Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nick's Notes 9.4.2015--Dreams Come True

Dreams Come True

I've shared with you that I had a wonderful retail career with three great companies, but owning a Bed and Breakfast was a 15 year dream of mine. I remember my parents always teaching us the importance of living our dreams in our lives, and to live life to the fullest. They encouraged us to travel and see as much of the United States, Canada and Europe as we could. I've been to 49 States and so many countries. We took family car trips every year and we saw different states, learning about each state along the way.

Our trips were educational and my mom quizzed us on the capitals, the presidents and our spelling. I can hear my dad saying, "You can do anything you set your mind to, so do all you can and live your dreams. Don't over extend yourself financially,  but work hard so you can enjoy your life, and do what you want and love." My dad worked hard to support us and made sure we had fun as we grew up.

A favorite picture of my Dad and me
After University, I worked for a few small retail chains as a Store Manager in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC, and then a District Manager for the same company, before joining the Gap in NY. I was a District Manager in Queens and after three years I advanced my career forward by moving to Canada for Gap to help open all the stores and train new District Managers. It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed living in Toronto and Montreal for five years and I still have great friends there. 

The Toronto Flag

The Montreal Flag
That's where I was promoted to a Regional Manager and my career took off from then on. When I moved back to the states I stayed with Gap Inc. but switched brands to Banana Republic. I was based in Chicago and covered the entire Midwest before continuing my career in the Southeast based in Florida. A big part of my job was working with the Merchant Team to create a Hot Store Program for the right clothing styles and materials for warm weather. Eventually Texas was added on to my region and I had 11 District Managers I supervised.

Everything was great, but I wanted to expand my career with Department store experience so after 18 years with Gap Inc. I accepted a Regional Vice President Job with Kohl's Department Stores. The main priority was to help Kohl’s expand and open stores in Florida. I was there 18 months, but missed specialty retail and customer service. That's what made me successful in passion for the customer and exceeding their expectations.

So, that's where Williams-Sonoma comes in. I accepted a position as Regional Vice President for the Southeast covering New Jersey through Florida, and was still based in Florida. Eventually all 10 Outlets were added to my Region and it was a wonderful 8 years where my passion for cooking continued to grow and I was able to purchase products I now use daily to prepare great breakfasts for our guests at Abbington Green.

 All my supervisors always knew my dream was to open a Bed and Breakfast one day. I continue to stay in touch with most of my supervisors and coworkers and some have already come to visit us at the Inn. They also follow us on the Abbington Green Facebook Page and read our reviews on  TripAdvisor.

Now for the dream part. The original idea for a Bed and Breakfast/Spa was to open it in Greece on the Island of Santorini. 

Santorini, Greece

As my 15 year time frame approached, Greece was a much harder venture for several reasons, so Abbington Green Bed and Breakfast Inn in Asheville, NC was the perfect spot. I am so lucky to have had a wonderful retail career, that prepared me to understand the importance and the priority of the customer. My staff here learned this expectation and we strive daily to make our guests feel as welcomed in our home as they would with their own families. It was frightening to walk away from a great retail career where everything was going well...............not to mention the steady salary, bonus structure and stock options. But the good news retail career funded my dream and allowed me to live and do what I want to do. I've always had the support of my partner Steve, who still works for the Post Office here delivering mail and then helps at the Inn on his days off. (Remember in an earlier post I showed you Steve's wonderful gardens.)

In the lower garden, facing the Inn

Steve's handiwork on display at Abbington Green B&B Inn
So,  I leave you with two quotes I love:

"Nothing Happens Unless We First Dream" -Carl Sandburg (You can tour
his home in Flat Rock, NC which is 45 minutes from here  ) 

"All Our Dreams Can Come True, If We Have the Courage to Pursue Them." 
-Walt Disney

All the Best, Nick

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Steve's Mom's Pickles

Steve's Mom's Pickles

One of the great things about owning Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn is getting to grow herbs and vegetables in our garden.  We planted cucumbers this summer and they did really well. So well, that we found ourselves with a bumper crop of cucumbers.
We had so many cucumbers! So, we decided to invite our friend Ivy over one evening to make Bread and Butter Pickles. You might remember Ivy--she's the one that makes our delicious jam that we serve at breakfast.

