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…



Bittersweet Summer

(This essay originally appeared in Main Line Today magazine.)

There comes a time every summer when you finally get your well-deserved week at the Jersey shore. You’ve managed to squeeze a week in between sports, dance, sleep-away, and tennis camps and the beginning of school. Your packed and overloaded family car resembles a suburban version of the Beverly Hillbillies as you careen joyously into Avalon or Stone Harbor or Ocean City, the entire family singing along to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music. Summer vacation is here at last – the kids have no scheduled activities, you and your husband have coordinated a week off, and the sun is shimmering benevolently over the Boardwalk. Aahh, the dog days of summer…

Fast forward one week. You never noticed it before but it is quite possible that you are the only truly sane, normal person in your family. How this fact has eluded you when you have lived with these people for decades is a mystery. You start thinking that maybe, just maybe, it is time to go home. If you have experienced any of the following phenomena, then perhaps you truly have been at the Jersey shore too long. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Beaches

(Originally published in The New York Times in 2004)

A Tale of Two Beaches

I was walking along the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey last week when I remarked to my husband, “It’s weird, but the people here all look as though they could be my relatives. I feel like I’ve returned to my roots.”

“I always knew you were a Jersey girl at heart,” he replied.

I wasn’t sure if I liked that observation, or agreed with it. After all, my parents (both born in New Jersey) had left in 1958 when I was six years old. The first stage of our westward migration took us to Golden, Colorado, where we lived for the next fifteen years. Our family grew from myself and two sisters to six girls and finally, a boy. During our extended sojourn in Colorado (my father never really considered it home; it was more of a stopping off point), various relatives would visit us from New Jersey. They would marvel at the mountains and the wide-open spaces, fill up their suitcases with Coors beer, and go back. No one was ever tempted to join us out in the wild West.

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Debunking Travel Myths

(Originally published in Main Line Life on July 9. 2008)

It seems that every time I am about to go on a trip, some well-meaning friend or another feels compelled to offer either a last-minute dire warning, or a negative comment on something I am looking forward to in my travels.

A nervous Nellie of the first degree, these types of proclamations can throw me into a fretful fit at worst, or at best cause a night or two of restless sleep.

However, as I’ve traveled more, and further, I’ve gained confidence in my ability to assimilate the information declared as fact by these same nay-sayers, but not necessarily to act upon it. For example, a few years ago, on a trip to China, all I heard about was how I shouldn’t eat any of the local food. One friend said that she brought along several boxes of granola bars, and she subsisted on these and not much else during her trip.

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