Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Home Sweet Hotel

Think about your last hotel stay. Indoor pool ... lots of leisure time ... maybe room service ... freedom from housework ... the whole vacation mentality.  But what if that hotel room was your home - your only home - for six months?

For the Zorellas of Canfield, Ohio, and other families who have lost their homes from fire and other disaster, hotel living is all the home they get for stretches of time that go beyond a vacation.

The Zorella family lived in a Hampton Inn for six months after their house burned to the ground in 2007.  The way that the family coped with the drawn-out life of limbo can probably be summed up by Joyce Zorella's attitude of gratitude.

“The way it turned out, I can’t complain. We had no loss of life.”

The fire

Joyce remembers it as a typical Ohio winter morning. “We had a beautiful fire in the fireplace,” she recalls. Her husband was at work, her daughter was away, and her 15-year-old son was on the couch in front of the fireplace.

“He came up to tell me that smoke was coming from the fireplace,” Joyce said. “I thought it was just a minor venting problem and that it would go away.” A few minutes later when she got downstairs, there was more smoke, so she opened the patio door to air out the room. At that moment, the roof collapsed.

The fire had been raging inside the walls of the house due to a faulty fireplace. Joyce and her son had just enough time to call 911 and run out the door with their dog, carrying nothing with them. The fire department arrived quickly, but the hydrants were frozen. “We had to stand there and watch as our house burned,” Joyce said.

She recounts heartbreaking details about the fire - keeping her son from trying to go back into the house to get a suit he planned to wear to a school dance that night, realizing every family photo was gone, every memento,  watching flames engulf their home and everything they owned - and then she says something unexpected: “We feel lucky,” a mantra she repeats throughout her story.

Hotel living

The family stayed with Joyce’s mother for about a week and then they chose a two-room suite at the Hampton Inn as their temporary home while a new house was being built for them.

“I cried when we first got there,” Joyce said. Six months later, she cried when they left the hotel.  “They had become like family to us.”

Karen Naffah, who runs the Hampton Inn & Suites, where the Zorellas lived, said she and her staff try to make the hotel an extension of the families' homes.

"We bake cookies at 4:00, we learn all their names and what they are interested in. We have the TV in the lobby on the stations that their children would watch after school," Naffah said.  "If it's the holidays we make sure every family has tree time for opening gifts."

They may not be the only hotel to offer such services to long-term guests, but Naffah said, "We do go the extra mile. Our staff rocks that mid-America hospitality!"

The challenges

Despite extra TLC, there are challenges to hotel living, including eating at restaurants every meal, every day.   “Your digestive system has to adjust to that,” Joyce laughed. “And then it has to adjust back to home cooking after six months.”

Second only to having no kitchen was having little space. “Especially when we started to buy things to replace what we had lost,” Joyce said. “And then we started to buy things for our new house and there just wasn’t anywhere to put all of it.”

Her son lived part of the time with his girlfriend’s parents, which solved some living space issues at the hotel, but split up the family.

“Mother’s Day was hard,” Joyce recalled. Also much of their time was spent choosing things for the house, which cut into family time.

Laundry was another issue.  The hotel had one washer and one dryer, but they seemed to be always in use, so the family used the laundromat.  “Carrying your dirty underwear thoughts he lobby was a weekly event,” Joyce said, laughing.

The family lost their dog, an 8-year-old shitzu, when they gave her to a foster family during their hotel stay, and the foster family gave a fake address and disappeared. “So we saved our dog from the fire, only to lose her to a scam artist,” Joyce said.

Looking at the bright side

The Zorella Family
The family tried hard to keep things as normal as possible, something that started immediately, Joyce said. Her son went to the school dance the night of the fire. “We didn’t want anything to be different. We tried to keep things the same.”

There were wonderful amenities at the hotel, Joyce said. The lobby was the Zorellas’ living room “and we always had company,” she said.

Advice from the Red Cross

Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk and are likely to need extra care and help, according to Valerie Cole, manager of Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health for the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross has this advice for those who are faced with long-term temporary living:

* Eat healthy. During times of stress, it is important that you maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water.

* Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and getting support is one of the most important things you can do. Try to do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past.

