Gush of guilt: Holiday cheer brings water fear

It dawned on me that I've become a bit too obsessive about water usage at home when we hosted out-of-town guests recently. I found myself cringing each time our friends needlessly flushed the toilet or ran water while brushing their teeth. I didn't even offer bath towels for their kids, figuring a few days of dirty build-up on them would go unnoticed.

In the desperate hope of saving water, I cleverly provided Pert combination shampoo/conditioner in the guest shower, trying to eliminate one rinse cycle in their bathing process. I lamented that our friends didn't understand that the timer on the bathroom sink set for three minutes was to monitor the length of their showers.

This got me thinking about the upcoming holiday party season, and the water-wasting minefield potential of hosting a large group of liquid-consuming adults for several hours. After all, with 100 guests, assuming you'll get at least one four-gallon flush per person, their doing what comes naturally could push me over that magical 4,000 gallon limit in no time flat.

I'm as sociable as the next person, but I'm not ready to sacrifice my water allotment in the name of holiday cheer. So just in time for the entertaining season, I've come up with some drought-edition holiday invitation ideas that will let your guests know that they're welcome at your home while ensuring that they hold their bladders till they get back to their own:

HO! HO! HO! It's that time of year. Please come to our house to share holiday cheer. We ask you, respectfully, to not use our john, cause come mid-December, we want our water still turned on.

 Or how about:

'Tis the season to be jolly. Join us in some holiday folly. Come eat and drink and be of good cheer, you just can't use our bathroom this year.

 Another party ditty:

The party's at our house, the food will be hot. So come and enjoy; just don't use our pot.

Here's my favorite:

Jingle bells, jingle bells, it's party time for you. Come to our house for cocktails, just please don't use the loo!

Or perhaps as a party favor, handed out as guests arrive, we could distribute Depends undergarments. Ask people to kindly don them at once (don we now our gay apparel?), to preclude the real need for using and hence flushing the toilets for the next several hours. Would that be subtle enough?

Another solution would be to line up buckets full of residual shower water, and ask any guests brazen enough to dare use the toilet to self-flush by filling the toilet bowl with the funky water from the bucket. Kind of gross, but desperate situations call for desperate measures.

The variations on holiday themes bemoaning our water woes are endless. No doubt once those holiday tunes are penetrating the airwaves, this variation will come to mind:

All I want for Christmas is to flush my wee, to flush my wee, yes to flush my wee.

And this twist to an old holiday favorite:

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a toilet was flushing, thanks to this miserable drought.

I know, the rhyme is kinda bad.

Anyhow, in our current climate of extreme conservation, I'm thinking ahead as much as possible. Lucky for us, we live in a neighborhood with lots of new construction. We've been banking on the sale of the lot next door, in the hope that construction will commence soon and we can use the lovely porta-john that will sit smack in front of the property for the next year. After all, if the first view of our home as you drive down the street is obstructed by an outdoor toilet, at the very least we ought to be able to take advantage of its function while it's there. By eliminating the use of our indoor facilities, maybe we'll get our water bill use down to 1,000 gallons a month.

I have noticed that lately an actual bathroom-using strategy is creeping into my mind, and I don't like it. We all obviously have to go a certain number of times per day. Sometimes this is at home, and sometimes it's when we're out. I hate to admit it, but I've actually given thought to when and where I am using the bathroom, and how it will affect that locale.

For example, I'm in town and can't make it back home without extreme discomfort. Gotta choose a public spot. Do I dare go to a business that I frequent, where I know the owners and staff, and take advantage of their minimal water supply, knowing I could become the object of their wrath? Or do I choose a place that I don't patronize, caring not whether they are penalized for my flushing?

Perhaps I should stop at a local hotel or gas station, where transient bathroom usage is expected? Who could have predicted that such moral dilemmas would one day be mine? But then again, neither did I ever think that flushing a toilet would become a luxury (or a vice) in my little world.

I suppose that even here in sub-Saharan central Virginia, some day our drought will end. I'll no longer have need for the camel I'm thinking of buying. I won't find my sleeping hours filled with dreams of heavy precipitation. The sound of liquid coursing through pipes won't send me running to turn off the faucets. But I will be left with fond memories of my water-free holiday gathering. And I know that someday, when I sing along to "Let It Snow," I won't be feeling a sense of impending doom if it doesn't actually happen.

Jenny Gardiner is a writer and a mom who lives in Keswick. Throwing caution to the wind, she intends to plunge ahead with her holiday entertainment plans, drought be damned.