Happy Haunting

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Fall is here! While all the other moms are going on about pumpkin spice everything and finally getting to wear boots, I’m over here pondering Halloween costume ideas. My six-year-old daughter Vivi expects something epic for every occasion. For a girl who has found a reason to wear her dance recital costume in public at least once a month since the performance in May, a Halloween costume has to be a little bit extra. 

Last year, my mother-in-law was visiting from New York and let Vivi talk her into buying a Rey (Star Wars) costume from the Disney Store. But in years past, we’d gone a little craftier. We are fortunate to have my mom close by, and she is a whiz at whipping up any costume her only grandchild desires. 

When Vivi was 4, she wanted to be Peppa Pig. My mom sewed a red dress for her, and we added ears, a tail, pink makeup and a snout made from a fabric-covered Gatorade cap. The year before that, we went as the Scooby Doo gang. My little redhead was the perfect Daphne, while my husband Patrick and I had to work a little harder to be Velma and Shaggy. I have blonde hair and he has no hair, so we relied on cheap wigs and thrift store clothes to pull off the transformation. Two-year-old Vivi wanted to be Elsa like every other girl. I like to think the combination of her red hair with a blonde braid made her unique. When she was just one and a half, I was in charge of all the costume decision-making and dressed her as her own superhero – Ginger Snap! 

Back in the day, Halloween was a one-day event. We donned costumes, went door-to-door collecting candy, returned home and ate it. The End. Now Halloween is a month-long extravaganza of festivals, trunk-or-treats, crafting and elaborate decorations. And we are all in. 

The Emerald Coast has tons of Halloween and fall-themed family events, many of which you can find listed in the calendar section of this issue. We live in Destin, so some of our favorites are BooLu’s at Lulu’s, Fall Fest at Destin Community Center, Halloween Haunt at Destin Commons and the Destin Elementary School Fall Festival. During this week, Vivi has more costume changes than a Beyonce concert. Best of all, these events are all free or super affordable for a family on a budget. For little kids, the action-packed week leading up to Halloween can feel like a trip to Disney World! 

Another place we love to go in October is the Halloween store. Spirit usually has a pop-up shop in Fort Walton Beach/Mary Esther and another in Miramar Beach. It’s like going to a haunted house without having to wait in line or pay admission. Their creepy animatronic characters can keep Vivi entertained for close to an hour. Fair warning though, if your kid is even the tiniest bit jumpy about characters DO NOT ENTER! There is no way to get to the cute kid costumes without encountering some seriously frightening stuff.

As I write this, we are in final deliberations over this year’s costume. Some options still on the table are a pilot, Wonder Woman, Jojo Siwa (she of the giant bows) or a granny. I am certain we will run through a few more ideas before we come to an agreement. It remains to be seen if Vivi will rope us into a family costume.  

Best of luck to all you parents as you run the Halloween marathon that the month of October has become. Happy haunting! 

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Wondering what to do with all the candy your little goblins collected at the 20 fall festivals you attended? Here are some ideas!

Send It to the Troops
Check out organizations like Solders’ Angels, Operation Shoebox and Operation Gratitude. Both organizations collect your unwanted candy and send it to our military around the world for a sweet treat.

Candy Buy Back
Be on the lookout for local dentists offering to collect your candy and stave off cavities. Many will offer kids toothbrushes, floss or other trinkets as incentive.

Give to Other Kids
There are some kids who were not able to go trick-or-treating. Check in with the Ronald McDonald House or other local charities that serve kids to see if they can use it.

Save Some
There’s nothing wrong with having a secret mommy stash of candy. You earned it, girl!

Avoid the Summer Slide

We are smack-dab in the middle of a long, hot summer. The kids are whining about being bored, and parents are counting down until we can send our precious little angels back to school. As tempting as it is to plop the kids in front of the television until the first day of school, we need to keep their minds and bodies active to avoid the dreaded summer brain drain. Brain drain, also known as the summer slide, happens when children forget much of what they learned during the school year over the summer break.