We used a family recipe of Steve's, we like to call it Steve's Mom's Pickles. 

Steve's mom always had a huge garden so the family would have fresh vegetables all summer long.  There were always so many cucumbers, so his mom started to make bread and butter pickles to have for the remainder of the year.  

They were always one of Steve's favorites and he was so happy that we had a lot of cucumbers too, so he was able to do the same with them that his mom did when they were growing up in Ogelsby, Il.

Steve and his mom, Shirley Donahue

From garden to jar, we had a terrific time canning the pickles. We'll be serving them throughout the year at our cook-outs and at our 5pm Social Hour, remembering our first summer's harvest here at Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn. 

Steve's Mom's Pickles

Yield:  about 12 jars of pickles

12 Large Cucumbers, sliced not too thin    
6 Large Onions, sliced
1/4 cup of Salt

Combine the above ingredients and let them set overnight in the refrigerator, covered.  

Next day...drain well, do not rinse.

Mix together:
1 Quart Cider Vinegar
2 cups Sugar
1 tsp. Turmeric
1 tsp. Dry Mustard
2 tsp. Celery Salt
1 tsp. Black Pepper

Bring to a rolling boil, add in the refrigerated mixture (pickles). 
In the meantime, boil empty jars in a large pot of water. Remove and turn upside down to drain the water from them. When the pickles are good and hot (and start to boil), fill the hot jars--about 1/4 from the top with the pickle and onion mixture. Screw the lids on tightly and store upside down until ready to use. Refrigerate once opened.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Nick's Notes 7.24.2015-Restoring the Porches at Abbington Green

Restoring the Porches at Abbington Green

I still marvel at how beautiful our home is and can only imagine how grand it looked when it was first built in 1909. What comes with purchasing a century old home, is the commitment to keep it as beautiful as it was originally. That's why restoring the porches was so important to us as owners.

Guests enjoy spending time on the porches and they are part of the character of Abbington Green. In the 1900's, porches were known as "Breathing Porches." It was believed that breathing fresh mountain air would help you live a longer healthier life. People used to die earlier than they do today. Another belief was that breathing mountain air could help cure Tuberculosis. They believed this so much that there were numerous institutions in Asheville for Tuberculosis patients. An interesting fact: George Vanderbilt built Biltmore Estate in 1895 in Asheville because his mother had Tuberculosis and was in an institution in Asheville.  

It took us time to find the right carpenter to restore our porches.  Below are the 'before' pictures showing some of the issues:

I have to commend David, our Carpenter, who worked on the porches for 3 weeks to bring them back to their grand glory. Take a look at David’s work: 

Pretty spectacular, and they look the way they originally did-down to the detail of the light blue ceiling. Do you know why in the south you paint the porch ceiling light blue? Blue ceilings are popular and have been popular in the south for centuries. It is said that a blue porch ceiling protects the house and the occupants of the house from evil.  Some people also believe the blue paint repels insects, leaving the porch bug-free and pleasant during those long summer evenings and afternoons. A theory is that insects prefer not to nest on the blue ceiling because they are "fooled" into thinking the blue paint is actually the sky.
The porches at Abbington Green are an integral part of the experience of staying at the Inn. Whether taking a moment to sit and read a book or when the group gathers during Social Hour, the porches come alive with laughter and good times. In their new beautiful state the Southern Tradition of spending time on the porch will continue for years to come at Abbington Green. See you on the porch!

All the Best, Nick

Friday, July 3, 2015

Nick's Notes 7.3.2015-It's 5 o'clock at Abbington Green!

It's 5 o'clock at Abbington Green!

