The Mooch March

Here is a link to my newest essay just posted in the Travel section of The Washington Post.  I will also paste a copy of the essay below.–and-being–houseguests/2020/09/03


by Kathy Stevenson


When I mentally tick off some of the many changes brought about in our lives by the coronavirus pandemic (something I try not to do too often), one in particular lays me low.  We can no longer visit friends and family with carefree abandon.  And by “visit,” I mean “stay with.”

Because, with my family – and many of my close friends – scattered around the country as we are, a visit always means more than just a casual drop-in, or even lunch or dinner.  A visit might be posited as, “It’s John’s vacation, and we happen to be passing right by you, so naturally we’d love to see you.”  This can literally mean anything from a cup of coffee to a three-day guided walking tour of Chicago, and the ball is now in your court.  You could theoretically reply, “Great!  I’ll make a lunch reservation at that Italian place you guys like.”  But you know you really can’t say that.  This is an opening dance that has rules of etiquette fraught with all sorts of pitfalls.

You know you have to Make The Offer.  Especially after they say, “Oh, well, we’re going to try to drive eight hours that first day, so I guess we could just meet for a quick dinner.  But we would really, really love to see you.”

Then it just slips out.  “Why don’t you just stay with us?”

Before you know it you’re shopping for new towels and sheets, and shoving things into closets because your “guest bedroom” has morphed into a storage room while you weren’t paying attention.  Or maybe you will put your visitors in your kids’ room, and let all the kids sleep in the living room on couches and blankets.  It will be fun!  An adventure!

After The Offer of a sleepover (a day, a week, now it’s not clear) is accepted (only if you’re SURE we won’t be too much trouble) the next step also falls to the host or hostess.  “Do you all have any allergies, or dietary issues we should know about?”

Get your notepad out.  John can eat fish, but not shellfish.  Mary doesn’t eat red meat anymore.  Charlotte is allergic to cats, and Oliver is afraid of large houseplants.  “But whatever you guys want to do is fine with us!  We’re super easy!”

Lest I sound like the cranky misanthrope that I am only in my fantasy life, I’d like to state here that I do love seeing friends and family in both my home and theirs.  For many years my husband and I owned a small home on an island in Florida, and we loved sharing our little piece of paradise with visitors.  And many friends have reciprocated with wonderful hospitality in their own homes from Friendship, Maine to La Jolla, California.

In fact it was on the island that I first heard the term Mooch March, and realized that it was quite common to refer to both visitors and our own selves as “moochers,” a crass term that implies freeloading of an unseemly nature.  Of course it helps to have friends and relatives who live in desirable places to visit.  Extra points for beach parking and a nearby bakery with coffee and cinnamon buns.

Benjamin Franklin, sometimes known to be a tad crass himself, said, “After three days, men grow weary of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.”  Okay, so maybe that doesn’t translate too well today…

Maybe, instead, we could take Jane Austen’s words into account, as spoken in her novel Emma, “It was a delightful visit; – perfect, in being much too short.”

The pandemic has placed restrictions (and worse) on so many parts of our lives.  But to welcome loved ones, friends and family into our homes, or to visit them in theirs – that has been demoralizing in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

Get ready for next summer though, to mooch and be mooched.  Because we will all be hitting the road.  And we would love to accept your offer of a night or two in your home.  Three, at the most…



Indian Summer

(Originally appeared in my essay collection Lake Forest Moments)

There are always those precious days in early fall when we are granted a few last glorious days of summer. Even though there have already been chilly mornings, and the pumpkins hang heavy on their vines, suddenly it gets hot again for a day or two, and everyone gets as giddy as though it was spring.

This is the best time to call friends and family together and go down to the lake for an evening barbecue.

We meet friends at the lake pavilion with footballs, beach towels, and coolers of food. Our collective children, seven of them between the ages of ten and fourteen, also sense that this will be the last true day of summer. The previous weeks of school are shed in a flash as they run with abandon, barefoot through the sand, whirling and laughing and calling out to one another.

In a few years they will all be teenagers and we will be lucky to get them to come with us at all. But for now we are envious of their freedom to jump and twirl, their ability to live in the moment. Continue reading

The Summer Stay-Cation: A Labor Day Story

For Labor Day Weekend: A short-short story just for fun…

A lone leaf drifted lazily into the small kidney-shaped swimming pool in the backyard of my dear friend Muffy. An orange leaf. The three of use, Muffy, Buffy, and myself peered up with trepidation at the large elm tree that shades the deep end of the pool.

“Is that what I think it is?” asked Muffy, with a pained sigh.

Buffy lowered her huge, protective sunglasses and tilted up her enormous hemp sun hat to further assess the situation. She sighed as well. “Yes, I’m afraid summer is almost over. Before you know it the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog will be here.”

“Are you still getting that?” asked Muffy. She sounded a bit smug and sanctimonious, and I knew what was coming next. “I e-mailed all my stores and asked them to not send me any more catalogs. Do you know how many trees it takes to make one Neiman Marcus holiday catalog? More like a forest!”

I couldn’t see behind Buffy’s sunglasses but I knew she was rolling her eyes. Continue reading

Volunteerism – A Unique State of Mind

(Originally appeared in The Beach Reporter on 7/9/92.)

On my desk sits my Oscar. My Oscar differs slightly from the real Academy Award, but it is cherished nonetheless.

It is made of gold plastic and is about 8 ½ inches tall. It sits on top of my stack of unsold, unpublished writing. My Oscar has nothing to do with my writing, however. I received it for a volunteer position I took on at my children’s school.

During a recent Parents Club meeting, awards were handed out to various moms at the school for volunteer jobs they had done. My job was a small one. Some of the women performed truly Herculean tasks, like chairing the school carnival or being in charge of a dinner dance. They really deserved their Oscars. Continue reading