According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) at Johns Hopkins University, most students lose two months of math skills over the summer. Low-income children can fall behind up to three months on reading skills. This means teachers spend the first month of school reteaching lessons, and students risk falling further and further behind each summer. Some children also gain weight over the summer without the discipline of daily school and physical education.

This information is alarming, but don’t let it ruin your summer. Combating brain drain is easier than you think. You don’t have to get a tutor or enroll your children in summer school. There are plenty of fun ways to keep their brains active until the teachers tag back in.

Lean on the Library

There is so much more to do at the library than check out books – though we do plenty of that too. We have fantastic libraries across the Emerald Coast with fun and educational activities happening almost every day throughout the summer. On a recent trip to Destin Library, my six-year-old daughter, Vivi, checked out books she can read on her own and chapter books for us to read together, played a coding game for kids, signed up to attend a Pete the Cat extravaganza, and stumbled upon a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) workshop for kids. She loved it and was even more excited when they told her she can come back next week and build a robot. I highly encourage you to check out the library closest to you.

Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming

With the Gulf, bays, bayous, lakes, pools and waterparks, we are literally surrounded by water. Learning to swim is not just fun for local kids, it’s necessary. The good news is swimming is healthy for the mind as well as the body. A study of children in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand by the Griffith Institute showed that children who started swim lessons earlier had better visual motor skills in addition to gains in language, math and writing. We kicked the summer off with a fast track class at Emerald Coast Scuba in early June. This was Vivi’s fourth summer with Coach Mary and her crew. She already swims like a fish (or mermaid if you ask her), but this summer she improved her freestyle form, learned to do the butterfly and is spending the rest of this summer practicing her dives in Mammi and Papa’s pool.  

Mini Golf = Maxi Learning

You can find a way to make any fun outing an educational experience. Take miniature golf as an example. Younger children will naturally learn deductive reasoning as they play the course – if I hit my ball in this hole versus that hole, what happens? You can be a bit more explicit with older kids, talking about the angles and physics involved in the sport. This works for billiards too. Keep it light and fun so you’re not forcing the educational component. If they realize you are trying to teach them, they might tune out. Think of it like blending green vegetables into spaghetti sauce – what they don’t know could help them.

Technology Isn’t Evil

The kids likely want to spend every waking moment with a screen in their faces. Zoning out to endless YouTube videos isn’t the only way to utilize these devices. There are plenty of educational apps out there, both free and pay. ABCmouse is a fun learning app for pre-school and elementary school children. Even video games aren’t all bad. Playing games can teach kids how to be good winners and losers, problem-solving skills and creativity. Chances are they are better at the games than you are. Let them teach you how to play the game and explain how it works. This is a great brain-building exercise for them and a wonderful way to improve the parent-child bond.

Our favorite discovery this summer is the Art for Kids Hub channel on YouTube. This channel has more than 1,200 videos with easy step-by-step instructions on how to draw everything from animals and ice cream to Hatchimals and LOL Dolls. Trust me, your kids will sit peacefully for large chunks of time while following along with these videos. You will be shocked by how quickly they will create some pretty awesome drawings while using both sides of their brains.

Chill

The most important thing to remember is that schools give kids a summer break for a reason. They need time to rest, relax and recharge. Let them have that time without stress, without pushing them too hard. I hope these tips will help you find sneaky fun ways to incorporate learning into your summer fun. Vivi and I will see you at Big Kahuna’s. We’ll be the ones talking about velocity as we fly down the Tiki River Run.

  

 

DAD'S PLAY

By Laura Lucy

 

Motherhood is having a real moment right now. You can’t sling a bottle of Pinot – Grigio or Noir, whatever your preference – without hitting a mommy blogger, vlogger or activist. After millennia of toiling and suffering in silence, women are finally being acknowledged for the hard work and challenges of mothering. As a mom who struggled with just about everything when my daughter was first born, I’m incredibly grateful to live in a time when women talk openly about their struggles, share advice, attend mommy groups and regularly schedule moms’ nights out. 

