AH, SUMMER. SHE'S HERE. She's arrived in all her glory, bringing her warmth, her green leaves, her blue skies, her long days and yes, her visitors — relatives, friends, children, children's children, cousins, brothers, sisters, friends of friends...
Summer is a time for re-learning the art of the visit. That, dear friends, is what I am here for. To remind us all how to be wonderful and sane hosts as well as ideal guests. Just as summer has her rules and boundaries, so must we.
And how am I qualified on this subject? Well, having lived in a few prime touristic spots: Europe, Alaska and wonderful New Hampshire, I've had my share of guests over the years. I've prepared beds, topped coffee, cleaned dishes. I've had lots of practice saying, "Oh! We're so glad you're here!"
As a host, I've learned there are definite tricks to making a good visit. After I clean the bathrooms, put fresh sheets on beds and pretend that we always have clean fridge, I cook and prepare for our guests night one.
Then I tell my guests there are no secrets in the Heeter household. They are welcome to use the coffeemaker, the dishwasher, rifle through the cabinets for dishes.
My sister-in-law, Anne, always cooks during her visits and truly makes herself at home. I embrace Anne's visits as she's relaxed, loves doing dishes and can create both a mean turkey gravy and an outstanding meatloaf sandwich. While I'll help with the gathering of cutlery, plates and pots and pans, I learned early on sometimes others make better use of my kitchen than I do.
And when it comes to food? As a guest know that it is OK to provide some of your own. My niece Amie once visited us in Alaska and created a sandwich my husband still talks about with bean sprouts, arugula lettuce, beets — things I'd really never touched before. Amie went out and purchased the ingredients and it was pretty wonderful. She prepared, presented and cleaned up. Ah, a stellar guest performance.
Do guests provide all their own food and meals? Not necessarily, but on an average visit, there is a lot of food and meals to figure out. Simply know it's fine, appropriate even, to arrange to cover at least a few of the meals. Your hosts will love you.
As a host, just as I've learned I don't have to cook and slave over dishes and meals, I can forgo another visit to one of the touristic spots guests have come to see.
Sure, I can take guests to the beach, to the museums, to the parks, but I don't necessarily have to pay the admission fees for myself. When friends visited Holland, I stopped going inside the Anne Frank museum after my third visit. When friends came to Alaska, I found it almost a disservice to go with them on my fourth Alaskan Wildlife Cruise. Why? As they were thrilled to spot the walruses, the breeching whales and the eagles, I'd be there thinking, "Yup, I've seen this at least 30 times before."
So, I'd forgo the fee, bring a great book, and wait for the tours to end. Kind of bliss now that I think of it. My guests got a break from me, and were able to experience the excitement without buzzkill moi, and I had a chance to recharge.
But what about traveling with children? That is a horse of a different color entirely. It all depends on your hosts, on your tolerance level and on what price comfort and sanity are to you.
Last summer when my own two girls, husband and I went to visit family in Kalamazoo, Mich., it was well worth the price to stay in a hotel and use this as base camp to visit in-laws.
I love, love, love my family in Michigan, truly, but I think they loved us more after we did not stay with them. My girls embraced the indoor pool and I trained them to bring me coffee from the lobby. At the end of the day, when my Zen is watching another episode of "Say Yes to the Dress" with Randy expostulating on the beauty of ruching, it was worth the price of admission to a private room.
Finally, a great visit, as both a guest or a host, really does not last much after three days. Yes, both fish and visitors do start to smell, especially in the summer heat. Their minor quirks become major. Those socks on the floor are not so easy to pick up; the incessant questions about area facts and figures become annoying.
It's always good to say goodbye, so not only can you come back, you'll be welcome, and your host really will mean it when she says, "Oh! We're so glad you're here….again!"