Years ago I purchased this beautiful antique marble top table that I loved. It's moved around with me to several states........Illinois, Florida and now North Carolina. Movers never enjoyed moving it based on the weight and the fragile marble. Our beautiful table now has a purpose and prominent location in the living room. This is now where we set up our 5 o'clock Social Hour each day.
As Steve and I planned out purchasing an Inn, we knew we would have a social hour daily for guests to mingle together and for them to get to know us too. The tradition started Day 1 when we moved in on September 30th, 2014. We closed on the property at 9 AM and when 5 o'clock rolled around there was wine and cheese for our guests...............and the moving truck still in the driveway unloading.

Our social hour consist of local NC Cheeses from the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail, Hot Appetizers, and Wines. 
For more information about the Cheese Trail visit

Our themes change daily from Southern Foods, Italian favorites, and yes, Greek Mezedes. On Greek night, it brings back memories of when my parents entertained at our house. Fresh baked Spanakopita (Spinach Pies), Hummus and Pita Bread, and Dolmades (stuffed Grape Leaves).
Guests continue to comment on Trip Advisor how much they love our 5 o'clock Social Hour. It gives them the opportunity to share with others what they did for the day in Asheville, where they are going for dinner, and to get to know each other and us. Lady "Amber" Abbington occasionally makes a guest appearance when guests want to meet her too. She always appreciates the extra attention! One of the reason people come to a Bed and Breakfast versus a Hotel is exactly what takes place at social hour........having that interaction with other guests and the owners.

We are so fortunate to have a very large living room with two sofas and chairs for guests, with a large fireplace for the winter months. During the spring, summer and fall the porches get a lot of use during social hour. Guests love taking in the mountain view and feel the cool breezes. 

I love this part of my day and enjoy spending time with guests! They continue to enrich the wonderful memories I treasure so much!

All the best, Nick 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Nick's Notes 6.12.2015--Meet the Team at Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn!

Meet the Team at Abbington Green Bed and Breakfast Inn!

In my Retail Career I learned how important a team is to the success of a store. It's no different running a successful Bed and Breakfast. I knew when we began in October the priority was to find the right staff that loved this home and serving our guests as much as I do. I am so proud of the staff and friends that help at Abbington Green. They helped us achieve our #3 Ranking on Trip Advisor out of the 40 Bed and Breakfasts in Asheville. I thought is was important for you to meet them, and hear from them what they love about being here.

To accomplish this, I gave them all a short questionnaire to fill out:
1. What do you like to do outside of work?
2. Where were you born? Where were you raised?
3. Any background information that you'd like to share with our guests/readers?
4. What is your favorite thing about working at the Inn?
5. What is your favorite thing at the Inn?

Let's start with the Lady of the House.......Lady Amber Abbington
I am Lady Amber Abbington, and I love being the lady of the house.  I like chasing squirrels and doing feline control! I was born in Boca Raton, Florida. I was found on the highway...where I ran toward a friendly face in a Lexus to get rescued. (Lucky me!) My favorite thing is meeting new people and getting scraps from breakfast to eat with my dinner! My favorite thing at the Inn is my personal dog run and fire hydrant that I get to share with all of the canine guests at the Inn.

We are very fortunate to have 3 great friends that help us in their spare time. Carey Baldwin, and Ken and Ivy Olson. Carey is our talented Social Media Manager, Ken helps in the beautiful Gardens, and Ivy is multi-talented--she helps in the garden, helps me with paperwork, and makes the delicious Ivy's Jams that we serve with breakfast. 

Carey Baldwin
I love to travel and experience new places and things. I enjoy taking road trips with my husband, and am an avid reader and gardener. I was born and raised in Southeastern Michigan. My husband and I are recently back, living in the States after living in Munich, Germany for 5 years for his work. I had to leave my retail career and start fresh in a new country...and that high school French didn't help me at all! I learned to speak German and loved it when friends and family came to visit. I hoped that we would stay there, but when my husband's assignment was finished, we came back. We are now ex-expats. I have started a new career in Social Media Management and am loving it. My favorite things about the Inn are getting to work with Nick again and having the opportunity to show this beautiful home to the world.  Listening to Nick introduce Abbington Green to our guests while he gives them a tour is a favorite moment of each day. I also love all of the fun and laughter that go on in the kitchen and around the house, from the team and guests alike. It is such a happy, beautiful place. My favorite thing at the Inn? The big front porch, with the fresh air and the beautiful views of the mountain ridge, how it is decorated for every holiday, how it welcomes our guests, and I love how our 5pm Social Hour naturally moves out there when the weather permits.