But where does all this new mommy reverence leave dads? Unfortunately, the rise of moms coincides with a strange decline in respect for fathers. Watch most any sitcom, comedic movie or commercial with a dad in it, and you will see a bumbling, befuddled caricature of a father. Sure, I laugh along most of the time, but is this representation close to reality? Not in my world!

My husband, Patrick, also known as the father of my child, has been a super dad from the very beginning. In those early days of sleep deprivation, sore nipples and C-section recovery, there is no way I or my newborn would have survived without Patrick’s daddy game being on point. And it was. He diapered, shopped and bathed while I tried to work through pain and doubted my parenting skills. He just got it done. 

Over time, the roles shifted as I healed and became more confident, but that never meant Patrick’s role was at all diminished. My days were filled with attending to my daughter Vivi’s needs, but Patrick was there to love her, support me and give me a break when I got overwhelmed. 

One of my greatest joys in motherhood doesn’t even involve me. I love to observe the special bond between daddy and daughter. My husband does all the activities with Vivi that I either can’t or don’t want to do. I love our weekly trips to the library, chauffeuring Vivi to ballet class, shopping and going to the movies. Patrick teaches her to play golf and soccer, they go hiking at the state parks, he takes her to the arcade, he trails behind her on endless loops around our cul-de-sac on her bike. It also helps my mood when the two of them give me a few hours alone in the house so I can catch up on laundry, freelance work and the DVR. 

Aside from the warm and fuzzy feelings Vivi hanging with Daddy brings me, there is also evidence that children receive many benefits from spending time with their dads that are different from the benefits of being with their moms. 

Dads don’t play the same way moms do. In The Art of Roughhousing, Anthony T. DeBenedet, M.D., and Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., cite several recent studies indicating that roughhousing makes kids more intelligent, builds their socialization skills, increases their ethical standards and improves their ability to bounce back from adversity. Dads also encourage kids to take more risks but without going too far. He will throw you higher, encourage you to climb that tree and let go of the bike with no training wheels. 

I think most kids (and society) expect moms to always be present. It’s a given. When I was growing up, my dad worked long hours in retail, but he was always there for me. He never missed a dance recital – and there were many – and his only complaint was that he had to sit through “everyone else’s no-talent kids” before he could see his baby girl perform. He was right beside my mom for spelling bees, band concerts and pep rallies. 

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but my father’s presence and encouragement had a profound impact on the kid I was and the woman I became. According to Linda Nielsen, Ed.D., Professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, whose research on the relationship between fathers and daughters helped inspire Mattel toy company’s “You Can Be Anything” campaign, girls with involved fathers are more likely to achieve financial success, have long-lasting marriages, flourish in demanding male-dominated careers and are less likely to have a teen pregnancy. 

Dads, if you aren’t already spending time with your kids without mom, start now! 

Moms, the next time you feel yourself getting anxious about your husband playing too rough with the kids, take a deep breath and give him some space. He is busy creating confident, independent, brilliant, resilient kids. 

Happy Father’s Day!

It Happened To Me!

By Laura Lucy

 

When I was a kid, we would take a weekly trip to K-Mart. My mom is an expert discount shopper who needed to shop the sales on the regular. It was the 1980s, the glory days of K-Mart, when you could still get an Icee and popcorn and wait with great anticipation for the manager to announce a blue light special. My older brother went with us unless he had football practice. My grandmother never learned to drive, so we usually picked her up to tag along too. 

On one particular shopping trip when I was in third grade, one of the outings my brother missed, I stayed behind on the book aisle while my mom and grandmother went two aisles over to look at something else. This wasn’t common practice, but we lived in a fairly small, quiet town, it was a slow night at the store and they could hear me if I called out. The Mr. Men and Little Miss books were my obsession at the time, and I needed another minute or two to check out the latest titles. 

As I perused such classics as Mr. Happy and Little Miss Tiny, a man came down the aisle. He had a cart with a two-year-old little girl in it. Just a dad looking at books with his daughter, nothing to worry about. He reached in front of me, I thought for a book, but then grabbed my vagina. It wasn’t a violent attack, but it was very confusing to me. I froze for just a moment before calmly replacing the book I was holding and walking away to find my mom and grandmother. 

