Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.
Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It ® offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Carolyn Hax: Like, ho. I say from now on, every year, I make the exact date of the Special Holiday Edition completely unclear. Once again I have a queue full of the usual problems alternating with pew loogies and barfing chickens. Maybe I'll make today another hybrid ...
Carolyn Hax: But no repeat of Pops's Night Before Christmas. For those who were asking last week, it's in the Dec. 10 transcript.
How clean does my house have to be...:
...for my brother and his wife to visit? Obviously, I'll clean the bathrooms and put fresh sheets on the guest bed. And I suppose I can put my dirty jeans in the hamper instead of leaving them on my bedroom floor. But beyond that... do I have to spend the next two days scrubbing, dusting and generally going crazy? Or is it enough to make sure there's no clutter and nothing really gross or unsanitary? I want them to be comfy, but I'm really dreading the idea of a full-blown scrub-fest.
BTW, love your column -- and I really appreciate special Wednesday chat -- it's just what I needed!
Carolyn Hax: Thanks, happy to accommodate. Or I should say thank Liz, since she's the one who accommodated me.
And on the accommodating theme, unless your brother and/or his wife are clean freaks, I think they'd prefer a relaxed host to a lingering aura of bleach.
Back in Grade School:
Ugh, can't shake this icky feeling, and am about as mad at myself for feeling that way as I am for the events that led to this. It really is juvenile.
In my department, there's the big-time bosses, and then there's about eight of us who aren't. I've been here for about a year and for the most part thought that the eight of us were on the same social page with each other. That is, until yesterday. Turns out they're all doing the secret-santa with just the seven of them. When I found out I asked the one to whom I'm closest why I was excluded and she replied that they just must have forgotten about me.
I can understand that to a point because I don't sit immediately in their proximity, so sometimes when lunch is being ordered they tend to forget to ask me. Usually though, if there is something office-related it is always the eight of us involved.
Sorry for the rant, I really do have a question: The "unveiling" and gift-giving is in a few hours, any advice on how to respond to the "O my gosh! We completely forgot you!"'s? The cynical "No worries. Comaraderie and inclusion are sooooo overrated" seems a bit cold, and "eh, you just saved me an extra stop at the mall and then later the trashcan" probably isn't polite. I feel like I'm in fifth grade again, and would like to rise above that.
Happier Holidays to you and your family!
Carolyn Hax: If letting this bother you is juvenile, then about 97 percent of us belong in short pants. Getting left out never stops sucking.
How about, "S'okay, throw my name in twice next year," even though I like your thought bubbles better. As long as they remain as thoguht bubbles.
I am proposing to my girlfriend at the stroke of midnight on New Year's. Would it be wrong if I don't get onto one knee to ask for her hand? I feel that doing that is tacky and stupid. How do most women feel about that?
Carolyn Hax: There is no "most women feel" about anything. Silly man.
Of course you can skip the one-knee thing. You don't want to get caught up in any cliches or anything.
Okay, I have spent most of the morning looking for last minute get aways because I am dreading the next few days.
At the request of my husband we are hosting both my and my husband's families on Christmas (about 30 people) and then on Monday we are hosting friends and others for our annual chocolate party.
The house is a mess, we have done no grocery shopping, and we have done no Christmas shopping.
This morning, I mentioned the need for Christmas shopping and house cleaning to my husband and he told me that I need to take some time off of work. I almost hit him. (by the way we share the household chores most of the time with no problem).
I am going crazy here and on the verge of panic. Any advice?
Carolyn Hax: Take the time off work, book a spa day, give everyone cash or gift cards, leave the house a mess except for hairballs and full wastebaskets, and eat all the chocolate yourself.
The origin of the barfing chicken pitcher:
A few weeks ago, I went to a little Italian place in Philly and saw that they sold those "barfing chicken pitchers." Apparently, there is a legend behind them, and I thought the peanuts might enjoy:
History of The Rooster Pitcher (aka: The Pukin Chicken)
The origin of the popular Rooster Pitcher stretches back to the 15th century and the time of the Renaissance in the Republic of Florence. The most powerful and wealthy people in all Florence were members of the Medici family. The patriarch of the family, the famous Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano, faced only one serious rival for power-the Pazzis family. The Pazzis were determined to seize power and were prepared to use the accepted method of the day... assassination!
