Taking a needed breather

 

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Time for a break!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Luckily, I have good friends in Toronto willing to host me for a week, and I’ve been enjoying time away from the endless toxicity of American politics, work and health issues.

Late summer is a good time to visit this city, as winter can be bitter and midwinter days depressingly gray. (My husband, Jose, is busy right now photo editing the U.S. Open Tennis, ending his work shift as late as 1 or even 2:00 a.m. after the final evening match.)

I arrived here bringing champagne and chocolate and books. I try hard to be a low-maintenance guest, since we have often hosted friends in our one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, and I know it can feel overwhelming. My friends have a large enough house we can all disappear when needed — and one sign of a good friendship is the ability to do so, and no one feels offended, since everyone needs quiet time alone.

I grew up in Toronto, ages five to 30, so I still have many deep friendships and lots of memories here — I usually return once or twice a year, the last time in April with Jose.

This visit I shared a friend’s 70th birthday celebrations, caught up with five more of my friends and just enjoyed some badly needed downtime; (several more local pals were posting FB photos of their trips to Paris and Prague.)

Like most of my visits, it was filled with reminders of my history here. One of the party guests knew me as a baby (!) and hadn’t seen me since. Another knew me from fifth grade at a Toronto girls’ school. And I worked with yet another at Canadian Press — in January 1982.

I slept in, visited with my hosts and binge-watched The Alienist. Shopped at my favorite store, Gravity Pope. Ate a few good meals.

What a gift to detach from work and all things medical for a while!

A few images…

 

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Every Toronto summer ends with the Canadian National Exhibition, aka The Ex, which closes on Labor Day. I hadn’t been in about eight or nine years, met a good friend there and wandered. But it’s gotten stupidly expensive ($20 admission alone) and too commercial for my taste.

 

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My friend’s party had such delicious food — ribs and salmon and corn and caprese salad and lots of wine and this amazing pavlova for dessert, made by one of his daughters. Yum!

 

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It’s trendy as hell, but a good spot for a cold beer and lunch on a scorchingly hot day.

 

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I’m total and unrepentant fan of all things aviation related, so the CNE air show was so so so cool!  It was a little terrifying to hear the thundering of jets flying low over downtown, but what skills!

11 ways to be a great guest

By Caitlin Kelly

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A shared meal is a gift

With American Thanksgiving looming and the holidays after that, many of us will soon become guests, whether meeting the parents of the one you love, (and maybe hope to marry — no pressure!), reconnecting with friends or with family you might see infrequently and who you don’t know very well.

Being a guest can also mean stepping into a potential minefield of mutually hurt feelings and/or unexpressed frustration.

Some hosts are explicit about their wishes, but many are not.

I’ve stayed with friends many times, some of whom live in fairly tight quarters; no one we know lives in a 4,000 square foot house or a stately mansion.

Fortunately, Jose and I have been invited back many times by the same hosts. (On a blessedly few occasions, it’s been a total shitshow, usually when staying with [sigh] my family.)

 

Here’s to a lovely holiday season!

 

 

Eleven  ways to hasten a return invitation:

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No political arguments!

The reason you’ve been invited into the sanctuary of someone’s home is to enjoy fun, friendship, fellowship not to engage in ferocious battles or shift them, suddenly, to your opposing worldview. (Or vice versa.)

When political conversation becomes (over)heated, contentious and ad hominem insults are flying — slow down long enough to ask yourself, seriously, what’s the upside? How much anger, even estrangement, is worth it?

(If it’s time to torch a bridge or two, have at it, but make sure there’s gas in your car or a taxi nearby and alternate lodging you can afford.)

Bring Scrabble, cards, Bananagrams, a good book, headphones and music you love, a sketchbook.

Head out for a long, head-clearing, blood-pressure-lowering walk.

Or, as some Americans are choosing to do this year after such a contentious election, just stay home, or at a hotel instead.

When asked for your dietary preferences, remember  — it’s not a full-service restaurant

Some people have life-threatening allergies, but others think nothing of imposing their impossibly long list of preferences.

If you insist on ready access to a specific food or drink, bring it with you — rural options can be distant and limited.

Stay quiet until you know your hosts are awake

This seems like basic good manners to me, but friends we recently stayed with at their country house upstate said they’re often awakened with pointedly heavy guests’ foot-steps as early as 8:00 a.m.

This is a couple who work 18-hour days running their own company and I know how weary they are!

Make sure you know how to find and (quietly!) make coffee or tea. Bring your own headphones and reading material.

Be a grown-up and entertain yourself and your kids in (relative) silence until everyone is fully conscious.

Sex? Keep it private and quiet

Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.

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An ex-boyfriend of mine had relative bring a sheep (yes, really) to his suburban home from upstate while visiting for Thanksgiving…

If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and from you

Not everyone is used to plenty of high volume shrieking/barking, especially if they don’t have a child or a pet.

People who’ve chosen to “get away” are actually hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off. Promptly clean up every mess and apologize/offer to replace anything your kids/pet damage or break.

Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host

Ditto for taking your hosts out for a few good meals. Don’t be a mooch.

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Quiche is a quick, easy and affordable way to feed a few people…

Bring a gift

Don’t arrive empty-handed: offer a great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy.

On one visit we gave a set of gorgeous Laguiole steak knives; the ones we brought were different colors than these ones, but very welcomed.

On another, we gave our hosts a small handmade pottery serving dish. Most recently, we offered another couple a lovely wooden spoon and a rustic white bowl.

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Detach from, or put away, your electronics

While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach.

Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!

Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week

Sure, you can email, and most hosts probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.

Help out wherever you can

Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. Your hosts will probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.

Avoid public grooming

I was once hosted by a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife  — while both of them flossed their teeth. Not my style.

You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door.

 

Create lovely shared memories, not regrets you’ll all spend years trying to forget.

 

Do you enjoy being a guest or host?

What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?

How to be the guest they want to invite again…

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.

While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.

“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!

A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:

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When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember  — it’s not a full-service restaurant

Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; when we stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, he happily joined us and ate only vegetables.

Be a good sport. It’s their home!

One of our hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.

Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet

No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.

If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you

Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.

Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host

Ditto for taking them out for a few very good meals. Even if one dinner costs you $150, that’s less than a decent hotel room in many spots at high season.

Bring a gift

Never arrive empty-handed. A great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy. On our most recent visit we offered a set of gorgeous Laguiole steak knives; the ones we brought were different colors than these ones, but very welcomed. The one before that we gave our hosts a small handmade pottery serving dish.

BETTER BLOGGING

Detach from, or put away, your electronics

While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!

Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week

Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.

No one writes thank-you notes anymore?

Polite people who want to be invited back do.

Help out wherever you can

Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.

Avoid all public grooming

I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife  — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.

Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies

If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but —  (tampons, diapers, nursing pads, Neosporin, etc.) — they might not.

Tidy up!

No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels, sand-filled sneakers, wet bathing suits…

Bring a small flashlight

Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths. Our trusty headlamp has proven so handy so many times!

Avoid arguments — with your spouse/partner and your host(s)

Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.

Do you enjoy being a guest?

What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?