washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2006 12:00 PM

Bring on the Bacon Pants: The Holiday Extravaganza starts in the second hour of this week's show!

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 an ex-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.

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Falls Church, Va.: Carolyn, I think this is an individual decision, but I'd like your opinion, since it often seems to make things clearer (but not absolute): To what extent should we compromise our own values or beliefs to make the people we love happy? I mean especially doing things to please our families, with whom we want to maintain relationships.

Carolyn Hax: Compromise your values only when you're doing it to serve another one of your values that you ... um, value more. E.g., set aside an important thing for your family only if honoring family is more important to you than the sacrificed thing.

There's a start for you. Hi, everybody.

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Not related to holiday issues per se...: Are there alternatives to therapy, especially with (for lack of a better term) major issues such as having come out of an abusive relationship or other big trauma? Although I think therapy would be beneficial, many people can't afford it or have other reasons to not want to undergo such treatment.

Carolyn Hax: Well, not being able to afford it isn't necessarily a reason to pass--there are providers who offer services for small fees, no fees or fees on a sliding scale. Call your local branch of any of the professional associations--psychiatric, psychological, marriage and family therapy, etc.

As for the other reasons, I'd have to hear them to rebut them, but if it's just the generic, "I think it's for wimps," then I can't think of a better definition of a wimp than someone who refuses to admit to a problem to a trained well-regarded professional who is bound to keep your confidence, just because it might look bad or you might hear something scary.

To answer your question, many useful approaches to recovering from trauma stem from the plain business of taking good care of oneself. Exercise (if medically appropriate), healthy diet, sufficient sleep, pleasing but non-destructive hobbies (no internal vodka collections, for example).

But I can't leave medical care off that list. If it's a brain-chemistry or behavioral issue that caused or contributed to the trauma, then counseling is called for no less than chemo or radiation would be for cancer.

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Cyberville, USA: Hi Hax 'n Co. Question: how can I stop my raging curiosity about my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend? He used to talk about her for the first year or so we went out, but stopped after I mentioned that I really didn't want details about their relationship. The two still email occasionally, and I know their relationship is defunct. But now I can't bring myself to stop googling her name, looking for her picture on the internet, etc. I also think my boyfriend would think it weird of me should I ask to see a picture of her (if he even has one). Suggestions on how I can stop? I'm creeping myself out with this.

Carolyn Hax: Lift the embargo on ex-girlfriend talk. You've created this monster yourself by pushing her underground. Let her name back out into the open and you can get over her the old-fashioned way, by getting so used to the idea of her that you get desensitized.

Or, less cheerfully: With her name out in the open again you might also be able to recognize that he's still hung up on her. But even that's better than the worst case, which is what you're living now--the slow torture of indefinite speculation.

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Green Eye City: Hi Carolyn,

I have an envy problem. It's hard for me to be friends with people who are very beautiful, very good at things I wish I were good at, etc. I'm never mean or spiteful to people I like, but I do find that a tiny part of me wishes them misfortune, which makes me feel awful. I think all women experience this to some degree, but I'd really rather not. Anything I can do?

Carolyn Hax: I think all -people- experience this to some degree; I doubt anyone really relishes the idea of standing next to someone who makes them look like an ugly, stupid, witless failure.

But then, if all it takes to make you feel like an ugly stupid witless failure is to stand next to someone pretty, then I think it's time to stop calling it envy and start seeing it as a motivator. How can you shape your life into one that meets your needs? I'm not talking, "Win the lottery," or "Receive gift mansion and Jag"; I mean a job that taps into your natural abilities, friends whose company you enjoy and around whom you like yourself, a legacy that demonstrates the Earth is better for your time on it. The scale doesn't matter--if you tend your house well to the benefit of the neighborhood, do your job well to the benefit of the company, volunteer or donate to the benefit of your community, vote and pay taxes to the benefit of your jurisdiction, etc., I believe all count toward a life well-lived.

So are you putting whatever body, mind, talents, life you've been given to their best use? People who can honestly say yes to this may still wish they were prettier or richer or whatever, but, I don't think they ever wish they were someone else.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Carolyn, I'm 35 weeks pregnant and desperately want to induce labor NOW. What should I do?

