Innkeepers in Storm Lake and Ireland exchange lives, for a month
Agnes Callinan prefers to cook from scratch, but the ingredients in American grocery stores occasionally make it difficult for her. The cheesecake she made last week collapsed because the gelatin she bought here didn't behave as expected.
"It still tasted good, it just didn't look right," she said. "I should have used a bowl to serve it instead of a plate."
Jell-O isn't the only thing that is different here than it is back in her home near Bunratty, Ireland.
According to Callinan, drivers here are much friendlier, the weather here is sunnier this time of year, and most notably, the bed and breakfast she runs back home is simpler and less costly than the one she is currently in charge of here, the Metcalf House.
Callinan and Storm Laker Pamela Adams have switched places, temporarily. Adams is running the Moyrhee B & B in Meelick, and Callinan is operating the local Metcalf House. The two women decided to try on each other's countries and lifestyles until Oct. 11.
Then, Adams will return home, and Callinan will visit some U.S. friends before heading back across the ocean.
Previous to this business proposal, the two women had never met. Back in February, Adams sent out a query through an online B & B network - most often used to communicate lost and found goods, and information on traveling guests between B & B owners across Ireland. Adams asked Irish innkeepers if they would be interested in swapping places with her, and Callinan was captivated by the idea.
After several e-mails back and forth, and a lapse in communication during the busy months of July and August, Adams attained a passport and the two decided to switch for four weeks between September and October. They both agreed to disable online booking for their homes during that time, allowing each other the option to accept or deny room requests over the phone or at the door.
Things are going well. Callinan and Adams met each other briefly and have now met each other's friends and neighbors, which allows each to feel more at home. Callinan has visited Okoboji and Sioux City while Adams has made a day trip to Killarney and is currently entertaining her own daughter on a visit to Ireland. All in all, the switch is allowing each woman the chance to travel and experience something familiar in an unfamiliar environment.
Each are discovering that while the cultures are somewhat different and the countries are quite far away, some things are universal.
Adams has employed the help of Callinan's friends in the search for a pesky mouse that has found its way into Moyrhee, while Callinan and her guests are on the hunt for the two uncatchable houseflies.
"I opened the window while I was cooking, like I would at home, without even thinking," she said, slightly embarrassed.
Despite a few unwanted guests at the inn, Callinan is still having a great time meeting people and seeing the sights of northwest Iowa.
"Everyone is so nice," said Callinan. "I love it here."
When asked what she misses from home, she immediately responded, "Not a thing."
She is interested to learn of how the Storm Lake counterpart has enjoyed her homeland.
Callinan is taking full advantage of the sunny weather, sitting out on the porch and walking around the lake. In 32 years as an innkeeper, she has come to love making her own schedule and meeting so many travelers.
"I am my own boss. All I have to do is keep the house in order," she said.
Not that keeping a bed and breakfast in order is any small task; she must be prepared to answer travelers' every question and need, shop for goods to feed them in style, washing a constant flow of dishes and linens, and entertain guests. In busy months, she sometimes barely has enough time to go through this daily routine before having to start it all over again.
Despite all the hard work it involves, running her B & B is something she enjoys immensely and doesn't want to give up any time soon.
"As long as the Lord gives me the strength and health to do it, I will," she said. "It's been 40 years since I worked for anyone else."
Callinan will be back home by the end of October, but looks forward to future swap opportunities. This is the first time she has done anything like this, but it seems the bug has bit her and she can't wait to swap again.
Already, she is looking at the possibility of switching places with innkeepers in California and Chicago in the future.
"My attitude is life is for living," she said. "I'm making the most of it."
In the meantime, you may find her walking around the lake or enjoying time outside at the Metcalf House over the next couple of weeks. No matter where you run into her though, her smile and outgoing attitude will draw you in, and she is happy to meet you.
"Anyone who wants to come and visit me, they're very welcome," she said.