This is why you follow your heart, why you take a chance, why you try something new.
Because it’s going to inspire you.
And if you let it, that inspiration can change you, can change your life.
How did I get here?
We have to start with last Friday, which now seems like another life. I had written about escaping the city/fireworks, and I spent Friday night camping, but I had one of those weird moments that you just know is divine redirection — someone out-booked me for Saturday night by about 10 minutes. Oooookay! So I decided to stay Friday night and figure something else out in the morning. Yikes!
The message from my guides was to take it easy. Being in a state of anxiety and stress (in fight or flight mode) was just making it harder. The right thing would come to me if I would just relax.
When I got back to my desk, I decided to look in a completely different direction — I had slept very poorly while camping, including a sore back and a lot of weird noises, plus I was a little worried that the owner was going to show up anytime to kill me in my sleep. I needed the complete opposite.
I don’t know where the idea came from, but I decided to pull up booking.com (a site I never use), and found a Victorian B&B in a small town in the middle of the state. I checked, and the town was not doing fireworks (that’s not to say individuals couldn’t do them, but this didn’t look like a crazy area). The B&B was gorgeous, it had availability, and though I hadn’t intended on spending that much money… well, I have learned the hard way that cheap is not always a good deal. Cheap is often only enough to get you junk or a bad time. If something of quality is worth it, then, pay for it.
I booked the reservation, and hit the road.
It was a relaxing drive through Michigan farm country — mostly corn fields. I had time to reflect about when I was last in this town, and though it’s kind of embarrassing, I’m going to tell it anyway, because it’s relevant to a personal growth journey.
I came here in 1999 for cheerleading camp, which was hosted by the college here. I was a freshman in high school.
Talk about another life.
This is what I meant in my post I wrote about what heartbreak can give you. I composed it while I was walking down the street after checking in and already falling in love with the place. I wanted the post to be succinct and for the sentiment to stand on its own, and I would expand on it later.
This is it.
When I came here as a cheerleader, my life was not my own: I didn’t come here because I wanted to. I didn’t even want to be a cheerleader — not that I have anything against cheerleading in particular. If someone wants to do that, great. It’s just that that someone is not me.
But that’s how divorced I was from myself. I did it anyway, at my mother’s urging. I’d said ‘no’ for two years, but — there really is no saying ‘no’ to her. It was a power struggle which I eventually lost. Not great parenting, to weaken your child, but she didn’t see it that way at all. She didn’t see me as my own person. She believed she was doing the right thing for who she believed I was, which was: someone who existed only in her mind. At the expense of a very real person…
Anyway, the cheerleading wasn’t all bad, and sometimes it was fun, and I can still remember the victorious feeling when our team placed first in a competition. It was an experience, I guess.
It didn’t last. I got hurt, badly. Trying out a new stunt, I fell and broke both the bones of my forearm in half. It was bent so grotesquely that it looked like I had another elbow halfway up my arm. I screamed and it had to be in a cast forever and I had to learn how to write with my left hand.
And with that, thank God, cheerleading was over.
That’s pretty much all I can remember of the whole thing. When I got to town and saw the campus, even though I knew I had been there, for like, a week, I couldn’t remember actually being there at all. I looked at it as if it was for the first time.
Aside from a few flashes of moments, I had no sense of having been there. No feeling of nostalgia, no familiarity of place. Nothing.
I guess I’ve done a good job of blocking it out.
It just wasn’t my life.
My life has become quite magical in recent years as my spirit has been awakening from its numbed out state. I have stopped doing things I don’t want to do just because other people insist I do them, and I’ve started discovering and pursuing things I actually like and enjoy. I was super intrigued to see that this town is called “Scotland USA” — though not because of the scenery, unfortunately, which is flat and landlocked. I’ve been very drawn to Scotland, the British isles, and Europe for the past few years, and even traveled there last year (yes, during ‘lockdown’, I flew the coop). This also coincides with studying genealogy and enjoying some pop-culture things (admittedly, Outlander, and more recently, Pride and Prejudice), and some more esoteric things as well. I’ve also attended some Celtic and Renaissance festivals here in Michigan (something I didn’t even know existed when I was a kid).
So coming here and staying in a Victorian B&B seemed to be a natural segue — especially since it had my name on it.
And I loved it.
I was greeted at the door by the innkeeper Kelly O’Shay (a real kindred spirit), and he immediately gave me a tour of the first floor that wove in a story of a successful American dream and family values. I loved learning about the family who built this house: a lumber baron wanted his only surviving daughter to be closer to him in his later years, so he gifted her this “modest summer cottage” as a wedding present.
Her name was Sarah.
I was also staying in the room that had been hers.
It can only be a good sign. 😀
The home was extravagant in its day, and since it retains its immaculate condition, you feel it still today. A formal dining room, library, parlor, ballroom (whose floors still don’t squeak, they were built so well to accommodate people “hopping around”), billiard room, and foyer with a grand staircase, all furnished and appointed with antiques or period-reminiscent decor and furnishings, serve to take you to another time and place.
The attention to detail was apparent throughout the home’s architecture and furnishings, as well as in the innkeepers’ management. I could feel that these were people who truly care, making this rare gem even more unique in today’s world.
I also walked around the neighborhood and was delighted to see a front-yard garden:
And later, a nature center with a white birch grove, wildflower meadow, and old cemetery.
The outdoor space at Saravilla was also lovely, and Kelly said their next major project will be to do the garden. It’s funny, the house is so grand, but everyone’s favorite place to hang out is the front porch. I very much enjoyed relaxing there with a cup of tea, book and journal (and also maybe eavesdropping a little on the other guests’ conversations).