Signed Big and Huge

Carolyn Hax: Put your feet up and glow. Your life is easier now than it is about to be.

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Rockville, Md.: Can the fact that you sought therapy be used against you in a custody dispute late on? For example if someone suffers from depression, goes and gets help and is generally OK afterwards, can his/her spouse use this against him/her when fighting over primary custody of children?

Carolyn Hax: This is lawyer stuff, not winging-it advice-columnist stuff.

Though I can say with confidence that anyone who tries to use conscientious health-care decisions against you is a toad.

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Procrastinating again: I am currently making food for a friends 30th brunch tomorrow, when I have a lot of work to do for my actual job. I work at home and often myself coing anything I can to avoid work, I get paid hourly, and many days will be at my computer for 8 hours but only really able to bill 2 or 3. How do I make myself buckle down and stop getting up to stare vacantly at my fridge, or scrub the toilet, or shop online?

Carolyn Hax: Make yourself work for X hours, then reward yourself with Y minutes of goofing off. Keep the X realistic, too, though still productive.

I wonder how many brunches I've had. I;m thinking at least 52 or 53.

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Anonymous: I can really relate to Sunday's column re: knowing whether or not to have a baby. We currently have animals to "channel our spillover love", but I worry about becoming known as the crazy lady who thinks of her animals as children, as it seems more socially acceptable to be a crazy soccer mom who lives life through her children.

Carolyn Hax:"Seems" being the operative word, because it's really just as bad. Or good, depending on your perspective.

It's also just as not anyone's business. If you want to live your life through your pets, go for it. (And inflict your stories only upon those who encourage them, but that's true for everyone.)

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I think the singles scene is depressing here because it seems like no one is looking for a serious relationship? Do other readers also feel this way?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe they're not looking to get serious until they meet someone with whom they want to get serious?

In other words, I think yours is an awfully general view of an awfully large city (and scene).

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For the procrastinator: Sounds like you're not suited for working at home. Consider working in an office? I know I couldn't work at home . . . EVERYthing is more interesting there than the work.

Carolyn Hax: It's possible. If s/he's laptop based, maybe camping out in a campout-friendly coffee shop (that doesn't offer free wireless)?

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To the Procrastinator: I used to have the same problem. Here's what I did: I thought about a cause I really hate. Everytime I found myself goofing off, I put a dollar into an envelope. At the end of the month all the money went to a donation to the charity. After realizing I was on the fast track to donating $100 to re-elect Rick Santorum, I cut out my goofing off, real quick.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely done.

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I'm a divorce lawyer: People try to use ex's history of treatment for mental health issues to gain advantage in custody disputes all the time. Unless the problem somehow puts the kids at risk, the judge is not that interested. Huge percentage of people appearing in court for divorce and custody issues suffer from some form of depression. The court would prefer to see them get help for it because the kids will benefit from having healthy parents.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you're right (also hope you're who you say you are, but you guys don't even know if I'm who I say I am, and some days I don't even know that I know).

I also think anyone in or soon to be in this position needs to talk to his or her own actual lawyer.

Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: What's the difference between settling for someone and overlooking a person's physical and/or personality flaws simply because no one's perfect?

Carolyn Hax: Not being in love, and being in love.

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Carolyn Hax: Not to be confused with, not being in lust, and being in lust. Good to be lusted, but not to be trusted.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently started working out and eating better to try and lose the 110 pounds I need to lose to be healthy. A friend of mine is in the same boat as I am healthwise, but has turned to diet pills instead of the healthier alternative. I talked to her about it and told her I was worried about her health as far as the diet pills, but she told me it was the only way to lose weight. Worse yet, she is constantly trying to get me to eat unhealthy food with her and skip my workouts. I know I can't convince her on my own not to take the pills, but is there any other thing I can do? Also, how do I get her to shut up about my new eating and lifestyle? I've been open and honest about it, but she won't drop it.

Carolyn Hax: You can distance yourself. People do reach a point where their lack of support/drive to undermine becomes a legitimate friendship-ender.

If you're inclined to view her more sympathetically--ie, you think she's trying not so much to sabotage you as to validate herself--then -you- drop it. Talk about something other than your efforts, change the subject when she brings it up, shrug off her suggestions.

