For day two of the Fifty and Other F-words book launch, it's a pleasure to introduce you to a true Hostess with the Mostest. Debra Quartermain has that rare and wondrous ability to make everyone she encounters feel cherished. She’s warm, gracious, thoughtful, and present in a way very few people manage to be. In our fast paced, hyper connected, digital reality, civility and kindness are often lost in the day to day hustle. Debra is the embodiment of both. It’s not at all surprising that her Bed and Breakfast, Quartermain House located on historic Waterloo Row along the Saint John River outside of Fredericton NB Canada, was the number 1 rated North American B&B on Booking.com for 2014 and 2015. The historic 175-year old Gothic Revival home has been lovingly renovated and appointed by Debra. Much like the proprietress, it’s enchanting.
A licensed designer, blogger and social media co-ordinator, Debra is a DIY doyenne well known and much beloved in the craft industry. Her design work has a signature stylish charm showcased in hundreds of published articles, several books and two lines of baby quilting fabric. She’s Chair of the Designer Section of the AFCI Association for Creative Industries and Design Team coordinator for Kunin Felt.
Debra is grandmother to 11 grandchildren she calls her “grandlittles.” A single mother who raised two daughters by herself, Debra discovered love and marriage in her middle years. She’s proof that Fairy Tale happy endings do happen, sometimes at the most unexpected times. And in this case, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving woman.
You raised two daughters on your own. I know how difficult that must have been, I was raised by a single mom. Growing up I wanted so much for her to be happy, to be able to exhale a little. She sacrificed so much of her talents and her dreams to raise us. What insights do you have from your experience as a single mother in terms of how it shaped you and continues to inform you?
Looking back there are times I remember thinking, "How can I do this?" but being creative was my saving grace. I would always look for a solution, some requiring much more creativity than others. I could always make something and sell it. I have always been an eternal optimist. What I brought out of those years as a single mom was the belief that it would get better and easier and an immense gratitude for all the moments of joy in between. I have two beautiful amazing daughters and they were always my beacon, to make a life, a home for them. Some of their memories shared made me realize that the little things, a surprise handmade doll outfit by the bed or a wake up in the night to watch fireflies were and are so very important. Making little surprises, taking time to just be present and spend time with my grandlittles I realize is the most important gift and has always been the most important gift of all.
How have things shifted for you now that you’re a grandmother of 11? You’ve made wonderful play spaces for them at your B&B, it must be such fun to play in such a magical home!
I still lead a very full life between the B&B and my design work, but family comes first. All the grandchildren live nearby so we have play spaces for both, the boys have a cabin loft and the girls have a fairy tale attic play space. They love to play hide and seek, and scavenger hunts are a requirement of every party. Being a grandmother is truly the best role ever! We love our children and when they have children, it is so very special. When you think you cannot possibly love any more you do, it is such a gift.
We know each other from the craft industry. It’s changed so much over the past ten years, as you know, but you’ve managed to carve a place for yourself in the new landscape. You’re such a creative and inspiring woman. I think having that creative spark helps keep you young, vibrant, and playful. How do you think women can maintain or if they’ve not explored it yet, discover their playful, creative side in their middle years?
I celebrate my 65th birthday this year, I really cannot believe it. The sixties are turning out to be the best decade ever. About eight years ago I went through a time of some very serious loss of loved ones, my girls on their own and my creativity disappeared. It took a little time, but I still knew that it would get better. I started going to belly dancing where at 50+ I was the youngest in the class! When I saw 80+ women moving and dancing, having the best time, I knew then that there was a whole lot more to come. My advice or really what I have learned is try something new, age does not matter, if you want to go for it. Just take a step and get out there, ask a friend along for the adventure! Finding something that ignites a passion may take some time but trying a few new things or returning to a past interest that was lost. Sometimes it can be as small as just wandering in a beautiful shop or a market, being present and buying an item which speaks to you. Start a journal, buy a beautiful one and some colored pencils, write, draw or doodle, just play with the pages. So many little ways to get started because really everyone is creative.