A part of the Medici's vast wealth was their land holdings. Peasants from the nearby villages worked the land and occasionally the Medicis would host festivals to reward the workers.
Giuliano in particular enjoyed the celebrations, planning one for the slightest reason. The Pazzis, knowing this weakness for parties, had a conspirator suggest Giuliano host a festival for the now vanished village of Gallina. Giuliano agreed and a plot was hatched. The Pazzis planned to wait untill after the festival had ended, then when Giuliano and his guards were drunk with and asleep, they would attack and kill them all.
In the fall of 1478 the festival in Gallina took place and Giuliano and his entourage of guards, cooks and craftsmen arrived to host the celebration. The hired assassins of the Pazzis family sneaked into the village, prepared to carry out their evil deed. They might have succeeded except, as the men crept into the barnyard, the roosters awoke and began their frantic crowing! The assassins were so stunned they stood helpless unable to attack. Giuliano and his men, alerted by the noisy birds, captured the men who later suffered the same fate they had planned for Giuliano.
As for Giuliano, he was so delighted to have been saved by the lowly rooster that he hosted another festival the following night! He ordered artisans to create ceramic copies of the feathered guardians so they might be used as wine pitchers. Those same pitchers he presented to the peasants for good luck.
Since that time it has been an Italian tradition to present a Rooster Pitcher to friends and family to protect them from trespassers and other dangers.
Carolyn Hax: That's the history of the ceramic -rooster- pitcher. The ceramic chicken has a similar history, except the chickens got into the wine and the wretching noises alerted the townspeople to the fact that they had to restock the wine or else they'd run dry in the middle of the party. In the nick of time, I believe.
Carolyn and Peanuts: Any advice for dealing with family that is THRILLED about a younger sibling's upcoming wedding and APPALLED that older sibling (me) has yet to settle down? The only response I've come up with so far to the nagging about finding a nice young man is "(amused laugh) Oh, I could never limit myself to just one." However, I think I'll need more than one to get through the week.
Carolyn Hax: I think you're being way too good a sport. It's one thing to have to brush off the occasional clumsy remark; it's quite another to stand for nagging, especially when it's as mindless and demeaning as judging your worth by your marital status. Time to call a halt to it, by whichever means feels more natural to you: the serious, cease-or-I'm-skipping-the-holidays declaration (followed by the actual making of other plans next year if they don't leave you alone), or the lighter I'm-leaving-the-room-now (followed by a smile and an actual exit) refusal to discuss it. Do it.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
What onboard alcoholic beverage will give me the most bang for the buck on my flight home to the reddest of the red-states?
Carolyn Hax: I have no idea, but even thinking about all that dehydration is giving me a headache.
Peapod.com for groceries and Merrymaids for cleaning. What's the issue?
Carolyn Hax: The husband, apparently.
I have a suspicion that I will be proposed to sometime over the holidays. I know I should be happy, but the truth is, it's freaking me out and I can see it impacting (negatively) how I interact with my significant other. Have other women felt panic/fear/nervousness leading up to the big question?
Carolyn Hax: Better question, have other people felt panic/fear and then been happily married nevertheless? Newlyweds not included; I want answers from marriages with some miles on them.
But they'll just be to satisfy our curiosity. What other people have felt is irrelevant here. Do YOU want to marry this person? Before you answer, force yourself to filter out all the dread you're feeling about even facing the idea that you might want to/have to say no, since that I-can't-face-it dread is the motivating force behind more accepted proposals than I think any of us would care to admit.
