Surviving Holiday Stay-overs: Home is Where the Heart is… and Where Murders are Committed

Staying at someone’s house over the holidays, guests have to follow house rules and they can defy all logic.

Spending Christmas at my best friend’s house seemed like a great idea. It was especially perfect since I’d rented out my house for the entire holiday season so I’d have a place to go and be with, not only my dogs, but also someone I’ve known for 25 years. But, you can know someone for 100 years, and you don’t really know them until you’ve lived with them in their house for 24 hours. Because, there I am in her kitchen hearing a hysterical voice I didn’t recognize telling me, “You put a wet bowl in the dry section of the sink!”

Dry side and wet side of sink
I knew what a wet bowl was. But what sort of sink has a dry section? Laura and I have a terrific history. We’ve helped each other though break-ups, she’s cared for my dogs when I’ve gone away, we’ve traveled together happily, and she is one of the most generous people I know. But in her own home, I sadly discovered, Laura has more rules than Homeland Security. And apparently Christmas is a Code Red.

This wasn’t the first time I’d discovered that someone could be very different when you’re staying at their place. A love affair on vacation in the Caribbean went awry when I went to Ohio and found that great, hot sex didn’t happen after I’d put my lover’s garlic powder in the wrong place and messed up an elaborate filing system of spices. My getting on top of, into and in between sheets on a bed that had been made with hospital corners led to another cataclysmic fight. Home may be where the heart is, but it’s also where the rules are. And they’re not to be broken.

Laura had a specific approach to trash. Anything smelly was to go into the metal can. Other things went into the trash compactor. I got out my notebook and made a note, but a smell got by me and there was trouble. I got trashed because of the trash.

She also cared that the dogs’ mouths get wiped after they’d visited their water bowls so as not to mess up the floor. Each time I heard a sound that could mean impending danger, I ran into the kitchen. The kitchen became an area of stress. The refrigerator was only to be opened for glimpses and there was a serious time limit for those. Laura came running down to ask, “What are you doing?”

“Trying to find cream cheese,” I whispered, wondering why she seemed so alarmed. Turned out she was alarmed because of the alarm.

Freezer with labeled food and alarm
“The refrigerator alarm went off,” she told me. “You kept it open too long.”

Not wanting to offend again I opened the refrigerator and snapped a photo with my iPhone. That would allow me to check the inventory except that the milk blocked many things. I had to move it and take another picture. It was a far from perfect solution but the only way to elude the alarm. I didn’t want the cops to come because I was searching for cream cheese.

Heater was off at night. It was winter. In my room, the thermometer said 51. I could see my breath. My dogs and I cuddled for warmth, but I still had to sleep in my ski underwear.

Day two I learned that cereal bags were to be heat sealed with a Food Saver machine, showers were to be squeegeed, and all stainless steel faucets had to be towel dried. I tried to argue, “But, it’s water. It dries on its own.” In this house, water was tantamount to Muriatic Acid.

What may have been my biggest screw up was as Laura was putting away the dry items on the left side of the sink, I put a dog dish I’d washed out on top of the dry items. In my defense, I’ve never washed my dog’s dish as they understand that licking them clean is their job. I was wrong to expect praise for cleaning the bowl and was chagrined to be scolded for putting it on the wrong side of the sink with the dry items. True, it was wet, and it didn’t belong ON TOP of other dry items.

“Do you understand what you did?” she asked giving me a disapproving look.

Pantry with Labels
“Yes, I do.” I said, hoping to keep things at bay. “I got dry stuff wet again?”

“I want you to repeat to me what you think I’m saying.” she said, combining the worst of all my elementary school teachers. I was exhausted because of my freezing room, still hurt at having been reprimanded for missing a portion when I cleaned the dog pee off the tile floor and when I neglected to wipe my dog’s paws off thoroughly enough earlier this morning. All this combined to make me suspect she wasn’t enjoying spending the holiday with me or maybe she was picking up where my mother left off years ago, telling me each thing I didn’t do right. It didn’t matter. At that moment I wanted to grab a knife, put it into her and then leave it on top of the dry items. But if blood would stain the tile, I would hear about it, and I couldn’t face my life without my BFF, not on top of a Trump presidency.

So, rather than stabbing her, we actually talked and both realized that we were triggered. I told her about a childhood where I was blamed for everything and she talked about a childhood where she wasn’t seen, heard, or appreciated. We hugged. We cried. I dropped my Kleenex on floor. We both looked at it and before she could talk, I said, “I’ll pay for maid service.”

We laughed and that made everything okay, as it often does.

