Sunday, July 25, 2010

Faulty Towers? - A True Story

Many years ago I used to watch a British sitcom, Faulty Towers, about an incompetent hotel keeper in England and the difficulties he had with his guests.  It was a very funny show; the plot normally involved the hero’s incompetence as he was being overwhelmed by events, some of which were out of his control, some his own doing. 

A couple of Fridays ago it felt as if we were filming Faulty Towers at Roseland Plantation.  Fortunately our guests didn’t think so.  But I thought I’d share the experience with you anyway.

The day started out as a normal, fairly busy Roseland day.  Our guests needed an early breakfast.  It normally takes two people to serve breakfast.  Phone calls and other distractions can easily result in burnt food, so we have to pay attention.  All was going well because this morning Martha was helping in the kitchen, and she could provide “backup” in case of distractions. 

The first distraction came shortly after we started.  The time had come for us to connect the irrigation systems for the roses, and Alejandro was having difficulty with the trencher.  “I need help.  The trencher doesn’t start!” 

I went out to check.  I examined the trencher.  Alejandro yanked and yanked on the pull-cord.  I checked all the switches and wires.  Everything seemed OK, but it just wouldn’t start.  “I don’t know,” I told Alejandro, “This makes no sense.  It worked last night!” 

I was beginning to have visions of smoke in the kitchen from burnt biscuits while I fiddle with the machine. 

As a last valiant attempt we checked the engine oil level; it was too low.  “Aha, that’s the problem!” I thought, knowing that the engine has a low oil level interlock.  I suggested that Alejandro top off the oil and try again, then went back to the kitchen.  A few minutes later I heard the engine kick over.  Fortunately Martha had kept things safe in the kitchen during my absence.

The most critical and demanding time is the process of actually serving the breakfast to our guests.  This process requires two people:  One to prepare the table, and another to prepare the main course on the plates.  Just as we began the process, the phone rang.  It was Jennifer, “Dad, the air conditioner man is here.  Can you come down to the house?” 
“No, not really, we’re plating.  Can you handle it?  He’s here to replace the drain pan in the air handler.  He should know what to do.  Call me if he needs help.”
“OK, dad, let me ask him.”  A few moments later, she confirmed that I’m not needed.
“I’ll come down to see what he’s doing soon as I can,” I reassured her, not too confidently. 

Back to breakfast…

Serving the guests went fairly smoothly, with only one or two phone calls interrupting us for information about Roseland.  At least these calls were manageable.  Everything was on track.  When we finished serving our guests, I sat down to eat breakfast – I was quite hungry by now.  I took my first bite and heard a knock on the kitchen door, “Hello, Mr. Steve!”

It was Isidro, our electrician, ready to work on the electrical for the island of roses out front.  I had totally forgotten our appointment.  I quickly swallowed and stuffed the food into the warming oven.  Isidro and I then went out to analyze the task at hand.
“I have a lot of stuff for you, but it’s not going to be enough,” I told him, “I need you to lay everything out and give me a list of items to buy.”
“OK, Mr. Steve.  Do you want to hear Marco play the guitar before we start?  He’s very good.”  Marco works for Isidro, plays classical guitar, and is interested in providing live music for our weddings.
“Not right now, Isidro.  How about when you’re finished today?”
“OK, Mr. Steve.”

By this time the guests were finishing the breakfast and it was time to discuss their plans for the day and take care of any left-over business.  So I went into the dining room to make arrangements for tours and checkout.  A short time later Martha informed me that Isidro is waiting for me. I excused myself. 

My breakfast is still in the oven…

“Mr. Steve,” Isidro said, “I have that list for you.  I can start, but I need the conduit as quickly as possible.”
“Can you start on the plugs until I get the conduit after I eat?” I suggested.
“I guess so,” he replied, not too happy. 
I sat down at the table and took a bite.  I was about to swallow when I heard the front doorbell. 