* Be patient with yourself and with those around you. Recognize that everyone is stressed and may need some time to put their feelings and thoughts in order. That includes you!

* Set priorities. Tackle tasks in small steps.

* Gather information about assistance and resources that will help you and your family members meet your disaster-related needs.

* Stay positive. Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.

Joyce’s advice

* “Choose your hotel wisely. The staff at our hotel became friends and then became family.”

* “Keep the family close.  Something like this bonds you, because you’re in it tougher.”

* “Try to make it as an adventure. It’s not going to last. Make the best of it.”
After their new home was built, a friend had this blanket made for the Zorellas, showing their old house and their new house.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Be My Guest: How to Have Company

When you move to an awesome city, the first big difference you’ll see is that people will come out of the woodwork to visit you. Like someone flipped a switch, you’ll start to hear from people you worked with 20 years ago, your kids’ former math tutors whose first names you don’t even know, and distant relatives you no longer want to know. Because you’re a kind and generous soul, you’ll welcome them and invite them to stay in your guest room.

Guest rooms are almost a required amenity in San Francisco, a popular destination for conferences, conventions and vacations.  In a little over a year of living here, we’ve had almost 50 people come into town and want to see us. Half of those people stayed with us, even though we had barely had a chance to settle in to the house ourselves. Our first overnight guest arrived just a week after we moved into our house. I quickly put together our guest room and it's been in regular use since then.

I've lived in a lot of interesting cities, so I've hosted a lot of people over the years. While I've hosted every kind of guest, there's one kind of host I've tried to be: One that makes her guests feel comfortable and at home.

Here are some things to keep in mind when having company, starting with spending a night pretending you're a guest in your own home!

Be a guest in your own house

Sleep in your guest bed one night, take a shower in your guest bathroom, and put your makeup on in the mirror. Is the bed comfortable enough? Is the bedding warm enough? How is the soap and shampoo? Is the bedside light bright enough to read? How’s the wireless signal? Does that streetlight shine right onto the bed at night?

Do all the things your company does in your guest quarters and ask yourself: How would I like this, if I were staying here?

You’re not obligated to provide over-the-top luxury accommodations - after all, you’re not a five star hotel - but you should know how your guest room makes your guests feel.

Let your guests make their mark

When I lived in Florida, I had my guests sign and date a seashell and leave it in a tray in our guest room. Now that I live away from the beach, I set up an old manual typewriter in my guest room, and guests leave a message. My college friend had her guests sign their names inside the guest closet. There are lots of ideas for taking a guest book to the next, creative level, like this globe, marking all of the places your guests have arrived from. Any wedding guest book idea can be adapted for your guest room. Have fun finding what works for you and your home. Your guests will love you for it!

Be a brunch goddess

I used to count making breakfast as my least favorite thing to do when I had company. I would happily plan  dinners, stock the frig with great sandwich fixings, prep the guest room, and provide maps and  tourist info. Then the first morning would arrive and I would think, “Aw, geez, I don’t have anything to feed these people.” We’re not big breakfast eaters, so I sometimes don’t have more than three eggs in the house, and bacon rarely makes it in the front door.

So I made it a mission to master the art of brunch. My favorite brunch recipes are the ones I can put together the night before and then pop in the oven first thing in the morning.  My friend Barb’s Sausage Egg Strata became my go-to breakfast recipe for company. The day before my company arrived, I would cook the sausage and assemble the casserole, clean up the mess well in advance, and then pop the whole thing in the refrigerator. Served with cut-up fruit, it was the perfect no-fuss breakfast or brunch.

Put together your own set of brunch recipes, and be sure to have vegetarian and gluten-free versions for guests with dietary restrictions. Look on Pinterest and check out these 75 Amazing Brunch Recipes from Chef in Training.

Copy your favorite hosts

Do you have that one friend who, every time you stay with her, does an amazing job hosting? Her home is warm and inviting, you fall asleep to lavender scented pillow cases and wake to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. You can be her! Take notes and be a copycat. She won’t mind. Mimicry is the highest form of flattery.