Ken Olson
I enjoy gardening and bowling. I was born and raised in Framingham, Massachusetts. I always wanted to be a pilot and even got that chance a several years ago. My favorite thing about working at the Inn? All the chocolate M&Ms I can eat, cookies too! My favorite thing at the Inn are the homemade cookies and brownies.

Ivy Olson
Outside of work I like reading and hanging with friends. I was born in Queens, New York. I love Architecture, and especially old and new buildings. My favorite thing about working at the Inn is seeing the smiles on all the happy guests. My favorite thing at the Inn? The owners.

The first person I hired was Bradshaw Call. 
Bradshaw is my right hand person and helps with everything from Breakfast, taking Reservations, Checking in Guests, Preparing Social Hour........he is also a great baker and makes an amazing Ginger Pear Bread we serve with breakfast. He continues to learn more of what I do and we help each other get the job done and enjoy working together. I have to admit, his calm personality is a good balance for those of you that know my fast pace.

Bradshaw Call
I love to cook and look for treasure at antique stores and thrift shops. I love to perform onstage and am very active with local theatre. I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, and was raised in the small town of Morganton, North Carolina at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I studied theatre in college and was pursuing a career as an actor-I'm still very active, but consider it more of a hobby now. I'm very proud to call Asheville home. I love meeting new people and serving as an ambassador for Asheville. I think the best thing you can share between two people is laughter. There is so much joy and laughter here at Abbington Green, and you truly feel like you are part of something wonderful. I love the feeling of family and connection with this wonderful old home. It's grand and glorious--and yet, warm and welcoming.

Next hired was Michelle Malsbury. Michelle is part of our Housekeeping Team that keeps everything detailed and spotlessly clean. Those of you that worked for me in retail know that cleanliness is one of my primary focuses. It is even more a priority for us here at Abbington Green. I expect a lot from my Housekeeping Team and I'm very proud to say they live up to and exceed my expectations. They approach every day with a positive attitude.

Michelle Malsbury
I like to hike, bike, raft/canoe/kayak, spend time with my dog, work in the garden, and read/write. I was born and raised in Champaign, IL. I hold a Master's degree in Business Management with a concentration in Business Efficiency Analysis and three and a half years PhD work in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies concentration in Business Leadership. I am a four-time published author of fiction with over 4.5k articles penned on various topics. I am a top 500 reviewer for and transplant to Asheville, NC.
Favorite thing about working at the Inn? Walking Lady Amber Abbington and spending time with my co-workers who make working at the Inn so much more fun!  My favorite thing at the Inn is the lovely gardens that attract butterflies, squirrels, an array of birds, and the neighborhood kitties who just want a belly rub. 

Also part of the Housekeeping Team is Tina Foor and Greg Austin. Tina is the one with the eye for detail...........maybe that's part of being a Mom. Greg has his own Pet Sitting Business that many guests staying here at the Inn use for their dogs during their stay. Besides being part of the Housekeeping Staff he also helps in the kitchen with breakfast and checks in guests when needed.

Tina Foor
Outside of work? Dancing, hiking, camping, singing, water sports; anything outside or with a beat! I was born in Olympia, WA but raised and stayed here in Asheville NC. I've lived all over these mountains and valleys! I live with three my awesome daughters, ages 15, 14, and 11, my hubby of 16 years, 3 dogs, 3 cats and several fish. They keep me busy and feeling loved. I've been teaching several disciplines of dance for almost 20 years and often choreograph for local musical theater. If you visit Asheville, be sure to check out the theater scene!  Favorite thing about working at the Inn? No question. Hands down. The people I work with. We are a team. We zip around at crunch time, everyone filling gaps to help each other. Then, at lulls, you might hear us laughing or even singing! Guests can expect a greeting and genuine smile every time they walk in the door. It's something I enjoy in the morning :)  Favorite things at the Inn? The warmth and welcoming feel, the gardens (Go Steve!), the guests and hearing them laugh and connect over breakfast, eavesdropping on Nick raving about the region I love, and singing in the kitchen with Bradshaw.