In short, what I’m trying to say is…#MeToo.

I told my mom what had just happened. She immediately went to the front of the store, found the manager and told him what happened. He was young and had no idea how to handle the situation. Just then we saw our former neighbors walking in. I had pointed out the man who touched me. By this time his wife was with him; she had been in another part of the store when I first saw him. My mom dispatched the neighbors to follow them to the parking lot and get his license plate. 

We reported to the police. I had to tell my story in the district attorney’s office but not in court. When the man was confronted, he confessed and ended up serving two years in prison. In my kid’s mind, I thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t until recently, some thirtysomething years later, that I realized the impact it had on me at the time and even now.

Looking back, from third through fifth grade, I recall going home early from school often because I had a stomachache. I was a good student and no one ever accused me of faking it to get out of work. I was quiet and teachers always loved me, but I remember my third grade teacher being especially solicitous, even buying me gifts when my classmates got nothing. Now I realize that my parents had told her what happened and she was going out of her way to let me know I was in a safe place where I was loved when I was at school. Thank you, Mrs. Taylor. 

As far as sexual assaults go, mine was minor. I’m allowed to say that because it’s mine. No one else can make that determination for a survivor. Even so, it still had lasting effects. I cannot begin to imagine the emotional scars survivors who know their abuser have, and those account for the vast majority of abuse.   

Over the last several months, we have seen a dramatic change in how sexual assault and harassment are viewed and talked about in public. Long-hidden secrets are being revealed by Hollywood actresses and Olympic gold medal gymnasts are speaking out. What started as a handful of women exposing the bad behavior of one powerful movie producer turned into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, empowering thousands of survivors to share their stories. It didn’t take long for #MenToo to gain momentum as people began to realize that men and boys can be victims of sexual violence too. 

Seeing this topic all over the media dredged up memories of my own incident, but some things were fuzzy. I sat down with my mom over the holidays to get some clarity on what happened. My memory of what he did to me in the store is completely clear, but I couldn’t remember what came next. I knew he had been convicted, but I didn’t remember testifying. At times over the years, I even worried about him, knowing that the accusation of an eight-year-old girl had sent a man away for two years. I hadn’t recalled that he admitted doing it. That gave me some peace. I even asked my mom if she remembered his name. She did. Of course she did. I googled him and found he is a registered sex offender living eight miles from that same K-Mart. Seeing his photo was hard, and I cried for the third grade version of myself. But you know what? She was way tougher than anyone could have imagined. Way to go, me! 

As the mother of a five-year-old girl, I want to protect her from the Harvey Weinsteins and Larry Nassers of the world. I want to slay every dragon and chase away the boogeyman. As a survivor, I know the strength of #MeToo and the power of #TimesUp and #MeStronger. It is my job to equip my daughter with the knowledge and confidence to stand up to any would-be abuser and to be a safe haven for her if anything bad does happen. I’ll wrap her in my arms and say, “I understand, Sweetpea. Me too.”

 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are no guaranteed safeguards that will protect every child from predators, but these tips can improve the odds:

  1. Tell it like it is. Cute names for private parts seem like a good idea when kids are little but can actually confuse the matter if they need to disclose abuse. One family’s cha-cha could be another family’s hoo-ha. A teacher hearing these terms might not even realize a child is attempting to tell her about abuse. It can be uncomfortable for adults to hear a preschooler say “vagina” or “penis,” but no one is confused about their meaning.
  2. Hugging is not required. Empower your kids to take control of their own bodies. That means hugging relatives is not mandatory. You can intercede, particularly with older relatives, to let them know your child is not being rude with a handshake, high-five or fist bump.
  3. Identify trusted adults. Talk to your kids about which adults they can turn to if someone hurts them or makes them uncomfortable. Teachers and school counselors are required to report suspected abuse.
  4. Be a safe place. Maintain a good relationship with open communication so if something does happen, your child knows you will believe them and love them no matter what happened and no matter who harmed them. 

A Locals Guide to Surviving Spring Break!

