Patti and Patick McLead are the owners and innkeepers of Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast, located in Johnson City, TX. They have three private cottages on 18 acres in the Texas Hill Country. Each cottage sits at an angle so guests have a private view from their porch, and they all feature large hammocks fit for two.
Relaxation and rejuvenation is encouraged and can be accomplished in a variety of ways: breaking dishes for stress relief, peeling cedar bark on your private porch (it’s addicting and encouraged!), or by watching the abundance of nature. To maximize their guests’ privacy, breakfast is delivered to your door in a vintage picnic basket. BedandBreakfast.com’s Maggie Lundy visited the inn and interviewed the innkeepers to learn more about what makes their property special.
Patti and Patrick McLead
Maggie Lundy: How long has the inn been open?
Patti McLead: We opened in April of 2011.
ML: So you two are pretty new to innkeeping?
Patrick McLead: We bought the property the first weekend of November 2010 and opened six months later. Our first cabin was just a shell, with nothing on the inside. My cousin, brother-in-law, and I finished that one out. And then we found this builder out in San Antonio that built the other two and our house.
ML: Did you go into this knowing you wanted to be innkeepers?
Patti: Yes. It was kind of a dream we never thought would really get to happen.
ML: What were your occupations before this?
Patrick: I was a hairdresser for 37 years. I owned a salon.
Patti: I taught 8th grade history. It was fun; I loved it.
ML: Are you from the Austin, TX area?
Patti: No, we’re from Rockport, TX.
ML: Do you like the Johnson City area so far?
Patrick: We love it. We’ve been coming up here for years. My family had a ranch in Blanco, TX. They sold it, but kept 14 acres and split it into lots amongst themselves and their families. So every year we’ve gone up there and had a family reunion on the property. Everyone has a little family house, so I’ve been going there since I was a little kid. When Patti and I married, she wasn’t quite sure about it because they used to call it “the cabin in the woods.”
Patti: It was a shack! And I had lived in Houston. I was very Houston.
Patrick: Yes, she was very citified.
(L:R) Destinations near and far, sign made by Patti and Bosco the countrified city dog
ML: Has your dog, Bosco, adapted well to country living?
Patti: Yes, he loves it! I have a golf cart, and if he hears it in reverse he is out that door and up on the bench seat. He’s ready to ride! He loves to run the trails with me.
He got all brave out here. We used to have to go in the backyard with him; it was that ridiculous. But out here, he just takes off after rabbits. He’s hilarious.
ML: I’m a big fan of Bosco.
Patti: It’s funny, we have journals in each of the cabins and they write about what they liked or saw, and so many of them mention Bosco. He goes with us when we deliver breakfast, since we deliver to the cabins. We have antique picnic baskets; we load them up and bring breakfast, and he’s always with us. So they get greeted by him in the morning.
ML: What's a sample menu for the breakfast basket?
Patrick: A sample menu could be frittata with sweet peppers, mushrooms, shredded potatoes with cheese on the top, jumbo blueberry muffins with orange zest, a fruit bowl, and orange juice.
Patti: It’s usually so much food they have to save some for later! We load the baskets up. There are coffee pots and all that sort of stuff in the cabins.
ML: You seem to offer your guests a lot of privacy.
Patti: Yes, people love that. They like having their own cabin; none of them look at the other ones. They all face different directions. We tucked their parking in too, so you don’t have to look at a car. They’ve each got their own little spot.
ML: I saw on your site that this is a great place for birding. Can you tell me about that?
Patti: We do have a big number of birds. There are two more that I need to add--a few hawks that I’ve seen. All the winter birds are coming in now. The Juncos are all flying in; they’re called the Dark-eyed Junco. They’re awesome, with the pink legs and a pink beak.
I’m trying get into the Audubon Society so I can count the birds. There’s a yearly bird count, and it’s a real official thing across the country, so we can keep track of what birds we have coming through. I know that sounds funny, but we do, we actually count them. It’s called the Christmas Count. You set one day, and set up. There are circles, big 15 mile circles, to do a count on your property.
ML: With that many birds, you and your guests must have many opportunities do a lot of birding photography.
Patti: Yes. My friend, who is a professional birder and photographer in south Texas, helped me pick where I was going to put the professional photography blind out in the woods. It’s set up for morning and afternoon shots. We built a little pond for it and we can make it drip to make the birds come.
ML: How long have you been doing this type of photography?
Patti: Six or seven years. When we lived on the coast, it’s huge birding down there--a whole different ballgame of birds. Water birds. They have the Whooping Crane down there, it’s an endangered species. They’re five feet tall!
Patrick: Imagine standing in front of a bird as tall as you!
ML: What was your design inspiration for the property?
Patti: All of the wood is reclaimed wood, so we kind of wanted it to be rustic, cozy, and not wasteful--very Hill Country-ish. We wanted it to be very natural; there’s not a lot of frou frou on the grounds. It’s supposed to be nature; we have deer walking around, jack rabbits, and the birds!
Patrick: The cabins are very romantic, nice cozy little areas.
ML: What do you both like most about being innkeepers?
Patti: Just sharing something that’s really awesome out here. We like to share our place.
Patrick: It makes us happy when people are here. Especially when they go, “Oh man, this was so great, we’re going to have to come back. This was wonderful, we needed this.”
Patti: Some people are talkative and they want to visit with you more, and we like to. We also set it up so they don’t ever have to see us except at breakfast, just to answer the door. You know, because they want to. And we’ve had couples that get in their cabin and disappear. We don’t see them except for breakfast.
And this one couple just cracked me up because he would just open the door and say “thank you,” take the basket and that was it. We thought, “They must be having a miserable time. This is horrible. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” They re-booked before they left. They were like, “This has been the best thing ever!” And we were going, “really?” because I really thought they were unhappy.
And they’ve been back twice! They’ll be back again in November, which will be their fourth time. Sometimes you just have no idea. And sometimes they’re so gushy you know that right away that they love it.
ML: You encourage guests to peel cedar off their decks?
Patti: People can pick the cedar off the bark and just chunk it; it’s therapy, too. It’s addictive, you can just pick at it. It’ll get to where there’s nothing left to peel, it’ll just be the core, but we’re a long way from that. People just like peeling it.
Patrick: We’ve spent hours doing it. They were a lot thicker. The bark was a lot thicker.
ML: But I feel a little naughty, like I shouldn’t be peeling away your porch!
Patti: Nope! It’s perfectly okay. I love the colors.
ML: You should have a sign for this. “Feel free to peel the cedar – It’s Therapeutic”
Patti: That is something that people write in the journals. That they just had such an experience of renewal. It’s a spiritual place, which is what we think. It’s a healing place for us, which is what other people seem to think, too.
ML: Tell me about the memorial you built here.
Patti: We built a memorial called Freedom Park for our boys, our son Garrett and the ten scouts of the recon unit who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. They’re in rank order and each post has a plaque with a quote from their mothers. We’re Gold Star parents, and other Gold Star parents can stay here for free. We also offer a military discount, but Gold Stars always stay free. That’s one of the reasons we started this place, to have a place for people to disappear, because when you go through that you just want to disappear. We may be doing some stuff with the Wounded Warrior Project pretty soon, too.
Patti and Patrick's favorite local attractions:
Photo Credit: Austin Hansen at Exit Flag Photography