I also walked to town and got a book on theme. I’ve been curious about this one for a while, and they’re inspiring to my own journey — they traveled around their own land (Scotland) and share their experience.
I wore this around town. Summer means my summer hat is back. 😀 The bookshop lady liked it.
One of the bookends in my room. There is a heavy Masonic presence in this town, and will write more about that later.
I was also looking very forward to the breakfast part of the deal, even though it was breaking my diet, it was worth it. I can always try that again tomorrow (well, until there are no more tomorrows left anyway).
Breakfast is baked from scratch in-house, and you can really tell. It makes such a difference, so much better than mass-manufactured cheap junk food. The veg quiche was divine; Kelly’s secret is to mix batter in with the eggs, so it’s crustless but still holds its shape. Very clever! I’m inspired to try it myself. The blueberry muffin was also probably the best I’ve ever had in my life.
Kelly also stayed and chatted with me during breakfast, and told me the story of how they came to own this place. He said his wife always wanted it ever since the first time she saw it when she was a girl, and when they were married, every weekend they would come into town and eat, then drive past the house. Every weekend, for 12 years.
Until one day, it was for sale. One thing led to another, and…. as Kelly put it, “it’s like she willed it into existence.”
How completely magical.
It was a jolly holiday indeed. There was so much beauty and synchronicity, it lifted my spirits immeasurably.
I very much appreciated the feeling of abundance in this home, because nature is abundant, our true nature is abundance. I think Sarah is a magical woman, and I felt like maybe her spirit was calling me there.
I even imagined for a moment, when Kelly was giving me the arrival tour, that the theory of eternal recurrence was at it again, and they were us and we were them, drawn here again by our love, by nature, by some force bigger than us or our own understanding. Maybe Kelly had been one of the most devoted servants of the home, here to welcome me on my summer holiday, now just as then.
Overhearing guests on the porch, of course the subject came up, “was it haunted?” They said, only by good spirits. I quite agree. There is nothing dark or depressing about the place. It’s all light and joy. They must have had great fun during those summers.
And then they started calling Sarah a “rich spoiled bitch,” and immediately followed in hushed tones that maybe she could hear them. Well, I certainly could.
These class wars are fascinating, because they really could learn so much from each other. The rich hate the working class and the working class hate the rich. They are constantly going on about how Sarah did nothing but spend her father’s money. She had no job, she built a ridiculous 11,000 sq ft summer cottage, and her only interest in life was as a socialite. She brought her friends in by private train from Detroit.
Put it that way, and sure, anyone can be jealous and hate her.
But the way I see it: she built something that outlasted her death. Something that’s still giving jobs, joy and inspiration to people today. (She also built a bridge in town and donated to the college).
She didn’t spend her life toiling and then die with her name lost to history. For her, the world was a playground, and she was going to enjoy it. And she was going to leave something for others to enjoy too.
I think it’s f*king great. I’m not jealous at all. I’m glad she lived and did what she did. I’m glad there’s someone who figured it out, for whom life was not a struggle. I love her, and her father.
Which brings me to the most inspiring thing of all.
This is her father’s house, just down the street. As you can see, it’s in pretty bad shape, although the inside doesn’t look as bad as you might expect from the outside, as shown in this Facebook post.
An Alma native bought it ten years ago, however now he lives in Virginia and has done nothing with it. His plan was to turn it into a European boutique-style hotel, which I don’t think is a great idea. For one, Saravilla already serves that purpose. Two, this is not a tourist destination. This is a town in central Michigan that was considered the middle of nowhere when Sarah Lancashire stayed here, and not much has changed. Although there are a few business draws that keep Saravilla in business, and the town is cute and has plenty to offer… it’s not a city. It’s not even close to a city. And although lockdown has increased the number of people willing to explore their own backyard… there aren’t enough of them to warrant a new hotel. It just isn’t a good business idea.
I have one, though.
It’s two-fold. One part is to bring in more tourism, not through a hotel but a museum. Specifically, a museum about Ammi Wright’s life, which is a real example of the American dream, a self-made man who started out as a farmer in Vermont and made his fortune in Michigan lumber. I think his story as well as his dedication to his family is inspiring, and his legacy needs to be restored and told. A museum would serve this purpose beautifully, and there is a model for it here in Grand Rapids with the Voigt House, which is a Victorian museum (though mine would be better).
The next part is to bring in every day people and energy, through a tea house. Sure, it’ll have coffee too, but we’ll call it a tea house for a number of reasons: 1 – it’s more relaxing, 2 – it fits with the period, 3 – I love tea. So does Kelly, he told me he recently quit drinking Coke and switched to iced tea instead and dropped 15 pounds.
I think this would be excellent and I’m very excited about it. In fact, I even sent a message to the owner — not detailed, just an introduction. Strike while the iron is hot, they say.
I don’t know how it will be received though. He may not be interested at all. I have no idea what his intentions are now, since his funding fell through, it will take a million dollars to restore it and he doesn’t even have a good business idea.
But as I was imagining all this I joked with myself that it was starting to sound a lot like a Hallmark romance movie. The owner is too old for me, but maybe he has a son…
I have a (no longer secret) desire to write romance novels, and though some dialog scenes come to me, I feel inept at plot structure. I know romance has to have a happy ending, which makes it easier and harder. I want something that isn’t cliche, but still believable.
Well, here you go.
Woman’s life takes her unexpectedly to small-town America, where she falls in love with a historical mansion in ruins and decides to give it a new life. There’s only one obstacle: she has no money or connections. But the owner’s son might have an idea…
Oh my god 😄 that’s what I love about fiction. You can write the world exactly as you want it to be.
Happy Independence Day. My favorite one yet, a real meaning of the phrase and one to remember indeed.