Why “Better” Matters

Especially When it Comes to Creating Memories

Abandoned after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1981, our Randle home sat empty for a decade before we rescued it in 1991. It was a falling-down wreck when we bought it—so decrepit it wasn’t even included in the valuation of the property.

The house as we found it

The porches had fallen down, the foundation had slipped, and only the moss kept the roof intact.

Despite that, our family and friends enjoyed long weekends in this idyllic getaway two hours from Seattle. Some of our best times were when it was still just a “stationary tent,” with no doors, windows, electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.

Porch columns and door on the floor

Looking toward the fireplace; new window; porch supports & door on the floor.

Drilling the well

We hauled water until we hired a water witcher and ended up drilling a 165-foot-deep well.

We cooked on the campfire, used Coleman lanterns, hauled in 5-gallon containers of water, and slept on the floor in sleeping bags. It felt like going to summer camp.

Kids at the rope swing

Our kids with a group of their buddies, gathered at the rope swing.

Horsfalls around the campfire

A family gathering to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. Cooking on an open fire was delicious. Or maybe it was because we were so hungry?

Jaguar at Randle

Crazy, but our only cars were David’s Jaguar and my BMW. Not the greatest cars for camping adventures, but the Jag was a great cruise-mobile. Newly graded land in the background.

The property had a two-hole outhouse built in 1940, which we resurrected and used. Because few things are more “fun” than going outside in the middle of the night, carrying a flashlight, to use a spooky old outhouse! 

The outhouse

Erin and Wendy near the fire pit, with our two-hole outhouse in the distance

We had many adventures, like a death-defying trip to Burley Mountain lookout where, in one sweeping vista, we could see three magnificent mountains—Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. One time we rescued our kids and a friend as they crossed a field unaware of a bull grazing nearby. We spent long days hanging out at Yellow Jacket Ponds, fishing for trout, playing in the water, then coming back to the house to fry fresh fish for dinner.

Burley Mountain lookout

The lookout at Burley Mountain allowed unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains and forests—important for spotting fires. Christina and Charley rest in the shade.

View from Burley Mountain

Andrew and Erin goofing around, with the crater of Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

Boys Fish Randle

Andrew, Max, Stuart and Charley with the day’s catch; Rusty in the corner.

We captured rubber boas*, and watched bats descend at dusk to feast on insects. We caught frogs, lizards, garter snakes and crickets that occupied our “guest aquarium” until they were released before heading back to Seattle. And we foraged for wild berries, fruit and nuts growing on our land. It was the complete antithesis of life in the city.

Rubber boa

This is the second rubber boa we caught— much smaller than the first. They’re beautiful snakes. 

We spent two decades restoring the house, and eventually furnished it with hand-me-downs from our Seattle home, plus artifacts lovingly collected over the years. It felt very familiar and homey to us. However by 2013, with both boys grown and gone, we weren’t spending as much time at our country home. So I decided to try listing it on AirBNB — and quickly learned we weren’t really prepared.

Randle outside

After righting the foundation, rebuilding the porches and chimney, roofing and painting.

We loved Randle “as is.” We viewed it through the lens of our own memories and experiences—and not through the eyes of strangers.

Our first guest gave us a forgiving review. The next was brutal, and though I was upset by it, she was right: the house wasn’t ready for prime time. Thus began my quest to revamp it to create the “best guest experience” we could offer.

Randle living room

This is the same view as the second image from the top—looking toward the fireplace. We gathered the rocks and had a local stone mason set them. “The Orr House” oar is an homage to “Mrs. Orr,” former occupant and whom we believe to be a benevolent spirit at the house.

I began by replacing the bedding and linens, and expanded from there, doing what we could to make people feel welcomed and help ensure a pleasant stay. I worked hard, along with David and our property manager, Cathy Kane, to achieve “super host” status! It’s an accomplishment that requires continued hard work to retain.

Super host 2

Super-host status is fleeting. You have to work hard to hang on to it!

People naturally shop around for the best deals, and we think they recognize the value in staying in our home. There are nearby rentals that are more or less expensive, but none offer quite the same spaces and experiences. Pet owners love that their dogs can safely romp on 22 acres of land, pretending they are their wild ancestors on the hunt. And looking out across the Big Bottom Valley in the morning to see a herd of elk is an amazing treat.

