Hospitality: Creating Community and Welcome at Home

Hospitality, homecoming and 3 tips on how to welcome people well.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about hospitality. Probably because I’ve had house guests just about non stop since mid September! It’s been great to have friends, extended family, international colleagues, and college students at our home over the past few weeks.

Kristin Schell came to speak to our mother/daughter organization this week about hospitality. One of of the questions she asked us was “What keeps you from having people over.” So often for me it can be lack of preparedness – laundry on the couch, dishes in the sink, etc. The thought of someone judging me makes me weak at the knees. Kristin also asked us, “Someone is coming in 15 minutes, what do you do?” ACK! My worst hospitality fail was a few years ago. There were wildfires in the area that caused nearby neighborhoods to evacuate. Without hesitation, I called our dear friends and offered our home if they needed a place to stay. I was already having a large extended family group over for dinner for Labor Day, so a few more folks were easy to accommodate. What I realized however, is that one daughter’s room, the guest room (aka “the kids lounge”) and their bathroom were in no way guest ready. The rest of the house was clean and there was plenty of food but YIKES!! My friends were really grateful for a place to stay, but I decided then and there, that I didn’t want to be caught unprepared again. After the fires were contained and all the company left, we added an egg crate mattress pad to the pull out couch in the lounge, cleaned out the bathroom cabinets, got rid of old towels, bought some new towels and wash cloths, etc. You get the idea. It wasn’t a remodel but boy did we need some upkeep. I have taken that lesson to heart. I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m likely to always have something out of place, but here are a few things I’ve learned to make hospitality easier:

  1. It’s not about you the host, it’s about your guest. Stop worrying and focus on what will make the guest comfortable and feel good. You will feel good, too.
  2. Discipline and habit go a long way toward preparedness.  In our culture of multi-tasking, sometimes its hard to finish things, especially a housekeeping job because it’s practically a never ending cycle of wash, rinse, repeat. My sister’s friend sets a time for 10 minutes to “reset” her while she’s cleaning the house. Like her, I’ll fold the laundry, take it to the room, start to put it away but see something else that needs to go someplace else and it spirals out from there. The timer acts to reorient my friend to the original task at hand. With house guests for the past month, my family has gotten a great lesson in discipline and habit. The public areas in the house are staying reasonably guest ready (meaning there are no socks on/in the couch or computer cords to trip over.)  Hooray!
  3. Don’t wait for things to be perfect to invite people in. Friends, perfect is just not going to happen and that is absolutely ok. I’m always going to have laundry in the laundry room and someday I’ll get new couches. Authenticity is more welcoming than perfection.

Hospitality creates community and welcome in a world that is sorely lacking in both.

What’s your best tip for being “guest ready?”

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Things I’ve Learned as a Vacation Rental Owner and a Neighbor

My experience as a vacation rental owner and on the flip side as a neighbor to a vacation rental.

Much is in the media lately about problems with short term rentals. I own three houses in three cities and each neighborhood has handled the short term rentals in our midst differently.

Austin

Shortly after we moved into our primary residence, the house next door became a vacation rental. It’s a gorgeous home – spacious house with a pool, high on a hill above a lake, great views. No other house was a vacation rental in our neighborhood at the time. We are one one side of it and there is an empty lot on the other. There were no wild parties, but there were some groups of ladies that liked to have late night hen parties around the pool. I remember hearing them chat and laugh into the wee hours of the morning. I bought a air filter for our room in short order to block out the noise. One time, some folks brought their Harley’s and parked them on the septic field. I wish I had had the contact for the property manager – I would have called to let them know! Other than those two minor issues, we had NO problems with the guests next door. Fast forward a few years and two other homes on our street became vacation rentals. The neighborhood went up in flames over a few pretty serious incidents. Lots of lawyering and an incredible amount of money was spent. The majority of the neighbors successfully organized to change the deed restrictions to prevent any short term rentals ever. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the issue and began just pulling into my garage and closing the door. It was an incredibly sad time for me to see how neighbors treated neighbors with opposing views.

Port Aransas

About half the homes in our little beach neighborhood are vacation rentals. There was a lot of tension between renting and non renting owners when we first bought the house. So much so that we actually considered selling the house about 2 years later. The politics there also became ugly with many things said that would have been better left unsaid. I will admit, regrettably I contributed to some of it.  The end result was that the Owners Association crafted some rules that were especially punitive to the renting owners. The renting owners were able to negotiate with the Owner’s Association to reduce some the fines set in place. The good that came out of it were some specific neighborhood rules that we all abide by. I print out the rules in our rental contract and let the guests know that if I get fined for any of their behavior, the payment will come out of their deposit. We’ve never had a problem with our guests and the neighborhood seems pretty peaceful.