Online only, please:
Carolyn, I've asked this question over several holidays and don't yet have an answer; please help! It all comes to a head this weekend. When does family do something that justifies dropping them? While assuming a terrible responsibility for a sick family member that was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, my family did it, because no one else in the extended family had the fortitude to do it. Although we worked closely with the medical team, a resentful family member started the gossip mill going, and we were accused of abusing this person. The people who didn't buy it failed to stick up for us I'm mad as hell at all of them, for punishing us for taking on the biggest responsibility most of them would ever face (none of them has kids of their own). And the closest thing we got to an apology for the accusation is that WE "have to understand; they did it out of CONCERN." All I want is a real apology but until then I want nothing to do with them. My own family says we're stuck with them on Christmas. Is this petty? Am I really stuck with them for Christmas forever? I'm trying to talk my own family into another activity, like volunteering somewhere during these special days.
Carolyn Hax: You are stuck with no one you don't want to be stuck with. Your family, however, gets its vote, too, and when it's different from yours, you need to decide carefully whether your un-sticking yourself is important enough to you to be worth sacrificing the time with your family. (I'm not suggesting it isn't, just that you consider all implications before you make the leap to a solo soup-kitchen Christmas.) (Which I'm not discounting--in fact I think a lot of people with family-holiday angst would do well to break away to establish their own way of giving.) (I think that's all the parentheticals I have for now.)
One Knee Thing:
I'm surprised you didn't add, "If you don't know if your girlfriend well enough to know how she feels about it, then maybe you shouldn't be proposing." Or maybe he knows she wants it and he just doesn't want to feel tacky and is looking for a way out.
Carolyn Hax: I'm getting lazy. Which turned out to be a good strategy, since you typed it for me. Thanks!
For Single sister:
...I went through the same thing. Eventually I called them on it. At dinner, I said, straight-faced, to my mother, "Does it make you feel good about yourself to intentionally hurt my feelings?" After some embarrassed laugher and her changing the subject, I said I was serious and I wanted an answer, because I was raised to respect myself and to know not to be around people who don't respect me. The place was silent and for the first time people took me seriously. She apologized, and no one has mentioned it since. Not even at my wedding, five years later.
Carolyn Hax: [crowd cheering sound]
Which you can all produce right now, if you want, in your cubicles--just say "haaaaa" like you're fogging up your sunglasses to clean them.
Carolyn Hax: Don't worry, your neighbors already think you're nuts.
Re: Giuliano de Medici:
Sadly for Giuliano de Medici, Fransesco de Pazzi got him in the Duomo in April 1478. Guess he left his lucky chicken pitcher at home.
Uh, Merry Christmas
Carolyn Hax: But the chicken bought him some time, right? We can't ask immortality of our barfing ceramic friends. Besides, who'd want it anyway.
What does Carolyn Hax prefer:
Live or fake tree?
Angel or star topper?
Multi-color or white lights?
Flashing or non-flashing lights?
Carolyn Hax: Try, and you will go 4 for 4.
I've had a great neighborly relationship with a woman who bought the house across the street about six months ago. For the past couple weeks we've been seeing quite a lot of each other and we clearly have romantic feelings for each other. Because we are neighbors, however, there is some tentativeness to move forward. Is that healthy or are we making too much of it?
Carolyn Hax: Aww. Don't let me ruin this. Enjoy.
Major procrastination happening. I have less than six hours left in the office, a huge must-do-before-I-leave list to get through, and all I want to do is read your chat! I could use a little external motivation, maybe some public shame to get me going on that list. Otherwise, I'll be here all night. Any suggestions?
Carolyn Hax: If you work in the pauses between my responses, you'll be done by 2.
Capital Christmas Quandary:
Happy Holidays to you, Carolyn, and all the peanuts out there.
My question is how to gracefully attend a friend's holiday gathering without embarrassing myself. My (ex)husband and I recently separated and this is my first Christmas without him and his family, whom I dearly love. To top it off, our wedding anniversary is/would have been the 23rd. I'm not going to my family's house for the holidays, but many people have told me I shouldn't be alone this year -- and I'm a bit worried about it, too. A nice friend invited me over to spend Christmas with her family, but I'm also worried that I'll go into random slumps of depression and crying, and I don't want to upset her or her family, or ruin their happy holiday time because I'm going through a rough patch. Do you think I should still go, or stay at home by myself? If I go, how can I make the situation as least awkward as possible?