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When my BFF, Judy, called to tell me that she had rented out her entire house for the long Christmas weekend and she would like to come and stay at my house with her dogs, I said “yes!” immediately. I love the idea of holidays – especially Christmas. I’m just not so much into the execution of them. So, when Judy called, I was right in the midst of my usual Christmas season routine of not shopping, not decorating and not planning anything special. I thought her staying with me would be fantastic with us hanging out, cooking, eating, walking our dogs together, watching movies, doing whatever we want because we can. This is exactly what I love about not planning – being open to spontaneity and the unexpected. It was going to be a perfectly fun and relaxing holiday weekend. After all, I'm an easy going person.

I have known Judy for about 20 years. We have gotten especially close over the past 5 years as we have helped each other through some difficult times, traveled together to exotic destinations just because the opportunity arose and we are both curious and adventurous and shared thousands of personal, political and “if I ran the world …” stories. And, though we are about as different as two friends could be, in that Felix Unger and Oscar Madison sort of way, we are also about as compatible as two people could be and ALWAYS have a blast together. I consider her my honorary sister and had no hesitations about having her and her dogs stay with me.

So now I have a plan for Christmas and it perfectly fits my take-it-as-it-comes and make-it-your-own-great-holiday lifestyle.

On Christmas Eve, Judy and her two dogs arrive and settle into the guest room and then we stay up late chatting and munching on goodies until we head off to our respective rooms to sleep. I had told Judy when she arrived that the room she was staying in was evidently one they forgot to insulate when they build my house because it is always significantly colder in the winter and significantly hotter in the summer than the rest of the house. I made sure she knew how to work the space heater, told her about the down comforter in the closet if she needed it, showed her the thermostat and asked if she wanted the central heat on or off overnight. She is like me and said she prefers it off.

The next morning, I wander downstairs to see that Judy has already been up and had her tea. I do not actually see Judy, smell tea or see a tea cup, but I do see the dots of white from the foamy milk Judy likes in her tea on the counter and the spoon with still-clinging tiny white milk bubbles on it nearby. Okay. I go to get a treat for my dogs and notice that Judy has also had some nuts at some point the previous night. Not because I saw Judy have nuts, but because the lid to the jar is askew in such a manner that if you were to pick up the jar by the lid, it might just come off in your hand and the rest of the jar would then be all over the floor. Note to self – fix that. Speaking of the floor, one of Judy’s dogs is one of those “water dogs” who likes to drink from the water bowl and then stick his whole snout in the bowl up to his eyes when he is done and enjoy the feeling of the water dribbling out of his mouth as he walks through the house. I didn’t see Cody drinking water, nor do I see him in the kitchen, but I do see a trail of water from the far end of the kitchen that streams past the oven and the refrigerator and then rounds the dining room table. At the end of the trail, Cody lays on the dog bed looking refreshed and hydrated. Alright, a little clean up task for me. I go for a cold bottle of water just then but encounter something crusty on the refrigerator handle as I open the door. Hmmm. That wasn’t there before. I wonder what the hell that is.

None of these little Pig Pen-esque idiosyncrasies about Judy is new to me, or to anyone who has known her from more than an hour. Another close friend of hers characterizes Judy perfectly when she said that Judy “has a very causal relationship with her belongings.” What I’m starting to realize, is that when mi casa es tu casa, with Judy, that includes all of my belongings on that list of things that she does not feel a need to fret much about.

So, I tighten the lid on the jar of peanuts, take up the water bowl so the dogs drink outside, throw a rag towel on the floor and mop up Cody’s drool, put the spoon in the dishwasher, scrape the crud off of the refrigerator handle and wipe up the milk. I also make a mental note to let Judy know about a few house rules when I see her.

When she appears from the bedroom a little while later, she tells me she did not sleep well at all because she was “freezing all night.”

“That’s terrible,” I said. Personally, I hate being too cold, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
“Did you use the space heater?” I ask.

“No” she says, “I was afraid to leave it on.”

That’s fair, I think. I’m a bit paranoid about them tipping over and causing a fire myself.

“Did you get out the down comforter?” I ask.
She wanders away without answering.

I should also mention that, while I am not a clinician, Judy has what appears to be some form of ADD and I had already met my one question quote for her attention span.
It turns out, she never heard me say there was a comforter, again, because it was the second or third item in the list of things I told her about in the guest room.
So, I do mention her not to put a water bowl down unless she is supervising Cody’s drool habit and that the hand-washable stuff in the side of the sink with the drain board should be emptied when dishes are dry before newly washed items are put on top of the formerly dry items, the refrigerator door beeps if you keep it open too long and the temperature is being compromised, etc. And, no worries, it is Christmas day and we are going to fry a turkey in the turkey fryer she brought over and have a fantastic day. I am excited because we were going to do that together last year, but she was sick over Christmas.