Galveston

Galveston is the most organized set of vacation rental owners. When the city council was looking at changing the Land Development Regulation, STROAG (Short Term Rental Owners Association of Galveston) was there to follow the developments, encourage owners to contact council members and took an active roll in the process. They worked with Homeaway to show the incredible economic impact short term rental guests have on the island. They’ve created a “Good Neighbor Brochure” to help guests understand what the expectations are for their visit.  I’ve been so impressed with this group! They are a model for what an area wide Vacation Rental Owners group should be – active in promoting the good about short term rentals and holding members to a high standard.

So, what I’ve learned:

1. Good communication is essential. Knowing and respecting your neighbors can go a long way to heading off any future trouble. Invite them into your home and get to know them!

2. Community matters. You have to be a good neighbor whether you are in the house or renting it out.

3. Expectations are everything. Don’t assume anything in your roles as neighbor, owner or guest.

4. Form an association. Get to know other short term rental owners in your area and organize before you need to, otherwise, it’s already to late. You don’t have to organize something negative – promote the benefits of vacation rentals in your area. Get to know the city council members. Share resources. The owner’s group can aid in the success of any of it’s members.

Do you have any other suggestions based on your experience? Let me know!

Girls Gathering at the Beach House – A Quick Guide

A few weeks ago I hosted a 2 day retreat for some girlfriends at Las Brisas in Galveston. We arrived at the beach house on a Sunday afternoon and didn’t get in the cars again until Tuesday morning. What luxury! For busy moms who seem to do life in cars, to have nearly 48 hours to relax, renew and connect was so needed. Here’s how we managed to make it work!

A Quick Guide to planning a girls getaway at the beach - including a DIY craft collage project!

Tip 1: Timing is everything!

We planned the getaway about 2 months in advance for an off season Sunday – Tuesday.  We left home on Sunday mid day – this got the Dads and kids through most of the weekend activities and returned by the time school got out Tuesday afternoon. While we were there, we talked, walked the beach, hung out at the beach club, share meals, did a fun craft project that helped remind us of who we are and walked the beach some more. We came away refreshed!

Tip 2: Bring two days worth of food

Our Menu:

Sunday Night – one sweet friend roasted a chicken Sunday morning, chopped the veg for a salad and brought a bowl full of quinoa and greens that assembled quickly. Dinner done!

Monday Morning – gluten free cinnamon rolls from my favorite local farmer’s market vendor, Sweet Texas; coffee.

Monday Lunch – ham and turkey sandwiches and leftover salad and chicken.

Monday Dinner – turkey burgers, vegetable sautee with zucchini, squash and mushrooms

Tuesday Morning – eggs scrambled with leftover veggies; coffee.

Grocery List: (I brought these things with me so we didn’t have to make a grocery store run) apples, bananas, creamer, eggs, lunch meat, cheese, condiments, ground turkey burgers, buns (for sandwiches and burgers), cinnamon rolls, foccacia bread, Seeds of Change brown rice/quinoa microwave pouch, mushrooms, farmer’s market zucchini, summer squash, and tomatoes, assorted snacks and wine. My friend brought the roasted chicken and all the fixings for a super salad.

Tip 3 – Do Something Creative

We brought along poster board (1/2 sheet per person), glue sticks, scissors and a TON of magazines – mostly Coastal Living, National Geographic, Southern Living and Eating Well because that’s what I have. We set up at the kitchen table clipping out pictures and words that caught our attention. Everyone’s was different and was a great reflection of who they are and visions had of what they want in life. The photo below is of mine. Nothing fancy but meaningful for me. With a daughter off to college and another with one foot out the door, I’m wondering what’s next in my life. These pics helped me remember how important hospitality and connectedness is to me and to be open new ways to doing that.

A Quick Guide to planning a girls getaway at the beach - including a DIY craft collage project!

Tip 4 – The Housekeeper

I never ever clean the whole beach house when we stay. I do start the laundry but I hire my housekeeper to come in and do all the make ready for the next guests. If I had to clean, it wouldn’t be a getaway!

Haunted Galveston

Galveston Ghost tours are a great way to learn about the rich history of the island this Halloween season.

Over the years Galveston has been consistently ranked at the top of Most Haunted Cities in America. Of course this list also includes places like New Orleans, Baltimore and Boston – all fantastic travel destinations regardless of paranormal activity. From the phantasmic to the historical – Ghost Tours can be spooky, but all in good fun.