Carolyn Hax: If your nice friend has a nice family, and I'm betting from the kindness of her gesture that she does, they'll all know what you're going through and understand completely when you go through random slumps of depression and crying. You're -supposed- to go through random slumps of depression and crying. Please don't regard your humanity as an embarrassment.
On my last birthday my boyfriend made a big production leading up to him pulling out a little box. Before I was able to look inside, I passed out out of sheer terror, I guess. Turns out they were earrings. Also turns out that the idea of him EVER proposing to me was a pretty horrible thought, so I dumped him. Merry Christmas.
Carolyn Hax: Beautiful.
Been dating a great guy for the past three months and invited him to my family's Christmas party on Saturday since his family is not local and he is working the Christmas Eve night and Christmas night. His reply was that he will think about it. I don't care either way if he comes or not, so I don't want to pressure him. Since his answer was no emphatic response, I don't want to ask him again. But should I?
Carolyn Hax: Nah. Until he says yes, it's a no.
British Columbia, Canada:
I was never happy with the cheesy angels and stars I found after I left home, so I turned a party cork into an angel complete with femo halo and wings.
Our angel looks like a really drunk man with a porkpie hat and broken blood vessels in his cheeks. His most redeaming feature is his ability to stick out his tongue and roll his eyes backwards when you press a stick a the back of his head. My kids think this type of tree topper is normal and I haven't told them otherwise.
Carolyn Hax: And don't you dare.
I need a serious attitude adjustment. I have absolutely no desire to spend Christmas with anyone except my husband and my mother. Everyone else (including husband's family) just gets on my NERVES. To top it all, because I don't want to do all the running around on Christmas, I've invited the whole crew to my house. Ugh. How to get through this without all these evil feelings?
Carolyn Hax: Actually, having everyone over is the finest, sneakiest way to dodge annoying people. All you have to do is work really hard to host them--toiling for hours and hours in the kitchen, you poor thing--and you'll score all the grace points you need without ever having to complete a conversation with any of them.
I hope you know how lucky you are, btw, that your dream holiday is to spend it with the two people closest to you.
Re: One Knee Thing:
I know that she'll say yes but I also don't want to be cliche and typical. What does trying to ensure that my fiancee gets the best proposal possible have anything to do with looking for a "way out"? It's a shame that some women are so jaded that they can't see the good in ANY man!;
Carolyn Hax: Um ... dude. 1. You're the only one generalizing here. 2. You did it twice, since there's no indication that the "way out" poster was female. 3. The "way out" was in reference to getting out of having to get down on one knee, not getting out of the relationship. 4. Please take the us vs. them chip off your shoulder before you propose. 5. Please see the humor in your proposing at midnight on New Year's and not wanting to be a cliche.
Home for the holidays...:
...at my age, separated multiple years, with a girlfriend having Christmas dinner with her own grown kids. My ideal xmas would be a round of golf then a good dinner with my single and/or divorced golf buds. Yet, I go home for the holidays to a sibling's house in the suburbs with other siblings and their aloof kids and a dingdong but loving mother to listen to problems and gripes. I am grateful for family and their initiatives... but as Charlie Brown says, "what's it all about Linus?"
Carolyn Hax: If we knew, we'd all be so bored. Or out playing golf, which for me is the same thing.
Re: Attitude Adjustment -
It's very cool to hear of your attitude, but I wouldn't adjust a thing! You are who you are and you want what you want. My wife and I feel drawn only to each other (and maybe to the National Zoo's pandas).
Carolyn Hax: Who must be grateful for fences. Thanks!
Merry Christmas!; So, I've decided to invite my sister-in-law and her husband for Christmas even though I don't like them (to make things easier on my husband, his parents, etc. who I do like) Anyways, my question is, do I have to hide out in the bathroom or can I lock them in there?
Carolyn Hax: Now now, people--you're having these people over for reasons, whatever those reasons may be. Just because the reason isn't that you actually enjoy their company doesn't mean you can't enjoy their company. Remind yourself to enjoy them for the reasons you chose to have them--eg, in this case, enjoy making your husband and his parents happy. And then eat too much and "forgetfully" spike the eggnog twice like everybody else.