By Laura Lucy

Here on the Emerald Coast, we love tourists. No, really, we do! Without them we would likely have higher taxes and fewer restaurants. Plus, living in a small community where you know everybody, it’s nice to meet people from other places.

As much as we love our visitors, it can be a bit overwhelming during spring break when thousands of them clog the roads, crowd the restaurants and stand four-people wide in the grocery aisle. So, what’s a local to do during spring break? The obvious answer is LEAVE! If you have a good reason to stay – a restrictive work schedule, limited finances, family obligations – read on for tips to surviving spring break in town. You might even enjoy it.

Avoid the Rush

Let’s start with the basics that will help you maintain your sanity. We have to eat, but no one wants to get caught in the madness of packed grocery stores and two-hour waits for a table at restaurants. Locals all know that Saturday is vacation rental check-in day. That makes Saturdays and Sundays the busiest shopping days at the grocery store, largely because our visitors are not only stocking up for a week but they also bring their entire family to have a heated debate about which chips to purchase. In the olden days (way back in 2016), your best option was to do your grocery shopping early in the morning and not on the weekend. Now, you can use services like Shipt to deliver groceries directly to your home, or Walmart’s new online ordering system that lets you stay in your car.

If you opt to dine out during spring break, try to go during off times. Arriving at a restaurant on or near the beach at 7 p.m. all but guarantees your stomach will digest itself before you are seated, much less receive your food. Instead, go for a late lunch/early dinner between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. When you simply must go out for dinner, aim for an early week meal. The tourists are most likely to eat out at the beginning and end of their weeklong stay. Destin and 30A are typically the most crowded. Try out some of the fantastic restaurants in Niceville, Fort Walton Beach or on Okaloosa Island. Several have water views too!

Catching a movie during spring break is totally doable. The trick is to go in the middle of a sunny day. Conversely, hit the beach early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds. Bonus: this strategy makes it much easier to avoid that dreaded first sunburn of the season. 

They Go South, You Go North

While our visitors are primarily traveling here for our unparalleled white sand beaches, we can enjoy them all year. Most visitors don’t realize there are more wonders of nature within a short drive. Go spelunking at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. Find the fountain of youth and walk along lush forest trails at Ponce DeLeon Springs State Park. Let the kids get up close and personal with more than 100 animals including Florida natives and exotic wildlife at Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park in Crestview. Head up to the Blackwater River for tubing or canoeing. Check out the free Air Force Armament Museum just outside the gates of Eglin Air Force Base for a walk through history starting with World War I. 

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

Navigating your own town when it’s so crowded can trigger stress in anyone. That’s when you should take off east or west to annoy locals in another town! Panama City is home to plenty of daytrip-worthy attractions such as Gulf World Marine Park, Dave and Buster’s, ZooWorld and WonderWorks. In Pensacola, you can visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Historic Pensacola Village, Pensacola Children’s Museum, Fort Pickens, Pensacola Lighthouse or downtown for a historic walking tour.

Mixing it up with the tourists can actually be fun if you let go of the us-versus-them mentality so many of us locals have. Strike up a conversation with someone new, and you and your kids are likely to make friends and learn a little something about another part of the country or the world. As the mom of an only child, I relish the high season because we are guaranteed to run into other kids on the playground at Chick-fil-A who can keep my daughter entertained. 

If all else fails, hunker down at home and wait for the brief respite between spring break and Memorial Day. You’ve earned it. 

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 Community emerald coast wildlife refuge Spring Break Emerald Coast Vacation Florida Caverns State Park Ponce DeLeon Springs Blackwater River Air Force Armament Museum 'Naval Air MuseumPensacolas Childrens Museum Natioanl Museum of Naval Aviation Historic Pensacola Village Fort Pickens Pensacola Lighthouse Chick-fil-A

For the Love of Dogs

By Laura Lucy Day

This Valentine’s Day while everyone is gushing over chocolates and roses, I will be cuddled up with the newest love of my life. Now don’t go getting excited and tattling on me to my husband. He already knows and is equally smitten with the same girl. Her name is Pippa and she is a lemon hound/pit bull puppy we rescued back in September.