Voted #1 Most Popular Haunted Ghost Tour in America, Dash Beardsley (Ghost Tours of Galveston Island) offers thrill seekers four tours infused with Galveston’s rich history. According to their website, The Original Ghost Tour of the Strand is the most family friendly, good for first time visitors, Ghost seekers, and families because of the emphasis on the history of the area. Their other tours include a follow up to the Original Ghost Tour, a Cemetery Tour and even a Jack the Ripper Mystery Island Tour.

If you want to dip your toes in history with a just a side of spook, The Galveston Historical Foundation opens up the oldest home on the Island, the 1838 Michel B. Menard House for trick or treating on October 31 from 5-7 pm. The event is free and fun for all.  Menard was one of the founders of the City of Galveston in 1838. The Galveston Historical Foundation gives detailed history about the Menard house on it’s website.

The history of Galveston island is rich with stories – some probably more embellished than others. It’s had it’s share of tragedy, turmoil and wild times through the years. The tales of the island, especially the first hand accounts of the hurricane of 1900, can be haunting, whether or not you see a ghost. Dive into the island history and lore, it will make you appreciate the indomitable spirit of Galvestonians – past, present and future.

 

 

Recipes, Remodels and DIY – Oh My!

September Round Up - My favorite home decor, remodeling and seasonal recipes found on Pinterest with links to pins and boards.

I love Pinterest.

Pinterest has actually been pretty helpful both from a business stand point as well as personal. I can spend a lot of time there looking at beach decor, holiday recipes, DIY remodel ideas, crafts and gifts. Pouring over decor over time helps me know what I like and don’t like. Collecting the pins in a board allows a style or theme to become evident. When the need arises and when it’s time to actually purchase something, I’m ready.  I like to arrange my boards with specific topics so that I can actually go back and find a pin for a meal, beverage, quote or a paint color etc. Each of my girls has a “Buy Me Something!” board which makes gift giving so easy! With the holidays coming up, I’ll be pinning a lot of great ideas to my Holidays – Coastal Thanksgiving, Holidays – Coastal Christmas and Great Meals – Holiday Recipes and looking for gift inspiration this season!

Here are a few of my favorite pins and boards:

Recipes

Follow Texas Coast Beach House’s board Great Meals – Dinner on Pinterest.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread – one of my favorite Autumn breads. Pumpkin and chocolate doesn’t sound like it should really go together but it’s delicious! My local farmers market vendor had a fantastic gluten free version of this made with sweet potatoes.

Eggs Benedict – quintessential brunch dish in my household. But we usually eat it out! Would love to surprise the family one Saturday and make it at home – maybe when the college girl comes home for Fall break.

DIY Crafts and Home Improvement

Great Coasters – good idea for gifts from SadlerHouse.net. I made a slightly different version of these for Christmas last year. I love the stamps used in this pin and think it’s great inspiration for coasters I’d like to make for the beach houses.

I love looking at remodel ideas – my wish list includes wood on my stairs and painting the kitchen cabinets…and maybe a plank wall somewhere!

Beach House Decor

Beautiful Coastal Decor in this group board. I think about beach decor year round. I always keep an eye out for fresh trends and think about ways to keep the beach houses in their best shape. I also find ways to sneak that style into my home in Austin, too.

Happy Pinning!

Port Aransas ARK – Animal Rehabilitation Keep

Port A has a gem of a place – the Animal Rehabilitation Keep – otherwise known as the ARK. It started in the 1980’s when Tony Amos, a University of Texas Marine Science Institute research associate, found injured sea turtles and aquatic birds during his research outings and brought the animals in to heal.  At the ARK, injured animals are rehabilitated and cared for with the goal of returning them to the wild. Tony writes weekly for the Port A South Jetty (local newspaper) and the article are always educational about the local wildlife.

According to the UTMSI website, “The ARK also cares for large sea and freshwater birds, including pelicans, loons, gannets, boobies, cormorants, gulls, terns, herons, and egrets. About half of them can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.  Most of the creatures, regardless of their species, are injured because of some kind of human activity. Birds often get caught in fishing lines or hit by vehicles on beaches or the roadside. Turtles can fall victim to fishing lines as well as shrimp trawls and boat propellers. Sometimes the animals have been hurt deliberately.”

In addition to the rescuing, the volunteers and staff at the ARK give educational tours for schools. Port Aransas is a better place for the work that goes on at the ARK!

Last week they released several turtles and our Blue Roost guests were able to go to the public release. One of these days I’m going to to see this in person!

Checking out a turtle release is a fun family event to share while at the Blue Roost beach house in Port Aransas.