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Freshly- Broken Heart - UGH: How to get through the forced merriment when you feel like road kill?

Carolyn Hax: Please write us an I Feel Like Road Kill holiday poem or carol. You have 66 minutes.

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Carolyn Hax:"Sleigh bells ring, are you wincing;

"In the lane, cars are mincing.

"Perfume in my eyes;

"More reruns tonight;

"Suff'ring in a fake-cheer wonderland."

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Baltimore, Md.: Just finished my third of five finals today, with Cell Bio and Organic Mechanisms to go. I just wanted to say, "Bacon pants!" and "Pot in the bathroom."

That is all.

Carolyn Hax: And a pew loogie back atcha.

I guess we're starting early.

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Washington, D.C.: Ok, ok, I give up. I thought sure one of these times you'd explain what the Holiday Extravaganza is, but it hasn't happened. What is it?

Carolyn Hax: It's an hour of embarrassing family traditions and annoying holiday related problems and anything else we can peg to December, basically. It started ... can't remember the year, but I did a piece in the Post Magazine about my family's, ah, unique way of celebrating, and then did a follow-up discussion afterward that took on a life of its own.

Speaking of my family:

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I knew it!: I knew I was in the right place! Just when I was starting to realize that I lacked some REAL holiday spirit, here it is!

Carolyn Hax: Be careful what you wish for.

Pops's Night Before Christmas

2006 Edition

Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the chapel

Many were snoozing,

With some playing Scrapple.

The stockings got hung

By the chimney with care,

Which stretches the panty hose--

Makes 'em saggy back there.

The children were nestled

All snug in their beds.

The ones who were sleeping

Had taken their meds.

But out on the lawn,

There arose a big clatter.

My wife started snoring,

So I threw something at her.

Away to the window,

I flew like a bee.

I know. I can't fly.

It's a simile, you see.

The moon on the breast

Of the new-fallen snow ...

How does that work?

I'm dying to know.

When what to my wondering

Eyes should appear,

You're not going to believe this!

Try eight flying deer!

They were pulling a fat guy.

He was lively and quick,

Which is quite an achievement

When your waistline is thick.

More rapid than eagles,

His reindeer they flew.

He had a sandwich in his pocket

And some pie on his shoe.

On Osama, on Obama,

On Angie and Brad!

On Dubya and Laura,

On hanging chad!

To the top of the porch,

Then off to the mall,

Which was decorated for Christmas

Ever since fall.

The dry leaves before

The wild hurricane fly,

Hurricane in December?

Global warming? Oh my.

On up to the housetop

The coursers they flew.

First they were reindeer,

Now coursers? Who knew.

And then in a twinkling

I heard up above,

Eight reindeer on final,

And the hoof-beats thereof.

As I took a step back

And was turning my head,

Down the flue came the fat guy.

"An intruder!" I said.

He was dressed all in fur

From his head to his toes

From species endangered,

But he wouldn't wear faux.

A bundle of toys

He'd pulled off the sled.

No spring chicken now;

His face had turned red.

His eyes how they twinkled,

His dimples how merry.

Wrinkle cream was called for,

But of this he was wary.

His droll little mouth

Was scrunched up like a bow.

This is called "gathering"

By people who sew.

The stump of a pipe

He held tight in his teeth.

Top teeth on top,

Bottom ones beneath.

He had a broad face

And a round little belly.

His daily nutrition

Came straight from the deli.

He laughed and he laughed

A right jolly old guy.

He just kept on laughing,

I think he was high.

With a wink of his eye

And a big smile, he said,

"Ten thousand more homes,

Then I go back to bed."

He spoke not a word,

But went straight to his work.

A sip from a bottle

Was his only perq.

He then lay his finger

aside of his nose.

This must be poetry!

Too dopy for prose!

He sprang to his sleigh,

To his team gave an order.

"Lift off! Turn left!

To the Canadian border"

But I heard him exclaim

As he drove out of sight,

"I don't believe it!

They're turning right!"

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New York, N.Y.: Argh! I've been reading your chats for seven years, and I'm racking my brain trying to remember the "bacon pants" reference. Is it because I turned 30 this year? I can't remember diddly-squat. What's the bacon pants story?