All of a sudden I’m beginning to sense that breakfast will morph into lunch today… 

I stuffed the food back into the oven and went to greet the visitor.
“Do you want some power tools for free?”  our visitor asked.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is definitely no such thing as a bunch of free power tools.  “What’s the catch?” I asked.
“Nothing.  Do you want some commercial grade power tools for free?  They’re new and come with a factory warranty.  See, here’s the paperwork,” he repeated as he shoved the paperwork into my hands as he led me to his pickup truck filled with a diesel generator, gas generator, gas powered air compressor, power washer, and trash pump.  Each piece was obviously shrink wrapped in its original factory packaging.

“No way!  Can’t believe it.  Nothing’s for free.  What’s the catch?  It’s not stolen?” I reiterated in disbelief.
“We have some left over equipment from a show.  The factory won’t accept returns, and it costs too much to ship it back to Alabama.  So my boss told me to get rid of it here in Texas because I have more equipment to pick up in Mississippi on the way home.  I was driving by and thought you might be interested.  My boss just wants to cover his investment.”

“It makes no sense.  Are you legit?  How much do you want?” I probed.  We do need the generators and the trash pump, and we’ve received some pretty unbelievable gifts from God here at Roseland.  Perhaps this is just another one of God’s miracles; it’s hard to believe, but that’s what makes it a miracle.  Hmmm...  As I was pondering, Isidro came again, “Mr. Steve!” …

I left the man with the truckload of equipment standing in the driveway.
Then Jennifer called from the house …
Then Alejandro had a question ….
Then I said good-bye to our guests …
Then I remembered Isidro…
Finally, about 20 minutes later a moment of peace!  I turned and saw the man with the equipment still patiently standing there, waiting for me…  No, this can’t be real.

Well, to make a long story short, Christina, Jennifer and I conferred.  And conferred again.  Then we conducted some comparative pricing for competitive equipment, checked out his references, made a copy of his driver’s license, talked to the manufacturer, and talked to his boss.  Everything corroborated his story, so we made an offer we couldn’t refuse. After some minimal negotiation, we had unexpectedly bought a truckload of equipment.  I asked Alejandro to get the tractor and offload the equipment while I started out for Isidro’s materials.

…breakfast still in the oven, getting dry…

Another phone call!  Oh, no!  Finally after answering the questions I rushed out to Dealer’s Electric.

When I returned, Alejandro was waiting for me.  “Come see!” he said and led me out to the field in front.  He took me to a spot where the ground was unusually soggy; I noticed a small bubble coming up through the grass.  This was not good.

“We have a break in the water main.  Start digging here, please,” I told Alejandro.  He didn’t believe me but complied.  Soon we reached what seemed to be the source of our spring.  It was obscured by mud.  “Let’s turn off the water.  Then see if you can pump out the water.  Then we’ll turn it back on and see where it’s coming from.”  Alejandro dug while I observed.  Wrong spot.  “Let’s try here,” I suggested.  Same result.  “How about this way.”  Success at last.  We located the break!  Fortunately it was on one of the branch lines and could be easily shut off without affecting the house or the guests.  We turned it off and left it like that for days…

By this time it was getting to be late afternoon; Alejandro had long overstayed his hours and finally went home.  I still haven’t eaten the breakfast.  Just about that time Isidro came back.

“Hello, Mr. Steve.  I’m done but I couldn’t fix your parking lot light.  You need to get more parts.”
“It’s too late.  What if I get them tomorrow and you come back next week?”
“OK, Mr. Steve.”
“Let’s see what you did.”  We inspected Isidro’s work.  It was just what I had envisioned.  “Very good,” I told him.

“Now that we’re done, can Marco play for you?”  I had noticed Marco practicing in Isidro’s truck earlier in the day, so there was no way getting out of this one.
“Let me round up Christina and Jennifer, and we’ll meet him in the library.”
Marco played three or four selections of our choosing.  We asked him to provide us with an audition disc for our brides.  Marco and Isidro left happy and tired at the end of the day.  I slumped down in the chair in the office. Over at last, I thought. 

Then I heard some cows mooing.  “That’s strange, we have no cows,” I said to myself and went to investigate.   There were three large, adult black angus cows and a calf peacefully munching our grass next to the rose garden.  “No, this can’t be.  What next?”

I called Tim, our neighbor, who probably knows the owner of the cows.  Not home.  Called his cell phone but reached his voice mail. 

