My back was killing me from the four-hour drive. I listened to a book on tape, took about a hundred pictures of the sunset, drank a chocolate malt from McDonalds, but I was definitely ready to be out of the car.
The sound of the gravel under the tires when the car turned onto the driveway immediately awakened my childhood, my grandparents cabin on the lake, when crunching gravel meant the thrill of company, because we were at the end of a dead end road.
But this wasn’t a dead end road. It was a destination – the driveway of the Crystal Bell Inn. I would not be exaggerating to say I jumped out of the car and sped up the sidewalk to rap on the back door. Then I walked in, and called, “Anyone home?”
Donna came out of the kitchen, arms spread wide for a big hug, and said, ”Welcome home, kids!”
By the end of a long vacation, you’re exhausted from travel, constant sensory input, slogging suitcases, fighting crowds, and getting where you are supposed to be on time with all the correct paperwork. Walking in your door at home is the time you let out a deep breath and allow all those tense muscles to relax. That’s how I felt, falling into Donna’s hug.
After a long couple weeks of life, I was ready for a break from the responsibilities of work and family. Ready to go “home.” Although I had visited The Crystal Bell for only one weekend in April, it felt like a long awaited home coming after an arduous, exhausting trip.
Donna said, “You chose room seven this time, kids. Go on up. Would you like a cup of warm chai and some cookies Mike just took out of the oven?”
“Yes, please!” Ahhhhh. “Where’s Mike?”
Donna said, “He went to bed – you’ll see him at breakfast.”
Donna and Mike Ver Voort purchased the majestic but slightly bedraggled lumbar baron’s mansion in 1997. They then tackled the huge task of giving the beautiful girl a complete makeover. All the woodwork was stripped and refinished, including the floors and stairways. An enclosed porch was winterized and made into the “pampering room.” The kitchen was torn out and a professional kitchen went in. Bathrooms were added, as well as a shiny, bright laundry room in the basement.
The town of Wabeno, population about 1,500, is also slightly bedraggled. The days of “going up north” aren’t over, but travel styles have changed, and to rely on tourism as the main source of income means the death of a small town. One can still see remnants of the old days: the logging museum, “Bates” Motel in the center of town, and the little ice cream stand (not McDonalds or Dairy Queen).
We had chosen room seven for this visit because it is the only room out of eight that has a porch. On the porch there are chairs and a table, and a picnic bench with umbrella if it gets too hot. Towels hang in the closet to wipe the table down if it should be dew covered in the morning. There are blankets in the dresser drawer to snuggle in when it gets chilly after sunset. Donna thinks of everything.
Although the bathrooms are shared, it isn’t an issue. There are six bathrooms in the house, and if one is taken, you can just find another. The closets are full of thick, white, luxurious towels. There are also brown washcloths for ladies to remove their makeup! I told you, Donna thinks of everything. All you need to bring with you is a toothbrush. Everything else is in the cabinet.
With eight rooms to choose from, you might have a hard time. I am bringing my mom and sister later in the summer for “girl’s weekend” and we’ll stay in room two. It faces north with windows across the breadth, and it’s bright and cheerful.
There is a honeymoon suite, and a single room in the corner of the second floor that is small and delightful for a lone traveler (otherwise known as “The Sewing Room”). There is also “The Old Library” on the first floor for anyone who has trouble climbing the sweeping grand staircase that is punctuated with Donna’s hand woven baskets.
The grounds of the Inn are also beautiful with mature maple and pine trees. The fire pit in the back yard is a gathering place for the owners and guests on summer evenings. On the edge of the large parking lot is a huge contraption which was obviously a conveyor belt, but the purpose of which had me stumped, so I asked Donna.
She laughed. “That’s for all the crafters coming in so they don’t have to schlep their stuff up to the third floor. They back up, unload their sewing machines, boxes of paper, irons, and ephemera and put it all on the belt with Mike’s help. I wait at the top and help unload right into the Ballroom.”
Ah ha. The Ballroom is now crafter’s paradise. Crafting clubs have their set weekends here, year after year. Donna has conceived of every problem-solving device for them. There are recently designed wall hung ironing boards that flip up and down to save space, with hooks on the bottom for either right or left handed ironers. There are cup holders at every seat so no one has to worry about tipping over their cup of chai onto a recently created work of art. Scrap bookers, quilters, and other crafters are in seventh heaven up here in this brightly lit room with tv/dvd, music, and a bathroom. The massage room is also located on the third floor, so the women can take breaks and be pampered during the day.
This coming weekend is “The Romantic Trillium Weekend” at The Crystal Bell Inn. Donna has created picnic baskets for each couple to take on the trillium walk (with waterfalls along the path). Everything you need for a picnic is in the basket. A lavish dinner is being catered at the Inn on Saturday night for all of the guests. And of course breakfast is included every morning.
Speaking of breakfast! One morning we had Belgian waffles with freshly roasted pecans, maple syrup and whipped cream. A bowl of fresh pineapple graced the side of the plate, and there was also the choice of eggs and/or sausage or bacon. Coffee, juice, and milk glasses are never empty.
When you are ready to drag yourself away from the table, Donna asks, “What kind of puff pastry do you want? Raspberry, cranberry, blueberry?” These little delights go in a box for you to take with you and enjoy later. A little puff pastry with custard at the bottom and a fruit topping drizzled with a shiny, thin frosting. Mike’s specialty, they are delicious mid-afternoon while sitting in a sunny spot in the woods.
Wabeno is definitely an excellent destination, or a great place to stop on the road to somewhere else. I suggest you call Donna and make a reservation as soon as possible. You will probably have better luck getting in mid-week, because the crafters tend to fill up the weekends, but there are some weekend dates available too.
And did I mention pampering? You can make a reservation for a massage, a pedicure, manicure, or a variety of other pampering services while you visit.
I made good use of our private porch that weekend. I was sitting with my feet up Sunday morning, sipping a cup of coffee, when I looked up from my book. High above the trees, three golden eagles were gracefully floating on the wind currents. They were so high it was difficult to imagine they probably had a wingspan of six or seven feet. I was so pleased to see there are places not too far from the city where wild life can flourish despite human efforts to eradicate it.
While I walk the dog across the park tomorrow morning, I’ll be thinking about those beautiful eagles floating in the cloudless blue sky above me, and my next visit “home.”