How does creativity inform your day to day reality as a designer and B&B proprietress?
I have thought a lot about creativity and what it means to me, I am aware of my footprint in this life and what I want to create and leave. My design clients manufacture products which work well together, I use them in thoughtful, useful and fun ways for special events at the B&B, party décor and playthings for the grandlittles and home décor. Providing inspiration in an authentic way
I think people are surprised to find out that the possibility of romance awaits them, regardless of their age. So many people give up on that idea of finding a life partner. Your love story is so delightfully romantic. How did you meet your husband?
Well, we met in a very unromantic way but at the suggestion of my daughter I tried online dating. I made a list of what I was looking for in a partner. I looked at the responses to my profile and there was one, no picture and five years older but what he wrote was intriguing. I replied, and his response of a beautifully written page long answer was the beginning of a couple weeks of correspondence as I was travelling. On my return we met downtown for a drink and I knew when I took his hand and looked in his eyes that he would be very good for me. Were you surprised to find love in your middle years? I was and yet I always felt I was meant to be married by the time I was 60. Do you have any insights for women over 50 who may be widowed, divorced, or single and looking for love? Never give up on love, I truly believe Life is simply a love story. Write down what you are looking for in a partner, what is important. I had decided to look for someone my age or three years older at most, I would have missed out on my darling man as he is five years older if after his initial inquiry I had dismissed him as too old. I am a hopeless romantic but also practical if you have your life set in a place and do not see yourself moving ever then do not start something too long distance either. Opening a B&B I needed to date someone close by and he showed up. So, a list does really help, know what you want and then open yourself up to go find it.
You own and operate a five-star Bed and Breakfast on the east coast of Canada. This is a somewhat new adventure for you, and it’s been such fun watching it unfold. The Quartermain House is magical! How did you find it? What made you decide to open a B&B? What did it take to make this dream a reality?
I had downsized into an apartment after my daughters left home and my mom had passed away but really missed a house and garden. My brother on the west coast was looking at coming home three or four weeks a year and missed my home as well. We decided to buy a family home together and were interested in a historic property along the river. When my real estate agent took me into 92 Waterloo Row, 175 years old, I knew it was the house, I fell in love with it immediately. Why showing my brother around via Skype, he remarked “I guess you will live there alone except for when you have family and friends to visit.” I walked around a little more and said to myself, this would make a wonderful B&B even though I had never stayed in one, don’t drink coffee and have a gluten intolerance. However, I have always loved cooking breakfast and having guests. I also knew I was meant to meet someone too. We agreed it would be a great idea, the city did too and after several months of renovations we opened for business. I met my husband Russ about a month after the B&B was to be a reality. We now have the best of all worlds, the B&B has welcomed guests from twenty different countries and we have a wonderful family home for all our family, we close when my brother and daughter living away come home and for the rest of the family locally they visit all the time. The little girls often greet guests with a “pleased to meet you” and shake their hand.
I love this quote from your website: “Live with a young heart, a generous spirit and immense gratitude, never lose your sense of wonder, joy and magic!” Can you talk about how you infuse your life with these principles?
We all travel through life and deal with all that it brings, in the mix is the best and there are the times of immense change, of loss and pain. That is life but in between all those times are all those moments, the everyday moments to enjoy and truly savor, to be grateful for. There is always wonder all around us, grandchildren are such great teachers of that. I believe what we give out comes back and what we fill our spirit with reflects on our entire wellbeing. We have the power of immense energy, I choose to share my power in wonder, joy and magic. That is what I do best, I make the magic for my family, friends and guests. I care so deeply, and I know this is not forever, so I am keenly grateful for every moment that is.
What’s next for Debra?
For the next few years everything I am doing now I will happily continue to do so. Art and writing are finding their way into my life more, that is exciting. The B&B needs its history told I believe. Being part of all these grandlittles growing up, possibly more to come, that is such a joy! I look out every morning on the river and feel grateful, this is my wonderful life!