The cows continued to meander toward the highway.  Bryce and Johnathan had been watching, so I asked Johnathan to take Bryce and the truck and herd the cows back into the woods.  Maybe they’ll go home.  Johnathan and Bryce took off, careening all over the lawn, horn blaring.  They were successful.
“What a day!  I’m tired and hungry.”  I slumped back in my chair.

We went down to our house, didn’t see any cows, but did see the presents they left by the front door.  We ate an uneventful meal, and I took off to run some errands.  On the way out the gate I see the cows once again, right in the middle of our new island of roses. 

“Oh, no!”  I rushed over there, honking the horn.  The cows looked at me and leisurely began to meander toward the highway.  They ended up in the middle of the highway, holding up traffic in both directions. 

I didn’t know what to do so I called 911.  They informed me that I have to call the Sherriff’s office.  They agreed to make the call for me this one time however.  I waited.  The cows waited, too.  After about 15 minutes they got bored and meandered back into our yard, leaving presents in the parking lot and on the driveway. 

About 40 minutes later the Sherriff arrived.  We discussed the situation and I informed him I don’t know the name of the owner.  “Guess I’ll have to get a posse to round ‘em up,” he said. 

“Fine.  I have to go run some errands before the stores close,” I told him and left him there.  As I pulled out the gate, I glimpsed back and saw the police car racing around the property with lights on and horn blaring - trying to herd the cows back into the woods.

“He’ll take care of it,” I thought and relaxed a bit as my car picked up speed on the highway, Roseland shrinking into nothingness in the rear view mirror.  “What a day!” 

The errands were uneventful but time consuming.  I arrived back to Roseland around 9:30 pm, exhausted.  The day had started at 7 am and it was finally time to lie down and relax .

As I drove into Roseland I noticed a creature in the field next to the Hambrick Chapel.  “It’s a wild pig!”  It was the largest pig I’ve ever seen – about half the size of the car.  They’d been visiting us recently and have destroyed about 50% of our wild flower garden, in addition to causing terrific damage.  Unlike our human guests, a pig is not welcome at Roseland. 

“I’m gonna get him!” I said to myself, adrenaline rushing.  Without thinking I floored the car, aimed for the pig and raced across the grass.  He noticed me and started for the woods.  But the Subaru was faster and I was gaining quickly.  I was already relishing the kill.  I was now within 10 feet of him.  He was big, gray, and hairy.  He had tusks about 10 inches long.  Oh, what a prize! 

Then suddenly I remembered.  Several months ago Johnathan had run into three baby pigs on the road and totally demolished the front end of his car.  “This is stupid!  I’m gonna destroy the car!” I jammed on the brakes and stood on the horn.  The pig picked up speed and the car slowed down.  The distance between us grew; in a moment he was in the woods.  “How I wish I had a gun.  I could’ve gotten him.”  Maybe next time.  Maybe next time.

I went home and lay down in bed exhausted.  “Who says God has no sense of humor?  He directs all our days.  He must have laughed all day watching the Roseland Plantation episode of Faulty Towers.” 

In a short while I was at peace and sound asleep.  …just another typical day at Roseland.  Never a dull moment.  Thank you, Lord, for making life so full of surprises, laughter, and joy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Oh, no! I've Become my Dad!

Actually I’m very proud of my Dad and love him dearly – though he is in Heaven.  I’ll leave that part to another blog entry, however.

When I was a child Dad used to love taking photographs.  When he passed, he left us with a collection of about 28,000 slides.  As I said, he loved taking photos!

He had a number of 35mm cameras, but his favorite that I recall as a child was a German “Exacta.”  He had a light meter, flash, lenses, and all the accessories.  He would scientifically size up the situation, measure the lighting, position us, set the f-stop and exposure, position himself for the best angle, carefully focus the camera, and finally snap the shot.  By the time he pressed the shutter button for that “perfect” picture, we were exhausted!  Have you ever tried to hold a smile without flinching for 10 minutes?  How I remember when the clouds dared to cover the sun just as he was about to snap the picture – oh, the pain!

Well, needless to say, I vowed never to become a photographer like Dad and make everybody endure the same torture.  In fact I was pretty good at keeping my word because the most complex camera I ever had was a Kodak Brownie which I used primarily to take “candid”, unposed shots.  I hated to waste that film, so I took very few pictures – until the digital revolution.