Greg Austin
Outside of work, my time is consumed with my favorite things, animals.  When not pet sitting, I love to create crafts with wood.  Small to large pieces.  Let's Pawty Pet Sitting and Woodlife by Greg Austin are my websites. I was born and raised in Radford, VA where most of my family still reside.  Many years in Tampa, Florida in the Entertainment Industry led me to my husband Dennis, who after 17 years, I married in October.  A move to Asheville for a "Life Change" led us to Asheville, and Abbington Green, where we are "at home".   My favorite moment working is each morning coming in the door and everyone greeting each other, preparing for the day.  Such a warm feeling every day. My favorite thing is saying "Good Morning" and "I love and miss you" as I come and go and pass the Crepe Myrtle in the front yard dedicated to my sister.  Abbington Green is family.

Every old house has a lot of maintenance issues. We were very lucky to find a handyman, Dennis DiPalma, that can help us maintain this beautiful home. His latest project was installing the 90 new lights that highlight the beautiful gardens at Abbington Green. I try to fix things myself at times and I am getting pretty good at unclogging sinks............but I know Dennis is there to help with all the upkeep of the Historic Abbington Green. I know he loves the history and architecture of this home.

Dennis DiPalma
I enjoy biking, hiking, working in the yard.  I appreciate being outside and enjoying the mountain air.  I have always been inclined to fixing things around the house and making improvements.  This led me to hotel management, property management and now providing handyman services and remodeling. I was born and raised in Belrose, NY.  At the age of 14 our family moved to Spring Hill, FL, just an hour north of Tampa. After 17 years of loving the most wonderful person I have ever met, I was finally able to marry him. I appreciate being able to be part of maintaining the beauty, romance and glory of such a wonderful part of Asheville history. One of my favorite things about the Inn is the skill and craftsmanship of the people who created it.  Another favorite thing would be the people who have passed through the doors as owners, service people and guests. And now with Nick at the helm, his passion and attention to detail, will take her to the top and will be part of her history.

Our newest member of the Abbington Green Team is Rebecca MacIntosh. I
looked very hard to find the right person to add to the Kitchen Team to
help serve breakfast and clean up in the kitchen. Rebecca recently graduated from University and will soon be working on her Masters. She is wonderful with guests and a great addition to the team.

Rebecca MacIntosh
I like hiking, music shows, and of course, local Craft Beer. I was born in Asheville, raised in Black Mountain. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Disorders. My favorite thing about working at the Inn is the staff and all of the fun dishware and crystal. My favorite thing at the Inn is the gardens.

Then, there is Steve and I..........I dare not begin to track the number of hours we work. Owning Abbington Green is a part of our life and it is not about the hours. It is what we do and really enjoy doing. The priority is and will always be on the guest. Steve supported me in living my dream and I am very thankful for this. I could not ask for a better partner in this than Steve. His meticulousness in the Garden, matches my meticulousness in the House. We make a great team to provide the best to our guests and our staff inside and outside. 

Steve Donahue
Gardening now takes up most of my available time! I also enjoy golf, bowling and hiking. I was born in LaSalle, Illinois, where I lived for 19 years. I moved to South Florida and lived there until we bought the Inn last year. I am currently employed by the US Postal Service and have been a Letter Carrier for the past 15 years. Besides getting to do the gardening at the Inn, at the top of my list of favorite things about working at the Inn is getting to know our guests. Living in a historic home and sharing it with Nick and our guests is my favorite thing about Abbington Green.

