he likes boating. Another couple came without luggage – making a last-minute decision to spend the night after realizing that the only thing better than eating lunch at Spoon River was eating dinner there, too. They were followed by three men, traveling from Virginia Beach to the west coast of Florida, on jet skis. Admittedly in their adventurous 60s, they played Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot to decide who got the room with the king-sized bed. There were chefs, teachers, nurses, policemen, builders, artists and entrepreneurs. There were two sailors from Holland on holiday, cruising through on a retired navy tender, with no agenda except to have a good time.

This is the first month of my new life as innkeeper of Between Water & Main: No commute. No dry-clean-only attire. And, as my husband often reminds me, no steady paycheck. Ah, but to be an infinitesimal part of someone else’s journey—people I never would have met sitting in an office. People who have expanded my world without my leaving the front porch. Ah, to have the opportunity to turn a handshake on the way in to a hug on the way out. That’s the pay off.


Answering the Call

IMG_1580Who thought any good could come from a late-night phone call from a 21-year-old, party noise in the background, who says, “I know it’s probably not a good time to talk” ?

I’m an early riser, so my kids know to avoid calling me after 10 p.m. unless it’s an emergency. So when the phone vibrated in my ear, and Drew’s name popped up, I answered it, half-asleep. His words ran together as if he had to convey a matter of upmost importance: “I know it’s late, and maybe I woke you up. Were you sleeping? I am at a graduation party …” I remained silent through his long preface, waiting for the punch. “You remember my friend Sarah. You met her at Homecoming. Her summer job fell through, and she is interested in hospitality, and I know you have been working really hard and need help, and I thought ….”

If I didn’t say it out loud, I was certainly thinking “WHAT?” We hadn’t even opened Between Water & Main. At the time, we didn’t have a sign, a web site, a Board of Health license or a single booking. I’m imagining that Sarah is standing next to Drew as he made this call – she was – so I’m trying to contain my “what are you crazy-you must be drinking” commentary.

I more likely said something like, “I can’t afford to employ anyone. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”

The sleep that had just been about to overtake me gave way to insomnia. I did remember Sarah. I knew that she spoke fluent Spanish — we had a common love of Hispanic culture. She was poised and polished, just a semester away from entering the job market.  Admittedly, I did need help. But what could I offer this newly minted college graduate?  Then I had a crazy idea. What if Sarah would be interested in being a night manager? What if she lived at the inn, helped start-up the inn and yoga studio, and got a job at a restaurant in town? Within minutes, I sent my son a text message outlining the idea, but told him not to call me until I could flesh it out.

The next evening, I spoke with the owner of Belhaven’s popular farm-to-fork restaurant Spoon River.  They did need summer help for lunch and dinner, and since I needed help mostly in the mornings, it seemed like the wild idea hatched at a graduation party might actually work out for everyone.

I had no idea that a late-night phone call with inauspicious tidings would turn out so well. Sarah has been with us for only one week, but she already feels like part of our family, part of Between Water & Main, part of Spoon River, and part of Belhaven.

Welcome, Sarah!




Living the Dream


I’ve started three businesses in my life, but this one – the one I put off as an early retirement gift to myself – the one I dreamed about for more than 10 years – is just about killing me. I am housekeeper, manager, purchasing agent, chef, server, bug killer, gardener, marketer. I am a little bit of everything I have ever done in my life all rolled into one professional hairball. I am living the dream. I am an innkeeper.

Soon after I graduated college, actor Bob Newhart had a successful TV series in which he played an author who moved to rural Vermont to open an inn with his wife. He made it look easy to balance his writing career with his Vermont inn, spiced with all the characters that made it interesting. That show, in addition to the old movie Holiday Inn, likely fueled my passion for this seemingly crazy undertaking that I have dubbed “a fast-track to poverty.” Writing is just about the last thing I’ve had time to do, which is why I have gone blog-silent. For the last month or so, I thought of blogging as a luxury; I simply did not have time to spare.

Many nights I contemplated writing about the 20 or so words that became my soundtrack. Words that described just how tired I was: exhausted, spent, drained, wiped out, etc. But I refused to succumb to that pity party. I had to get ready to pass a Board of Health inspection that would grant me a license to operate. And by some sort of miracle and a lot of sweat equity, I was ready.

IMG_1507We had our soft opening this past weekend, with our first guests arriving just before our sign was hoisted into place. Fortunately, they didn’t need a beacon; they were pirates. And jolly company, indeed. One of our pirate-guests came from Hunterdon County, NJ, my home for more than 30 years.

On Sunday, after my guests and help left for the weekend, a man showed up on my doorstep drinking a bottle of beer. A barn-sign in rural Pittstown, NJ, came to mind: R U Lost? No. He was a friend of a college friend (also from NJ) who I hadn’t seen in decades, but keep in touch with through the wonders of Facebook. She knew he was sailing into town and asked him to stop by. It was a welcome surprise.

These and other small graces have made up for the achy muscles, a damaged product order that leaked soap over glass bottles, a washing machine mishap involving a piece of cardboard mixed in with brand-new white sheets (I swear I had removed it all), a leaky skylight, a delayed shipping order and so many other spit-in-your-face obstacles I didn’t prepare for impeding my progress.

For those readers old enough to remember, the Newhart show ended with Bob Newhart waking up from a dream with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from his successful 1970s sitcom, reducing his eight-season TV inn-experience to a bad-dream sequence. It’s a classic ending that set a new bar for series finales. But all I can think about is that I watched it for eight seasons.

Welcome to my first season of living the dream.