Any tips on easing the meeting of a very conservative, protective father (and brother, the mother and sister are open-minded) and boyfriend of the alternative, musician nature? Both men are intelligent and caring, but I am afraid a significant age difference and image concerns (on father's part) could make this Christmas dinner with the immediate family a potentially uncomfortable affair.
Carolyn Hax: If that's what it's going to be, then that's what it's going to be. Resist the urge to micro-manage their meeting. "Guy, Dad--Dad, guy." Seriously. Then back off. Let them work it out. The more you flutter, the greater the tension, since all you'll do is create the impression that there's something wrong with the guy.
I just asked about eight bridesmaids to buy dresses for my wedding (around $100 each) and now feel guilty. I know that it's typical to ask bridesmaids to do that, but is it also kind of selfish to make them pay for something that is really for me?
Carolyn Hax: I can't answer this objectively. (Like I answer anything objectively. But anyway.) Is it too late to say, "Never mind, wear what you like"?
You can also change your mind and buy their dresses for them.
But if you're not willing to go that far, then you're okay asking (as long as $100 is not an obscene amount to any of them). It is customary.
Carolyn Hax: Have to get something--back in 2 min.
On my way to a foreign house for Christmas...:
You know, all those unwanted people might not actually want to go to your house either. Maybe you should work to make them happy they made the trek.
You could always hang out in the bathroom with the pot-smoking relative. That might make it worth the trip.
Carolyn Hax: Maybe there could be a show of hands, "Okay, who's here only out of a sense of obligation?"
Fallen in love for the holidays only to find that the feelings are not reciprocated (I like you, I just don't like like you). Now just can't seem to get out of the funk enough to catch the Christmas spirit, making funk even worse. Any tips for salvaging the season, still managing to have a holly jolly one?
Carolyn Hax: What is the Christmas spirit anyway, if not stepping away from all that's ugly and taking a moment to appreciate what is pretty, what is always pretty and will always be pretty? Love, generosity, childhood innocence, music, lights, a plate of cookies. Don't let unrealistic expectations, like automatic happiness every 12.25, ruin it.
My stepdaughter arrives tonight to spend Christmas with us. The last time she was here, we suspect, she took a CD that belongs to my daughter. Needless to say, I'm not feeling very merry toward her. Advice?
Carolyn Hax: You "suspect," you don't know, and it's a CD. What say you drop it and welcome the poor kid.
For D.C. bride:
Frankly, if I had to walk down an aisle slowly with dozens of people watching me, especially in a lineup with seven other women, I would happily pay $100 to have the audience know that somebody else picked out my outfit.
Carolyn Hax: But you're still responsible for the TP on your shoe.
Carolyn, how can I get over feeling so jealous of the people with potsmokers in the bathroom?? Nothing that interesting happens in the bathrooms of my family...
Carolyn Hax: Or you have better ventilation.
Re: Alternative Musician Boyfriend:
I would assume the boyfriend in question can manage to wear something to Christmas that is respectful of his girlfriend's parents? And that most tattoos would be covered by the type of clothes that people wear in December? I would think a conservative father could deal with a few piercings, especially if a guy with piercings thought enough of his daughter to put on a tie to meet her dad. If his version of "I gotta be me" involves needing to dress like a slob no matter what, then there IS something wrong with him.
Carolyn Hax: Or with her, since she might have chosen him -because- he wouldn't kowtow, and therefore would confront Daddykins in a way she didn't have the nerve to herself. Lots of possibilities here, thus the general "let it play out" answer.
I so-o-o better get a good present! Our holiday is going to include my husband and myself, our daughter, my husband's adult children as well as ... drum roll please... the ex-wife AND the ex-MIL. How early is too early to start drinking Irish cofees on Christmas morning?
Carolyn Hax: Depends on how well you hold them. And you've forgotten the first cruel life lesson that most of us learn at 4 years old on Christmas morning--the more you look forward to a good gift, the bigger the letdown you're in for.
Before this gig, I worked in North Pole PR.
Not that we don't all love Liz, but do you have any idea how lovely Lisa is faring these days? Can't think of bacon pants or reindeer poop without thinking of her.