In terms of recognizing value—we’re grateful to Verizon for being the only proven carrier in Randle. I routinely remind our guests to bring lots of quarters for the pay phone in town if they have AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile.  We put a positive spin on the lack of cell service by positioning it as a “digital detox” experience, but the truth is, we love that Verizon sees value in serving areas like Randle, where none of the other major carriers are to be found. We regard it as our lifeline to the civilized world.

It’s been a 25-year journey so far. For us, we’ve found #BetterMatters—especially when it comes to memories. And chorus frogs singing you to sleep.

Christina on the rope swing

Christina insisted on wearing her velvet dress and patent-leather shoes on the rope swing—even at night!


*Rubber boas are the only North American boa snakes. They have prehensile tails and are very, very cool!

All Photos © Terri Nakamura 1991 through 2016

We’ve been Verizon customers since 2002 when Andrew began as a cadet at West Point. As part of an awesome group of Verizon influencers, I’m grateful to Verizon for giving me the opportunity to use and test some of their awesome devices and tech. No additional compensation is provided, nor are favorable comments promised. All opinions are my own.

More about Terri:

Advertisements

Up in the AirBNB

Randle at sunset

The Horsfall House in the afternoon sun

The Doors sang, “People are strange, when you’re a stranger.” But since we put our country house on AirBNB, the people we’ve met have been anything but strange.

AirBNB is to lodging what Uber is to cars for hire. As of early January of 2015, it had booked more than 25 million reservations in 92 countries.

Our vacation home is in the insanely beautiful Cascade Mountain area of Washington State. We hadn’t been using it very much because of the work we were doing on our new retail store, Alki Surf Shop, in West Seattle. So we thought it made sense to let other people take advantage of it. The listing was begun in 2013, but wasn’t activated it until last fall when a friend enquired about renting our house. It seemed like it was as good a time as any to give it a try.

Before creating our listing, I did some research to see what kinds of properties were available in the area, how they were priced, and what kinds of amenities they included. Then I began the process of collecting images of our home, and writing descriptions, with the goal being 1) honest representations and 2) highlighting the positive attributes.

Among the tools we’ve used to create and manage our presence, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has been great. Not only is the AirBNB app terrific, the Note 4 has enabled me to document changes in our house and share them on the site. Here are a few new ones:

Kitchen

A peek at the kitchen

Kitchen Nook

Looking into the breakfast nook

Living Room

The living room has a sleeper sofa that sleeps two

You can see, the quality of the photos are as good or better than most point-and-shoot pocket digital cameras! That’s because the camera on the Note 4 is amazing!

Toward dining room

Looking into the dining room from the living room

Verizon is the only carrier we have found to provide reliable service in Randle, Washington. We heard from one group who said they were able to get a signal on AT&T and to a lesser degree, T-Mobile, but the last time we were there (a week ago) AT&T at least, was zilch. Honestly, I don’t know what we’d do without Verizon. It has been our lifeline to the outside world.

My real-life bestie has using AirBNB in her travels, and has found some amazing places in the U.S. and abroad. I’d also heard of VRBO (Vacation rentals by owner), but felt more confident in AirBNB because of my friend’s personal (and positive) experiences.

I’m am AirBNB novice, but I’ve found ample support, both within the host communities, and from AirBNB itself. Each time I’ve had a question or issue, AirBNB has answered within 24 hours. The communities are even faster. Post a concern, and BOOM, help is there.

The experience has been largely positive, and we’ve learned through guest feedback, how to make our home even more hospitable. We’ve met people from far-off lands, as well as those from our own back yard. We discovered we share mutual IRL friends with one of our guests. Several people in another group work at a very popular restaurant here in Seattle, The Whale Wins, listed by Bon Appetit as one of the top 10 new restaurants in the U.S. in 2013. We enjoyed them so much, I made it a point to take our extended family there when we celebrated my birthday earlier this month. And trust me when I say the food was fabulous!

So how are a country house, AirBNB, a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and an award-winning restaurant connected?

Through great technology and with help from Verizon.


AirBNB: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1229224

Alki Surf Shop: http://alkisurfshop.com/

Terri Nakamura: https://twitter.com/terrinakamura