"Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify." - Henry David Thoreau

I know I said "blog like no one is reading" but it's nice to know these people are

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Truly Horrible One

If you are lucky enough to have a cottage or country place you most likely have had one of these and like most truly horrible things they usually stick out more in your mind than the wonderfully good ones. I am talking about the dreaded horrible house guest. Now over the past ten years I have been spending most of the summer at our cottage as the de facto matriarch and I have hosted many, many guests. In the beginning the guests were made up of couples who came for fun, boozy weekends when we would eat, drink, swim, sail, fish, eat and drink some more. Everyone chipped in for beer and something to barbecue and we would all help cook and clean up. Later came the weekends of babies. My Other Half and I have a great group of old friends (see above boozey weekends) and we were lucky enough to all have children around the same time. Everyone would arrive with porta-cribs, exer-saucers, booster seats and baby swings. Again we would eat, drink, swim, sail and fish with interludes of nursing, diaper changes and soothing of various assorted colicky babies. Everyone pitched in and about the only thing we didn't share was breast milk.

Still later I would move up north for the entire summer with the boys and my Other Half would come up on Fridays and go back to the city early Monday morning. I would fill the weekdays with girlfriends and their kids. We'd sit on the dock watching toddlers pushing around toy boats in the water, preschoolers bravely jumping off the dock in their "lifeys" and we'd attach duelling jolly jumpers to door frames so the kids could jump while we cooked dinner, enjoyed a glass or bottle of wine. Again, everyone pitched in making chicken fingers, macaroni and s'mores by the campfire. Laundry was shared, counters were wiped and, as only with mothers, no one ever had to be asked to help, except the kids of course.

Now things are even easier. The first thing my friends ask when we plan a weekend is, "What can we bring? Other than wine, of course." They come bearing gifts of stinky cheese, a new recipe for pulled pork or all the fixings for make-your-own-pizzas. We cook, swim, eat, watch the kids learn to windsurf or dumping the sailboat in the middle of the lake. We have fabulous hors d'oeuvres on the dock and the occasional blender drink is whipped up. Even clean up is fun (for the adults) with the kids divided into teams for clearing the table and making sure all the boats are put away at the end of day. But every once in a while to my great, and perhaps naive surprise, a guest comes along who forgets that I don't run a full service hotel.

But this week one did. An old friend of the family's invited herself along with her hubby and two kids to the cottage presuming that we would put them up for the night before they dropped their daughter off at camp. And she went on to assume that they could stay with us for the three days while the daughter was away so they wouldn't have to drive back down to the city. I told her that this week was our only family time together before school starts next week so, while they were welcome to stay for one night, it wouldn't work out the other two. This, she said, was a problem since she really didn't want to have to drive two hours back to her sister's house. But for once I stood firm and repeated that we would be happy to see them for one night. How I regret those words now.

We had already made arrangements to go and visit friends on the day our guests were to arrive so I told them to make themselves at home until we got back. This might seem a bit inhospitable but remember, I didn't ask them to come and she had spent lots of time at our cottage growing up. I said we'd be back after 4pm as we had to stop for groceries on the way. (Hint, hint) We had already communicated extensively by email about the visit and she had yet to ask the first question every house guest should pose to their host which is, "What can we bring?" Even after the hint about groceries she still didn't bite so I bought more milk, dinner for nine people and three kinds of ice cream for dessert. We arrived back at the cottage to find the family making themselves right at home. They were all on the dock watching the seven year old boy paddle a kayak for the first time. They said hello and then asked if someone would take them on a boat tour of the lake. I offered my Other Half's services while I began making dinner. The son asked what we were having and when I told him chicken fajitas he looked confused.
I said, "You know, wraps with chicken, cheese, salsa and some veggies."
He replied, "Do you have any hamburger meat?"
I said, "Yes, I think I have some in the freezer. Would you like that in a wrap?"
"No," he replied. "I'd like hamburger and chips and cheese."
Okay, I thought, this is not a restaurant but it's only one meal. I can do hamburger.

Meanwhile the family was getting ready to go on their boat tour. Oh, did I mention they had no lifejackets for the kids? Now after spending all my life on one body of water or another the first (and only consistent) rule at the cottage is kids wear a life jacket in the boat and on the dock at all times. No exceptions. You never know how well other people's kids swim despite what the parents may say and it's never worth risking a child falling in when someone isn't looking. So we found a couple of lifejackets and off they went. My boys were being pretty good about these "random kids you invited, Mum" as Number Three Son delicately put it. And when they returned they even offered to play with them while I set the table. What were the parents doing while their children were entertained and their dinner was prepared you might ask? Well, they weren't offering to help on either front, instead they were both sitting on the couch punching away on their iPhones, occasionally looking up as I passed by with the plates or condiments. Then she got out her computer just as I called the kids in to eat and asked where she could plug it in to charge. This may be one of the few time I have wished we were further down the lake with no power.

We sat down to the meal and everyone seemed happy, the son with his hamburger meat and chips which, of course, now all the kids wanted. I poured myself another glass of wine and looked over at my Other Half who rolled his eyes discreetly. When the meal was over my kids cleared the table and I began loading the dishwasher as once again our guests sat down to what must have been terribly important business on their phones. Are they NATO ambassadors negotiating the truce in Libya? No, she's a sales rep and he runs some sort of automotive shop but I'm sure the emails they had to attend to were just as important as peace in the Middle East. We dished out ice cream to everyone and then I suggested the kids go and make a campfire for roasting marshmellows. I finished the dishes just as my guests finished playing, I mean, working on their phones and they all went outside to the firepit. I went to set up the kids beds and turn on the lights in the bedroom while thinking to myself, they can't possibly be this clueless. Have they never stayed at someone's house before? Do they show up for dinner parties without a bottle of wine or some sort of hostess gift? Should I slip an itemized bill under the door before they wake up in the morning?

I didn't, but I wish I had had the guts to. It would have read something like this


Thank you for staying at Hotel Le Cottage.
Please be advised the following items will be charged
to your credit card at market price:

Room Rate - Two adults, Queen Bed
Two children, Twin beds
Turndown and Maid Service
Dinner for Four in our Dining room
Boat Tour of the lake (a fuel tax surcharge will be added)
Childcare and lifeguarding (extra fee for lifejackets)
Outdoor Activities - campfire, star gazing and sing along
Breakfast and childcare before 8am
Boat taxi to and from landing with porter to carry luggage
Early check in and late checkout

A gratuity of 15% will be added to the final amount.

We hoped you enjoyed your stay at Hotel Le Cottage on the Shores of Smoke Lake. We request that all future reservations be made 6 months in advance so that we will have time to come up with a reasonable excuse to say no.

(Disclaimer- If you are easily offended or especially sensitive to posts such as the above just remember - a good bottle of wine goes a long way)


  1. Hahaha! Oh gosh, some people's manners. It's mystifying really.
    And can I just say how I WISH I lived near you and we were besties so I could enjoy some of that fine life you be livin!
    And you're right, a bottle wine will go a long way...!

  2. You are truly a gracious person, putting up with that. (although I wouldn't have said anything at the time either). Aren't you glad you insisted on the one night only?

  3. Been there, done that and THEY are never coming back!

    (yeah, i've returned to the world of blogging...)

  4. What a fun new banner image! We’re getting a puppy this weekend.

    This post was really funny. What terrific friends you have…with a few exceptions. That rude kid must have picked that up from his parents. I insist on life jackets too. I wore one myself when I went out lobstering. As for the future, just don’t invite them again.

    Sorry to be so late to visit your blog. I've been bogged down with work and start of school stuff.


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