I love this girl so much, but it took me a long time to prepare my heart for another dog. You see, I have always been a dog girl and grew up in a dog family. My first dog, Rascal, was adopted from some kids in my parents’ neighborhood. My parents were praying for human children and struggled for a few years, but Rascal filled the gap beautifully until my brother was born and then me. Rascal wasn’t the family dog. He was my big brother. 

After Rascal, we adopted Prissy. Now Prissy was not as easy to love. She was like an ornery old lady even when she was young. As a Corgi mix, she felt it was her duty to herd everyone every single time they tried to walk anywhere. Carrying a big pile of laundry or getting a hot pan out of the oven? Prissy was right there to bump your leg and tell you exactly where she thought you ought to go. I think she held on her last couple of years just because she thought we’d be lost without her. She didn’t always make it easy on us in her 15 years, but Prissy was family and we loved her.

Then came the love my life. I was fresh out of college and working my first real job. I wandered into a pet store one day to look at puppies because puppies are cute and make me happy. I would never dream of buying a “manufactured” dog from a pet store but just wanted to look. That’s when I spotted her – a sweet little eight-pound fluff ball with a pink and brown speckled belly. The salesperson asked if I wanted to hold her. Uh, yeah! I walked all around the store with that sweetheart and instantly fell in love. I went back to the clerk and asked how much. She told me someone had been too lazy to drive to the pound and had just dropped the puppy there. They couldn’t sell her, but I could take her for free. I still faced one more hurdle. I was struggling to pay bills, and my apartment was directly across from the management office. There was no hiding a new puppy and getting out of the pet deposit. I went out to the car and pored over my checkbook before figuring out that I could take the puppy and just barely squeak by that month. It was the best decision I ever made.

Piper was the product of forbidden love - the love child of a farmer's prize hunting beagle and the neighbor's rogue escapee pit bull. She turned many heads, and I often had to answer the question, "What kind of dog IS that?!" Piper didn't know if she should howl like a beagle or bark like a pit bull, so she kind of did both, but not often. She wasn't the fastest or smartest dog, but she was sweet and cuddly and soulful. She lived with me for more than 14 years in six homes and snuggled with me through many tears and celebrated many triumphs with me. 

When I met my husband Patrick, Piper loved him instantly. She even tolerated the crazy cat he brought into the relationship. The cat was less tolerant of Piper…and me. He terrorized both of us incessantly. After five years together, he was finally starting to calm down and realize that having a mom is a good thing. And then he ran away on my birthday. Hence, me=dog person for life.

Piper’s health declined in her last couple of years, which coincided with the birth of my daughter, Vivi. She was too old to play by the time Vivi came along, but she accepted her and let her pet her and feed her and point at her. That's as much as you can ask from someone who was an only child for 13 years. My heart was completely broken when I said goodbye to her. I think I still hold the record at the vet’s office for crying the loudest and the longest. I knew I wanted another dog someday, one for Vivi to grow up with, but it hurt so much to let Piper go that I knew it would be a while.

More than three years after Piper passed, I started following several rescue organizations on Facebook. I would oooh and aaah over all the cute faces, but I just couldn’t make a move. And then came Pippa. Sunshine State Animal Rescue posted pictures of a tiny little puppy that was struggling to stay alive. She had Parvo and was vomiting worms. The vet guessed she had less than 12 hours to live when her former owner brought her in. They planned to euthanize her, but the rescue stepped in when the woman dropping her off said she could not afford the $15 to have it done. Thank God they did!

In her first month as part of our family, Pippa put on 12 pounds, more than doubling in size. She is now a happy, healthy, rapidly growing puppy.  She escorts her five-year-old big sister to the bus stop every morning and crawls in bed with the whole family each night for story time. She gets to play with her cousin, a 100-pound service dog named Otto who very sweetly tolerates her puppy-ness. She mostly looks like a pit bull but gets her coloring from the lemon hound side. People even comment that she and my strawberry blonde daughter “look related” because of their hair color. She just fits.