I see the Lovely Lisa pretty regularly and she's quite well... I'll tell her you asked. She'll be thrilled. She is definitely missed round these parts.
Carolyn Hax: She is, and she must miss us because I know she's out there reading (though maybe not live). Hi Lisa!
Enjoying winter wherever you are I hope.
Question: If you want to invite a guy to a party for New Year's Eve -- because he's fun and good company -- must it be construed as a hot and heavy date (I don't know him well, but we have fun at the parties we get together in), or can it be a "buddy" type deal, at least until we get to know eachother better?
I don't want to freak him out by inviting him but I don't want to be a wimp and lose out on a fun night party hopping with a fun guy (New Year's Eve always seems better with a "date", even a friendly one).
Carolyn Hax: Eh, just ask and weather the consequences. (It will probably be seen as a loaded intivation, but isn't it, really, just a little, huh huh?)
Ball Drop Drip:
If you ask a good friend/romantic interest about New Years plans and they skirt the issue altogether, is it safe to say that they are neither as close a friend as you thought nor romantically interested in you?
Carolyn Hax: My saying "yes" would constitute closure? The answer probably is yes, but that's not my answer. It's that you're not going to get an accurate idea of what's going on if you keep standing 50 paces back from the action. Get in there, find out what you need to find out. You might get hurt, but everyone does eventually.
Just to be clear, we do know she took the CD. She denied it but then offered to buy a new one, so she's sort of admitted it. My daughter has been great about this and said, well, if you find it, just bring it back. Yes, this time it was something small, and I hope there isn't a next time. I was really taken aback that this happened at all. And to me, the "poor kid" isn't the one who helped herself to what wasn't hers, but the child who had something taken.
Carolyn Hax: Which is what I might have said if I had had all the information. Now that I do, though, I still think you need to welcome the poor kid. It's still a CD and she's still a kid and she probably knows full well she's going into a hostile environment. Yeah, maybe her behavior created it, but you're the adult and you have the power to make her feel welcome, loved and forgiven. What's the worst that happens? She burns you or your daughter again? Entirely possible. But I'd rather get burned like that every year as a consequence of my generosity than to stop being generous. (And probably get burned anyway.)
A woman asked me out for New Year's. I want a serious date with ALL of the trimmings, but am not sure that she is interested in all of that. How can I know?
Carolyn Hax: Show up and see what unfolds? Or, if it's important to you, call and offer to take on the planning, if she hasn't done it already?
I purchased expensive jewelry (from Tiffany) for my girlfriend to wear to my company holiday party on Saturday. On Sunday, she said she determined that she didn't really have feelings for me (after dating for 11 months). Is it appropriate to ask for the jewelry back (the money would come in handy to pay off the bills from all the other presents she convinced me into letting her open early on Saturday) even though it was a gift? Thanks
Carolyn Hax: Sure, ask for it back, but don't get your hopes up. You can also write it off as the cost of finding out what a loser looks like, so you can possibly avoid getting involved with another one.
You still don't know that she took the CD!; She might just be desperate to make it better, and so offered to buy one to make the whole CD affair end. People do suspicious things out of good intentions sometimes.
Carolyn Hax: There's that, too. Whatever it takes to get this thing wiped off the grudge slate. Thanks.
Something so seemingly wonderful must be sold online. Anyone have an URL?
Carolyn Hax: There isn't just one--it's a style. But maybe some big retailer is offering one. I got one from Williams Sonoma once, but that was 10 years ago.
Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the long delay before that one (again). I was looking for a proper chat-ender, but came up empty. So, I'll improvise: The End. Thanks everybody, happy New Year, and please come back ... whatever the day is, first Friday in January.
RE: Arlington with Tiffany jewelry
It sounds like he bought the gift so HE'd look good at the company party, not for the benefit of his GF. Sure, ask for it back, and just reinforce why she's glad to be rid of you.
Carolyn Hax: No, the good riddance is at least mutual.
Now there's the happy ending I was looking for.
Deep in the heart of Texas:
...for one seeking a regurgitating fowl gift.
Carolyn Hax: And who isn't? Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: Buy em by the coop.