5 Reasons to go to the Beach in the Fall

1. No Crowds

It’s all yours – the beach is lovely, warm and uncrowded. Perfect for morning walks, evening walks and anything in between. I’m always surprised at how warm the water can still be in the Fall. My kids have even been in it at Thanksgiving!

It's all Mine!

It’s all Mine!

2. Great Shells

I’m amazed at the different shells we find on the coast. A few Septembers ago I was in Galveston with some friends and we found the entire beach was littered with quarter sized shells – I think they were disk clams (Elegant Dosinia). Shelling on St Joe’s Island is an adventure anytime of the year. One contributor to TripAdvisor said they found fantastic shells in November.

Sea Treasure

Sea Treasure

3. Great Temperature

The average highs and lows in degrees fahrenheit for October are:

Galveston 79.7 and 68.4.

Port Aransas 82 and 71.

Very. Nearly. Perfect.

Perfect conditions

Perfect conditions

4. Great Fishing

Port Aransas, TX Offshore Charters & Bay Fishing Guides says that Fall is a great time to fish – still warm, not crowded and with more flexibility in booking trips. In searching for charters/guides for family trips, I’ve also seen that some rates are less in the Fall.

5. Fun Local Activities Happen in the Fall

Check out the local calendar for goings on in the area  Port A Calendar of Events and Galveston Calendar of Events.

Highlights include – October 16-10 The Port Aransas plyWooden Boat Festival and Oct 23-25 The Harvest Moon Regatta

Boats heading to Port A

Boats heading to Port A

6. Bonus: Just Because You Can

Always a new place to explore!

Always a new place to explore!

We don’t really ever need a reason to head to the coast – Just grab friends and family and hit the road!

Good times ahead!

Bringing the Beach Home

Relaxing, connecting, slow, family, fun, water, waves, sun, cook outs…..

Adirondacks on deck

These are some of the words I’d use to describe my times at the beach house. I’ve been there alone, with lots of girl friends at once and also sometimes with just one, with immediate or big extended family, with my sister and nephew, with just one of my daughters. Each time is treasured time with the people who are at the beach with me. When we get away, I think it’s sometimes easier to get in touch again with who we really are – away from the hustle and bustle of regular life that sometimes feels like it’s moving at the speed of light.

When I’m not at the beach, I long for it. While I do long for the smell of the salt in the air and the sound of the birds and the water, I’m really longing for the connection that being there allows us to have together.

So the question, as summer comes to a close, is how to capture that feeling?! That will look different for everyone, but here are a few of the things I do to “Bring the Beach Home.”

1. Beach Gear for Everyday

Beach bags – not just for the beach! One time on a return trip from the beach, we stopped at Hruska’s Bakery in Ellinger, TX. It’s an incredibly eclectic store with homemade kolaches and interesting household decorative times as well as local preserved food, worth a stop if you are in the area. I saw a cute coated burlap bag with a giant white shell stamped on it. I just couldn’t resist. I love that bag and carry a bit of beach around with me – I also thought it might be a good conversation starter with other beach goers.

shell bag

I bought some of those $18 plastic adirondack chairs (you can buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot and some of the heavier duty ones at Costco) and set them up around the yard at home. They are so inviting – great for morning coffee or a casual al fresco lunch as the days get cooler. Honestly, I do feel like I’m on vacation (ever so briefly) when I go sit down in one!

2. Trigger memories

I have an antique jar by my kitchen sink that hold black sand from a beach on the road to Hana on Maui. We took the kids there several years ago. They were in late elementary school and we had a great time of discovery there. When I look at the sand I remember our beach exploring and the curiosity and excitement we all shared.

I keep several important photos in my family room that remind us all of special times and places. I have a collage of photos from my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration with extended family. I also have some large poster sized pictures of a sunset and the view at high tide from my uncle’s beach house. Those photos remind us we belong to each other and to take time to celebrate together.

 3. Make Hospitality a Habit

Connections are what really mean the most to me both at home and at the beach. I wrote about making Shrimp Pico de Gallo recently. Food is always a way to connect with people. We love having folks over for dinner. Making hospitality a habit doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. My dear friend Jan’s best advice about housekeeping: “If you wouldn’t notice it as you rode by on a galloping horse, don’t worry about it.”  She’s totally right. Focus on making your guests feel welcome and known and no one will notice if there is dust on the shelf or spots on the floor.

Bringing the beach home for me means maintaining those connections that are deepened there – they need to be nurtured. That doesn’t alway happen when life gets busy with carpooling to kids activities, jobs, etc. So, grab a loved one, pull up a chair (whether it’s a beach chair, Adirondack chair or a seat on the couch), stay awhile, eat something yummy and share life.

red chairs