DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were thrilled when his 80-year-old parents decided to transfer ownership of their rustic family cabin to us. We have made many repairs and are responsible for its upkeep. We love it, and because we are teachers, we have the entire summer to enjoy it.
The problem is, my in-laws expect me to be the "perfect hostess" when they visit -- even if they don't let us know in advance they are coming.
I am an excellent cook, but my mother-in-law expects me to serve full meals -- meat, vegetable, salad, rolls and dessert. In addition, she expects me to put out butter knives, salad plates and linen napkins. She seems obsessed with the table setting and makes nasty remarks if I don't set the table to suit her. (She doesn't utter a peep when her daughter omits the butter knives and extra plates!)
The unannounced visits and fixation with meals have seriously damaged my relationship with my in-laws. This is not something I can discuss with them, because they are both elderly and set in their ways. I should add that the cottage has no dishwasher, so everything must be washed by hand in lake water, which we pump in.
Abby, I don't think formality should be the rule in a casual summer cottage. Sometimes a sandwich on a paper plate on the deck is just the ticket. I don't want to be a slave to the kitchen. I have serious projects to work on and have only the summer to accomplish them.
My husband supports me in this, but he knows his parents are too old to change. Even if we tried discussing it with them, my mother-in-law is hard of hearing, and they both seem to have memory problems. Any suggestions? -- PAPER CUPS ON CRYSTAL LAKE
DEAR PAPER CUPS: Since your in-laws have memory problems, make up a calendar showing the weeks you will be using the cabin. With a bright pen, circle the dates you would like them to visit. Consider posting your "lazy days" menu so there will be no surprises.
There are nice paper products on the market these days. Select the fanciest, most substantial paper plates and cups you can find, and use them when your in-laws visit. Then say to your mother-in-law, "Darling, I'll cook, but because you set such a lovely table, we'd like you to be the official table-setter, please." If she refuses, then it's time to ignore their comments, regain control, and make the cabin your own rustic hideaway.
DEAR ABBY: I love the "random acts of kindness" letters that appear in your column from time to time. Here's mine:
My husband died at work five years ago, leaving me with two teen-age daughters. It was the week before Thanksgiving.
My whole neighborhood took up a collection for us -- not just the immediate neighbors; I mean the ENTIRE neighborhood. In the ensuing weeks before Christmas, all the neighbor kids came to my home, raked the leaves, and even cleared away the dog droppings!
If that wasn't enough, we opened our front door at Christmas to find that gifts, plants, and cards with prayers had been left on our doorstep. I barely knew some of these neighbors, yet they were there for us when we needed them the most -- right down to the littlest toddler. Needless to say, I'm never moving from here. -- MARY IN SMITHTOWN, LONG ISLAND
DEAR MARY: The caring spirit of your neighbors is inspiring. However, I know the secret to having good neighbors is being one, and I suspect the outpouring of support you received was deserved.
P.S. Once your letter hits print, I'll wager the property values in Smithtown skyrocket.
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