With my first digital camera I went around snapping pictures of anything that seemed interesting – after all I could delete it.  Of course I rarely did.  But still I didn’t make anyone pose, and took only pretty good, interesting, candid shots.  Then came Roseland Plantation…

You see, Roseland Plantation offers a number of wedding packages to accommodate any size wedding from an elopement to elaborate 350 person sit-down affairs.  We use professional photographers for the big events, but the cost is too high for the smaller events so we began offering reasonably priced Roseland Plantation photography as an option for the smaller weddings. 

And yes, I caved!  We bought a very expensive professional grade Canon SLR camera equipped with flash, lenses, etc.  You guessed it:  just like Dad.  I can take gorgeous pictures with it.  I still favor the “candid” shots, and I shoot a couple of hundred photos, which we provide unedited on CD, for the small weddings.  But we also take some formal, posed shots of the bride, groom, and family. 

Yes, you guessed it:  Just like Dad, I now scientifically size up the situation, measure the lighting, position us, position myself for the best angle and snap the shot.  But thanks to modern technology, the camera does all the time consuming work of measuring the light, focusing, setting the exposure, and so forth in an instant.  Some cameras actually have a smile detector for that perfect shot! 

Therefore in a way I’m still true to my word:  The bride and groom don’t have hold that smile for ten minutes, and it doesn’t matter if a cloud interferes with the lighting – the camera can take care of it instantly and still deliver perfect pictures.

At several hundred shots per wedding, it won’t take very long to surpass Dad’s record of 28,000 photographs!  I’ll let you know when we start posting some on the web under Wedding & Receptions > Roseland Plantation Brides.


It’s been a while since the last blog entry.  Blame it on the roses.  Yes, it’s all the roses’ fault.  Let me explain:
Roseland Plantation received its current name from Mrs. Gertrude Windsor around the mid 1950s.  Prior to being named Roseland, the property experienced a series of owners; each no doubt had their own name for the property.  Although Mrs. Windsor named the property “Roseland”, she never planted roses here.  She left that to us.

“How can you have ‘Roseland’ if there are no roses?  When our guests enter our gates, they should gasp at the beautiful rose gardens, and they should be immersed in rose fragrance when they step out of their cars!” we thought.  So we decided to rectify the situation.

We selected the island in the middle of the circular drive in front of the Windsor House as a starting point.  The island has three beautiful, large crepe myrtles that are begging for complimentary colors.  We opted for four carpets of color:  white, yellow, apricot, and deep pink to match the crepe myrtles.  We selected international award winning English roses from David Austin famous for their beauty and fragrance.

Then came the first surprise:  We were told that we’ll need 80 – 100 rosebushes per patch for maximum impact, with a total of 320 just in that small island.  I nearly fainted!  But we’ve gotten used to such surprises at Roseland because everything is bigger, everything is more difficult, everything is more beautiful when finished.  So we simply said, “OK,” and Alejandro and I started planting about five weeks ago.
We drilled holes, and more holes, until our arms and backs were sore.  We brought truckload after truckload of planter’s mix and mulch.  And still we didn’t have enough.  It took a solid month of work to plant the roses – then we realized they need to be watered and hand watering just isn’t practical.

Under Construction

So we started installing drip irrigation systems throughout the property.  This is a huge project, more like irrigating an entire subdivision, because we not only have to install the drip system (which is simple and quick), but we have to distribute water, power, and zone controls throughout the property.  We also have to ensure that whatever we install can be easily expanded to water the grass and any new gardens we build in the future.  So far we’ve completed all the drip zones but none of the feeder lines, power grids, or control systems.  So if we want to water our new roses, we attach a hose to each zone.  Well, it works…

That’s why there haven’t been any blogs during the past month:  We’ve been working on roses.  But it will be worth it when the flowers come in full bloom – and that should be soon since we already have roses from our new plants!  So come see Roseland and experience the fragrance of hundreds of roses in the near future.

Blooming rose garden

The picture above was rotated automatically by Google, our blog provider.  I tried 5 different times, but was unable to make it come out right.  After wasting over an hour, I gave up.