Carolyn Hax: It's what you ask your enemies to don before they go for a swim in shark-infested waters.

And it is not officially a holiday extravaganza byproduct. Inviting said enemy to have a seat in the Death Chair would be more seasonally appropriate.

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Bowie, Md.: Carolyn, can we get a link to the original Post magazine article? I didn't read it the first time around.

washingtonpost.com: I'm looking for it and will post a link when I find. -- Liz

Carolyn Hax: Preparation is anathema to Holiday Extravaganzism.

Much to Liz's dismay, but she's a good sport about it. Thanks, Liz.

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Holiday Dresses: I want one of those pretty satin, velvet, shiny colorful party dresses that are in stores right now. But I'm really not going to any fancy Christmas or New Year's parties. Should I just wait another year? Try and substitute this yearning with new shoes? I guess this is dress lust, right?

Carolyn Hax: Get one, and wear it to Safeway as if you're about to go to a party. Buy nothing but microwave popcorn, and conspicuously carry a rented DVD.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey: Didn't you have a big birthday recently? Happy Birthday! Hope you celebrated with something more exciting than a brunch.

Carolyn Hax: I did (40), and I did! Thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: Carolyn's holiday article: Great Expectations, ( Post Magazine, Dec. 3, 2000)

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Carolyn Hax: Hey guys--just want to let you know my computer seems to be in some kind of death spiral, and hangs up for several seconds whenever I post a question. Serious momentum killer, I'm sorry.

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Veggie?: Hi Carolyn, Happy Holidays!

I have what I consider a peeve -- I have a relative who claims to be vegetarian, but is know to eat meat once in a while, but when my relative feels like it. Yet if we have an impromptu gathering as we did recently, and I made up a pot of stew with some chicken in it, my relative declined to eat. Sometimes someone will go to extraordinary lengths to cook extra veggie-friendly food and my relative will go ahead and eat the meat dish. It's a little maddening -- not earth-shattering, just maddening. I think my relative is being a little rude. Is the rest of the family always obligated to have the vegggie-only alternative?

Carolyn Hax: Either make what you want to make, or make a veggie crowd-pleaser (spinach lasagna?) and stop paying more attention to the relative than s/he's worth.

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Holiday Cheer: I've realized why I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas. We spend weeks (months sometimes) building up to it and then come Dec. 26, everything goes back to normal. It just ends, see you next year, hope you had fun. What can I do to gradually end the holidays? I mean, Christmas is not a band-aid, right?

Carolyn Hax: Right. But it is an excuse for an entire month of punch and cookies, followed by drastic markdowns. In other words, the buildup is Christmas (and the day after, the reprieve). Does that work better for you?

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Step-monster Holiday Question: My father died a few years ago. Since then my step-mother has willfully and agressively withdrawn from me and from all my dad's family. I continue to send Christmas presents each year, with never a thank you or a present in return. I'm doing it again this year...it makes me sad to have essentially lost another family member (she married my dad when I was very young), but I don't want to be the one to give up completely. Am I just banging my head against the wall or is it worth the satisfaction of knowing that at least I have tried to be a decent human being in all this?

Carolyn Hax: If you feel good about doing it, keep doing it. If doing it is an annual wound-reopening, stop doing it.

I'd get into what your stepmother might want, but that's so opaque it's really just about you now.

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Cubevity and Christmas: So... does it say something about me that I got to work an hour late because I went shopping at Target this morning? For toys? Including foam rockets for my fiance? And we're both over 50??

I'm sure he will share them with my 13-year-old son, who will be getting bottles of Coke and Mentos from my fiance, as, we've heard, when combined, a spectacular fountain o' Coke results.

Carolyn Hax: I think this needs a don't-try-this-at-home disclaimer.

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Maryland: In the spirit of the second hour, can I just say REINDOOR POOP to all the people who couldn't be bothered to let me know whether or not they are coming to my party this weekend? How hard it is to send a #$%@#$%#$ e-mail?

Carolyn Hax: Hey, everybody, RSVP please. (Which is redundant, but, whatever.)