Copy your favorite hotels

While you’re taking notes on how your favorite hosts do it, jot down some things you love and hate about the hotels you’ve stayed in. I made some changes in our guest room after I was staying at a top hotel that didn’t have an electrical outlet next to the bed  for me to charge my phone nearby at night. So I went home and freed up the outlet next to the bed.

Take a tip from Airbnb

Today's Airbnb is like a cross between a hotel, a B&B, and staying with a friend. Airbnb hosts don't have access to the hospitality industry's products and services. As someone who is hosting friends overnight in your home, you can do everything that an Airbnb host does. Check out their website for ideas.

Don’t overdo it

Having company should be as much fun for you as it is for your guests. Yes, your guest room bed sheets should be clean. Yes, there should be clean towels, too. But short of that, guests don’t expect your home to be spotless. They don’t mind if the guest closet is full of your suitcases and the exercise bike that no one uses anymore (which is exactly what is filling up my guest room closet and I haven't heard a single complaint).

Your company also won't expect you to wait on them hand and foot, fix gourmet meals for them at every turn, and they shouldn't mind if you point them to the bus stop instead of chauffeuring  them on sightseeing.  So put down the dust rag, relax and have some fun!

Help your guests help themselves

If there’s room, set up a single-serve coffee maker where your guests can fix themselves that first cup in the morning. A nice bonus is a mini-frig with coffee creamer, bottled water, and canned soda. A bottle of wine and a couple glasses is always a nice touch. (Don’t forget the corkscrew!)

When your company arrives, show them where all the necessities are and tell them to help themselves. You can sleep in the morning, knowing that if your company rises before you, they’ll be fine.

Be prepared for - ahem! . . . issues

Be sure there is a plunger in every bathroom your guests will use. Also, extra toilet paper in a place that makes sense. And be sure your bathroom trash can has a few extra liners in the bottom. If something comes up, make it easy for your guests to handle it themselves, without an embarrassing plea for help.

Just do it!

Don't let yourself turn away house-guests because your house isn't perfect. Or because you don't feel you're equipped. Guests don’t care if your silverware matches, or if they have to eat at a folding table, or sleep on a couch. If they're visiting, it's likely that they want to spend time with you. Don't let yourself believe that you have to impress your guests.

More on how to have company

Prepping for Houseguests, Martha Stewart

Twelve Items Every Guest Room Needs, Organizing Junkie


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Packing Jewelry to Move


Whether you’re moving across the globe or down the street, moving your jewelry requires some attention - not to mention a few empty toilet paper rolls.

Hastily packing your jewelry, or worse yet, putting a loaded jewelry box into a large packing box with other items, are quick fixes that will mean loads more work for you later. Unless you seriously enjoy picking apart a giant ball of necklaces, take a few easy steps to keep your jewelry safe and tangle-free.

Keep jewelry on its display and cover with Glad Press-N-Seal

jewelry move1

Be sure to use the stickiest plastic wrap, and it will require two careful hands. Simply wrap your jewelry tree or hanger with the plastic, horizontally and angled so that all the jewelry is covered. Place the whole shebang carefully in a box and pad it.

Use egg cartons or ice cube trays

jewelry move2

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These small compartments are perfect for rings, earrings, bendy bracelets and necklaces. Load them up and then wrap in plastic wrap.

Cardboard tubes

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Loop necklaces through a paper towel roll, toilet paper roll or the cardboard tube from a dry-cleaner hanger.

Loop a super sticky Post-It note

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If you don’t want to unclasp and reclasp necklaces to thread through a tube, just hold 5-6 necklaces together and wrap a looped Post-It note through and stick the ends together, creating a small tube.

Small plastic bags

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What did we do before the invention of snack-sized zip bags? Put individual necklaces and jewelry in a bag - or double up but only with two items that won’t tangle. I try to save the small bags that jewelry comes in and set them aside for my jewelry when traveling.

Use a large pill organizer

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The larger pill organizers will easily hold chains, earrings and other delicate jewelry.

Other tips on moving jewelry

Valuable and heirloom jewelry should be packed into a box and carried with you during your move.

Keeping jewelry in its jewelry box will cause a jumbled mess. If it can’t be kept in place with plastic wrap or another method, repack it, using one of the above methods.

Here are some sources for tips on packing jewelry to move:

Organized 31


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.