As happy as I am to have Pippa and as much as she loves her sister, this dog is 100% a daddy’s girl. It makes me happy to see Patrick so happy with Pippa. He still talks about his beloved Sandy, a dog his family had for only one month when he was a boy before his mom’s allergies forced her out. Bless his heart. He loved Piper, but Pippa is like his own child.

Pippa has brought us all so much joy. Sure, there have been a few puddles, missing toys and stolen socks, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything. So, this Valentine’s Day, Pippa the rescue puppy who is so loving her nose looks like a heart, will be our sweetheart. If you are feeling lonely, go get yourself a rescue dog. No man will ever listen to you more intently, judge you less or snuggle with you more than a dog. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Destination My House

By Laura Lucy

 

 

When you live near the beach, your home can become a hot destination for friends and family. Summer is prime time to head to the Emerald Coast, especially if you have a free place to stay. The good news for us is that we get to live in paradise all year and enjoy the beauty. The bad news is we have jobs and responsibilities that don’t go away just because our guests are on vacation. So how do you balance real life while hosting people on holiday?

Planning Ahead

Taking a little extra time before your guests arrive will save you much more time and headaches later. Ask them a week before check-in what their preferences are for beverages and food, including any allergies. That should give you plenty of time to go grocery shopping during off-peak hours. Having easy-to-grab foods, like fresh fruit and individually-bagged snacks, in plain sight on the counter will make your visitors feel welcome and saves you from constantly having to prepare something. 

Make a meal plan for the week. Last-minute trips to the grocery store or hours spent in the kitchen will take away from quality time with your guests. Keep meals simple, like grilled proteins with salad and watermelon or s’mores for dessert. What could be easier or more delicious than that?

Leave a note with your WIFI password on their nightstand. Include any other must-have information such as your house security code, neighborhood gate code and pool entry code. Give them a few restaurant and entertainment suggestions and connect them with a few local websites and apps that list events and more. Some of our favorites are the calendar at www.OntheCoastMag.com (obviously) and the 30A app. 

Be sure your guest bathroom is fully stocked with shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, towels, wash cloths, toothpaste, floss, extra toilet paper, tissues and bandages. Bonus points if you provide your guests with sunscreen and aloe. Our non-Floridian friends might not properly apply sunscreen or remember to apply it on cloudy days and end up with a sunburn. 

Anticipating their needs may also prevent texts and calls to you during work hours.   

Set Expectations

Before your guests arrive, spell out what your schedule and commitments look like during their stay. If you must be in the office all day every day, they need to know that. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. 

I am very fortunate that my husband and I both work from home and have flexible schedules. That doesn’t mean we get to completely put work on hold when friends come to stay with us. Our guest room doubles as my husband’s office, so we always hope our visitors are early risers. And I’ve been known to escape to Panera, the library or some other quiet corner with WIFI when I really need to crank out some work.

Setting boundaries for work time and work space will allow you to do what you need to do while preventing your guests from feeling like they are overstaying their welcome.

Make Time and Have Fun

Yes, your friends and family are thankful to you for the free accommodations, but chances are they really want to spend time with you too. Do your best to free up some time to be with them. Maybe you can’t take several vacation days while they are in town, but you might be able to slip out of work a little early a few days or take a long lunch. 

Guests will often want to repay you for your hospitality by treating you. Don’t argue with them. Just graciously say thank you. You might have the opportunity to eat at a new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try or play tourist with a game of miniature golf or bust out of an escape room. 

Let your kids stay up past their bedtime and forget any food rules you usually enforce (other than those for allergies, of course). My favorite memories from the first half of this summer are of my daughter playing with the children of my best friend and my husband’s best friend – night swims in the pool, walking on the beach with glow sticks late at night, eating ice cream whenever. With no siblings or even first cousins, my daughter is often stuck in the company of adults. The opportunity for her to bond with the offspring of some of my favorite people in the world is priceless.  

You don’t have to put a mint on their pillows and provide turndown service (although, my sister-in-law does this at her house and it is fabulous) to make your guest feel welcome. Quality time and a relaxed environment are the best things you can offer your guests. Do that for all of your visitors and you’ll have to start using a booking system for reservations by next summer!