Thursday, January 21, 2010

Company Comes With Four Mistakes

I seldom have overnight company, so last week was a bit stressful. People I really like, but don't know very well yet, came into town for several days and I was happy to put them up at my house. It's a big house - which can be both good and not so good. I tidy up every weekend, of course, and keep the bathrooms and kitchen clean. I vacuum the carpets and clean the hard surfaced floors with a steam mop. Things usually look just fine. But, when company is coming to stay I look at my house with a whole new perspective...under a jeweler's loupe. It is only then that the hallway closet takes on importance, or I lay awake at night worrying over the stuff collecting under the sink. I see all imperfections. I sniff around the place; I debate whether I should buy new linens. "Will they notice that hole in the drywall the plumbers left when they searched for a leak?" (I got a quote from a fix-it fellow which was quite reasonable. After I said he had the job, he never came back. I think he under-priced himself and had second thoughts). Well, they could hardly help but notice it. A foot square and directly above the powder room commode, it stands out. I figured I'd just act as though it wasn't there, and address the issue if it came up in casual conversation. But what of the upstairs bonus room that I use to store things I don't want to see, but haven't gotten rid of? Or the the downstairs back bathroom with half the tile pulled up and half the wallpaper pulled down? I could spend an entire week explaining the history of each state of disrepair, and the plans that are in the works for a course correction. I finally decided to lock a couple of doors - just in case. Assessing the situation, I decided to re-grout the guest bathroom Monday night after work. (Surely...I mean...doesn't every hostess re-grout when company comes? Forgive me. I'm out of practice, so I could be over-estimating the planning and logistics involved with house guests.)

The instructions told me not to use the shower for 72 hours following grout application - but I failed to read the instructions prior to starting the project. So, that was my first error in judgment. Using my best grade-school math, I rapidly calculated that my company would be arriving in 48 hours, and although I might delay the disaster of a shower upon their immediate arrival, I had every expectation they would both shower on Thursday morning thereby giving me a mere 58 hours of grout-drying time. The thought of my guests' shower gel mixing with fresh grout while they tried to loofah sent chills. Having already committed myself, there was no turning back and nothing to do but pray to the grout gods for mercy and a quick dry. Aside from that, the actual act of applying grout was more difficult than I had anticipated - by biblical proportions. Being dead clever with caulk, I assumed grout was mere child's play. I caution you, do not assume the ease of applying caulk in any way compares with the agony of applying grout. I did. That was my second mistake.

I really need to get one of those stylish chains to hang my glasses on. My eyesight isn't what it used to be up close. When I'm reading I can blame it on age making my arms shorter. The thing about grouting bathroom tiles is there is just a thin, thin groove that the grout must sit in. It is not supposed to slop over onto the tile itself. But I tried to muddle through without my glasses and decided I'd take a more laissez-faire approach, and simply clean it all up after I got an entire wall done, wiping the grout off the tiles when the whole shebang was finished. Which was mistake number three.

By the time I had emptied the first container of grout I began to realize that grout dries fairly hard fairly quickly. This was about the time I searched for my glasses to re-read the instructions on the back of the tube. (I was at a meeting at work the next day and was surreptitiously scraping grout from the frames with a thumbnail the whole time.) CLEAN TILES WITH WET SPONGE WITHIN 5 MINUTES. DO NOT ALLOW TO DRY ONTO SURFACE AREA. out to the garage to get the paint scraper to painstakingly skritch-skritch-skritch the tiles - carefully so as not to destroy them.

By the early hours of the morning, it looked lovely. (Me, not so much)

Over the course of the next few days, I was able to relax and not worry so much about the house. By the way, the sunroom looked splendid in its new Nantucket Gray coat; the trim a shiny crisp white. Very spiffy. My new friends were bowled over when I told them the story about The Girl Graduate - insisting I pull out the little book to show them - and the yearbook. They asked the same question I did, to wit: Who could part with this?

My guests made me feel at ease as soon as they walked in the door. "Let's have a drink," they called out. I was happy. Maybe...just maybe...I can take a deep breath and enjoy myself. Everything might work out after all. On top of that, they went to the liquor store to get what I did not have stocked in the bar (in a word - rum and whisky). And being very good guests, indeed, they got the big bottles. They even told me to keep the leftovers when the visit was at an end.

Who knows, I might entertain more often.

Oh, the fourth mistake? The meatloaf. Ah...but that's another story.


  1. Oh I feel for you and the grout. My husband and I put down a tile floor several years ago and we didn't get the grout the slopped onto the tiles off fast enough and it dried and well, it took us days to clean it all off. We keep talking about doing tile in the bathroom and then we recall the floor experience and we just keep talking about it but never do it. Glad the visit turned out to be so lovely!

  2. Oh, Grad, that is hilarious - and now we'd better just call it even on the laughter front!! I love 'My guests made be feel at ease as soon as they walked in the door' - irony of entertaining ironies! You are clearly a heavenly hostess - you GROUT for your guests. It takes some beating.

  3. I'm with doctordi--never, never have I grouted (or even done much but make sure there were clean sheets and towels) for guests. I always assume they will feel at home in a house that looks ... homey. I don't have a great story like this one, however!

  4. Stefanie, a bad grout experience is very off-putting - but thank God the visit wasn't. And guess what - I've not learned my lesson yet. I'm starting the laundry room floor this weekend!! A glutton for punishment is what I am.

    Doctordi, I think being a hostess is something one is born to...and then there's me. Some of us are just not wired to entertain. I've been seriously considering becoming a recluse. THEY never grout!

    Tinky, I wish you'd have been one of the guests because at least we'd all have been very well fed and no one would have noticed mouldy grout. And in the evening you could have entertained us with Johnny Mercer tunes!

  5. I feel for you with the grout - being the least skilled of the family's unskilled labour force, it's the job I always get. I put it on with my fingers, and wipe off as I go. It's slow work! And I have never been generous enough to do it for guests, even if they were staying TWO weeks. My tip is that if you clean less, then whatever you do looks great when company comes. ;-)

  6. I'm sure the pleasure of your company more than made up for any bad meatloaf. What a sweet hostess you are to re-grout! I've never grouted myself, but if and when I do I think your lessons will stick with me. Thanks. :)

  7. Litlove, I love your tip! Why didn't I think of it? Less cleaning - more reading.

    Janell, I have this great meatloaf recipe that I'm always raving about. But I'm not used to company chatting me up in the kitchen and forgot all about it until someone said, "What's that smell?" Not a good sign.

  8. The grout really IS amazing!! Ma, your so domesticated....and such a wonderful hostess...and an even better MOM <3


    Hi! I sent you an email last weekend that you won a copy of Roses by Leila Meacham. I haven't heard back from you. Please send me an email with your address ASAP at laarlt78(at)hotmail(dot)com. Otherwise I will draw a new winner this weekend.


  10. Well done on the grouting, painful as it was. And you must entertain more often so you can tell us the stories about it! I always like the sound of that Nantucket Gray.