So Judy decides to get the turkey out of the fridge and prep it for the big event. She puts it in the sink and begins what looks like a wrestling match with it – and even though Judy has a knife and scissors, she does not appear to be winning. I don’t know about you, but I definitely have a healthy fear of food-born organisms, especially in poultry. I’m seeing turkey juice and bits flying around the “wet” side of the sink and landing on the counter, the “dry” side dishes, the faucet, handles, cabinetry, and just about everything in an 18 inch radius of Judy and the turkey. I slowly back away from the situation like it’s the biohazard zone.

Oh god, I’m thinking, how will this disaster end?

Well, fast forward to turkey prep continuing with Judy injecting it with marinade on my center island, thus contaminating that entire cooking surface as well, to Judy asking me for a jar of poultry seasoning and proceeding, not to shake it all over the raw turkey, but to put seasoning in her hand, rub it on the turkey skin and then ACTUALLY pick up the jar with said hand, stick a finger in the jar with turkey slime on it to get a pinch more for an area that needed that extra bit more coverage. In my mind, large portions of my kitchen were cordoned off by virtual police crime scene tape.
Nonetheless, the meal is coming together and I’m feeling pretty confident that the proper cooking temperature and plenty of bleach-based cleaner will make everything okay. The deep fryer is filled with oil, plugged in and…. not heating. Yup, I guess when Judy dropped the fryer as she was carrying it a bit haphazardly into my garage the day before, it dislodged the part of the contraption that communicates with the heating element to actually heat up.

Well, plan B became pouring the cold peanut oil out of the broken fryer into a pan, heating it on the stove top, deconstructing the raw turkey and frying it piece-by-piece. Here are the highlights:
Me: “Judy, is that the plastic cover for the meat thermometer that you have in the boiling oil?” Judy: “Oh, I was wondering about that,” taking the now melting cover out of the pot of oil.

Judy: “Do you have tongs?” Me: “Yes, in that drawer.” From that drawer where there are two sets of sturdy, grippy tongs, Judy selects the third set – ice tongs. Cut to Judy with a very slippery, five pound turkey thigh and leg hovering over a very full boiling pot of oil on a gas range and the slow motion action of me yelling “Nooootttt thoooose tonnnnngs…” as the thigh slides from the weak and not-at-all-grippy tongs splashing down into the pot. About a cup of hot oil erupts out on to the neighboring burner which, thankfully, was not lit. I admit that I did retrieve the fire extinguisher from the laundry room and place it on the counter next to where Judy was frying. And I might have let slip a phrase such as, “I prefer not to have my house burn down today.”

I could go on and on. REALLY. And, needless to say, Judy and I were quite perturbed and had a few cross words with each other. But what matters is, we really, really love each other and want to be friends until we are in assisted living together. And, in order to do that, we need to resolve differences and move forward. So we did. We wanted to find a solution, so we talked about what happened and each of our emotional triggers from the day. We felt heard, close and loved. And we could laugh about it. Being the problem solvers we both are, we decided to hire a cleaning crew the next day, so we could continue our stay-cation, and our friendship. And, being the generous, fair and high moral character person that Judy is, she paid the entire cleaning bill. Merry Christmas to me!

That dinner, when it was finally cooked, was delicious, and filled my body and soul. I love you Judy and I always will.


  1. Adorable story. I have to say - I fall on the Laura side. Dry side of sink - check. Dog bowl always washed and even run though heat (germ killing) dish washer. items all marked - but with one difference. I can't bare a label put on crooked. So, I'd have to teach Laura how to do that one better. I also only use pyrex glass containers for more than one reason - (environment and not have food items in plastic). Our dogs wear Snoods so that they don't get food on their hair. So, I think I'd do just fine over at Laura's. Now Kelley- we'd need to send her to your place Judy. :) xoxoxo Happy Holidays.

  2. Leigh, you are welcome here any time. I love that my crooked labels bother you! A woman after my own heart. :)

  3. Oh dear... I don't have a casual relationship with objects like Judy, but I don't worry my pretty little head with tiny details like crooked labels and drippy dog mouths either. And germs have feelings too, you know.

  4. I'm sorry, but the photos of Laura's refrigerator are chilling (unintended pun). This woman is sadly anal. She reminds me of my childhood best friend who's "Aunt Lil" used to keep a galvanized tub on the front porch so that everyone, kids and adults alike, could rinse their feet before entering her cottage, where inside, the furniture was covered in plastic and her little poodle wore booties and diapers. Faced with Judy's dilemma, I think I'd rather move to the Y and eat dinner from a vending machine.

  5. Makes me wonder if I will ever be able to live with someone again???? WIll have to be a VERY BIG PLACE... plus housekeeping assistance... and we're are able to communicate with each other through our differences ..... Great stories... even better resolve!! Best in the new year!!

  6. Nice article. I think it is useful and unique article. I love this kind of article and this kind of blog. I have enjoyed it very much. Thanks for your website.
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Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.