Nick Poulos
I enjoy cooking and entertaining, kayaking, hiking, bowling...I am a dog lover and I love to spend time with Amber. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio...and graduated from the University of Akron. I wanted to be a Veterinarian and often wish that I continued on that path. I am currently living my dream of owning a Bed & Breakfast, as my 35 year career in Retail has allowed me to afford my dream. My favorite thing about working at the Inn is meeting the guests. It's like making new friends every day. I love checking a guest in and sharing the history of this beautiful home with them! My favorite thing at the Inn? The "History, Style and Romance" of Abbington Green. Every time I pull in the drive or walk up the front walk, I say to myself..."I can't believe how beautiful our home is"!

In closing, I know that I can count on my team for anything that needs to be done. We may all have our individual roles at the Inn, but when something needs to be done, everyone pitches in to complete the task.  We work well together and it feels like a family here that genuinely cares and respects each other. I am very thankful for our team and appreciate what we are accomplishing at Abbington Green together! 

PS: Thank you to Tom Roselli, Brian Donahue, Kathleen Donahue, Wendy Langley, Don and Ginger Marsh, Maryann Fitzgibbon, and Carey Baldwin.  All of these friends and family came to Abbington Green in October and November 2014 to help before the Abbington Green Staff was hired. We had a very successful October and November and we could not have done it without you. Thank you for being a part of my dream!!

All the Best, Nick

Friday, May 29, 2015

Nick's Notes 5.29.2015--This Old House

This Old House

I've always loved watching shows like "This Old House" and "If Walls Could Talk." Now we are living in one of those century-old homes with an amazing history that I've shared with you in the past. This is the third old home I've lived in. 

My first house I purchased was in Newport News, VA and was built in the 1920's. It was an old stucco duplex with a slate roof. The house was originally built as housing for the Newport News Shipyard. We renovated the house from top to bottom, and had a lot of fun in the process. 

Fast forward to the 1990s when we purchased a 1920 Spanish Revival house in Chicago, IL. Again, a stucco home with a clay barrel tiled roof. What is a Spanish-style house doing in Chicago? It had to do with an architect who went to the World's Fair in California and fell in love with the Spanish style architecture. There were two streets in Park Ridge, IL that had these lovely Spanish Revival
homes. Once again, we spent the time restoring this home with a 20 foot barrel vaulted ceiling and gray slate floors in the living room, and amazing details throughout the home.

Fast forward again to September 2014 when we purchased Abbington Green,
built in 1909 with Richard Sharp Smith as the Architect, one of the Architects from Biltmore Estate. The original charm of this home has been updated with all the modern conveniences you would expect in a AAA 4 Diamond Property. Twenty two years ago is when the major renovations took place to enlarge bedrooms and bathrooms. 

It has been an amazing seven months for us where we have spent time with our staff painting and updating each room and adding special touches to add to the beauty of our home. It starts with a great Nick's Notes will actually be about each of the staff members backgrounds and thoughts.

I thought I would share with you some pictures and some of the details of what we have accomplished so far. 

Our biggest project was adding central air and heat into the main house so each guest now has their own temperature control in each of their rooms. Ductwork was added into the basement in order to cool and heat the main floor, and individual Mitsubishi Split Units were added into each guest room.

They are silent, energy efficient (which supports our Green Initiatives), individual controls to cool and heat to the desired temperature, and most importantly it does not block the windows and obstruct the beautiful view and sunlight. 

After the rooms were painted. we added carpet to the main stairs with brass rods and pineapple end caps and two new crystal chandeliers at the top and the bottom of the main staircase.

At the top of the stairs is the art gallery featuring the beautiful works of 8 local artists from the River Arts District. 

Our guests really enjoy the breakfast table place settings each morning. We love to change it up each morning with different chargers, linens, crystal and china.

I can't leave out the beautiful stain glass we've added into the living room. 
Two beautiful stain glass windows and four stain glass lamps warm the
living room during Social Hour.

Last but not least, our beautiful gardens have come alive. Steve with the help of friends and staff have transformed the gardens into a work of art. So many guests have commented and compared the gardens to the gardens at the Biltmore Estate.

"If Walls Could Talk" I believe they would be saying how they love the fact that we brought the house alive with freshness and rejuvenating charm. Guests feel very much at home here, and we love seeing them enjoy themselves at Abbington Green.

All the Best, Nick