Beach House Diaries: Hosting Hazards

Pictou Island ahoy there

The company has arrived and a Ralph Lauren ad comes to life. Tow-headed children with perfect teeth laugh cheerfully as they leap hand-in-hand through frothy waves; in the foreground, their parents (all well-toned and wearing linen) lounge on the deck sharing clever conversation. A refreshing breeze blows. Let's be honest, though. If every beach house visit played out so beautifully both Dr. Phil and Captain Bacardi would be out of business.

The fact is that entertaining anyone (even your BFF or siblings you actually like) takes effort. It's a labor of love – but occasionally there is a whole lotta labor involved and not quite enough love to compensate. This is particularly true for beach housers in easily reached hotspots who are routinely besieged by drop-ins. It isn't a problem I face. Pictou Island is so isolated that no one can pretend they "just happened to be in the area" (with their weekend bags mysteriously packed) and "wanted to say hi."
Since my guests are invited, however, I do assume certain responsibilities for them. For starters, I have to provide reliable directions for getting here and let them know what to expect on arrival. (Do they get a proper bed rather than a lumpy couch? Yes. Do they get a private bathroom, pool access and maid service? No.) Then I have to welcome them warmly, show them around so they can feel at home, feed them reasonably well, keep their glasses filled, and suggest – if not outright organize – suitable activities.

I must also send them home in one piece, which can be surprisingly hard to do.

Some visitors are a hazard to themselves, and over time I've learned to identify several categories that need to be watched closely for the sake of their own safety. Up first are The Pixie Dusters: guests who believe the beach house is such a magical place that somehow the blistering sun won't burn their fair, bare skin here or that that their shellfish allergy will – poof! -- cease to exist, even when an immediate eruption of hives proves otherwise. These are the same people who are convinced little Laura can't get stung as she grabs at a jellyfish or pokes a wasps' nest like it's a piñata.

Then there's The Competitive Crew that approaches every Frisbee game like a fight to the death. Instant Outdoorsmen -- urbanites who get to the beach, take a deep breath of fresh air (perhaps thumping their chest for emphasis) and feel ready to tackle anything -- are a higher-risk group. Witness the non-swimmer who suddenly thinks he's Michael Phelps, figuring saltwater will give the buoyancy needed to finally keep him afloat. Then there's the guy who hasn't walked farther than the nearest subway station in years, yet nevertheless decides to hike around the entire island just as the tide rushes in.

I've seen teachers channel their inner animal wrangler and lawyers morph into lumberjacks with painful results. Such guests should know that while I truly admire their enthusiasm, it would be in their best interest to dial it down a bit. The stakes are raised in remote locales like mine where medical care is hard to come by. But even hosts with houses on the Jersey Shore don't relish a weekend spent ferrying company between Walgreens and the ER.

They don't look forward to arranging emergency couples counseling either. As any beach houser will tell you, the other group that merits monitoring is The Terrible Twosome: folks who fight with such vigor you fear one of them will have an aneurysm. Curiously, they're hard to identify in advance since couples can seem perfectly lovely in the "real world" where individual pursuits translate into limited facetime. When you strand them at a beach house with comparatively few diversions, it's a different story. Band-Aids and Benadryl won't help. Neither will liberal doses of alcohol (trust me, I've tried).

So sometimes all a host can do is offer ample distractions, then send guests off with good wishes... because you love them still and chances are they'll be invited back next summer regardless.

Next:5 Tips for Keeping Guests Safe

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Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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