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Dreaded Trip: My husband and I are going home for Christmas and we are just not looking forward to it at all. My parents never meet us in baggage claim -- rather they drive around to make it easier on them. They pick us up in that parking area that you pull through when you are dropping someone off for a flight. They don't ask if we have any specific foods we like. I have not lived at home in 20 years so they would not just know this sort of thing. Their new condo is tiny so we have zero privacy. I dont mean privacy for THAT -- I just mean so that we can have a conversation in private. They fight about everything -- meal preparation, television shows, proper TIVO operation, their dog's bathroom schedule, etc.

We have to go and visit -- they would be furious if we did not come home for Christmas but how can we make it a pleasant visit?

Carolyn Hax: Not sure where to start.

I sympathize. Small apartment with bickering people who punish you for not coming. Check.

But you are using everything they've taught you about coping to cope with this problem: Go along with it, but complain, complain, complain.

Instead, this year, start making some constructive decisions and then have the strength to follow through with them. E.g., hire care to make airport pickup (or, accept you'll be at the curb for a while); treat parents to dinner out at good restaurant during your visit (or, accept you won't like the food); stay in hotel (or accept you'll be w/o privacy for a few days but it's worth it to see family); decide it's worth the complaints to stay home next year (or accept this is something you want to do for your parents and stop complaining about it).

Merry Christmas. Seriously.

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Procra$ination in Yule Land: Do I need to add a dollar each time I refresh this chat?

Carolyn Hax: ALS Association. www.alsinfo.org

It's a good cause, because this is good procrastinating. And I'm really sorry about my computer.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

This is the first time my extended family is meeting my same-sex sinificant other at our family Chistmas gathering (about 30 people). Of course most of my relatives have been nice to me directly when I informed them I am gay, however family rumor suggests otherwise for afew relatives. What shall I do?

Carolyn Hax: Be glad it's a party of 30--should be ample cushioning. And if it's not, it'll be hard on you, but it'll be worse for anyone who is nasty to you, because it will expose his or her complete lack of civility.

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Washington, D.C.: My mom got this horrible thing at a craft fair that we call FlowerPot Santa. It was five flowerpots, stacked alternating end-to-end, so that it made one tall santa that had a wide base, a wide tummy, and a wide face/hat thing.

We dismantled it about five years ago, after giving her nonstop grief. So now I have one remaining flowerpot that is painted like a Santa face. It typically makes appearances throughout the time I stay at my parents -- in the closet, in the freezer, on someone's pillow. My sister thinks it's inane, I find it hilarious.

Point being: I have the Santa face this year. Do I take it with me to Christmas, or should I hold out a year so people will forget, then be stunned when it shows up next year?

Such the conundrum.

Carolyn Hax: Rebuild it, then bring it back.

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Mentos and Coke: It's DIET Coke, not regular, for it to work. And search for it on You Tube. NPR did a great story (for radio) on it.

(It might have to be a certain flavor of mentos, I'm not sure)

Carolyn Hax: I really love how my readers take care of each other. (With apologies to Ann Landers)

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Funny Holiday Moment: My family has a tradition that the littlest child always places the angel on top of the tree. When I was about 10 my five-year-old-sister was scared so my Dad hoisted me up to do the job instead. Unfortunately, we both forgot we'd recently moved to a suburban house and Dad rammed my head into our new lower ceilings. No one was hurt and we all had a good laugh.

The next year my sister was feeling more game and Dad set her up on his shoulder with the angel in hand. Somebody remembered the previous year's events and we all started laughing so hard that my poor little sister peed her pants -- all over my father. Our family photo album features two pictures of the tree-topping moment -- and my father and sister have each changed clothing between the first and the second.

Carolyn Hax: Darn it, I'm all choked up.

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Washington, D.C.: How do I prepare for spending the holidays my parents? My dad has had a sudden personality change (possibly related to a stroke) and now all he wants to do is preach religion. He rarely wants to talk about any other topic. But when he does finally change the topic, he's started saying really insensitive and hurtful things, for example he said this to my in-law (a minority): "It's because all those minorities are getting preferential treatment that white men can't get jobs anymore."

Coping mechanisms, anyone?

Carolyn Hax: Try gentle conversation-redirecting to improve the short view, and then, for the long view, seeing this as spending time with him in what are probably his waning years because it's something you want to do for him and need to do for you. I don't know what else to say.

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Ajax, Ontario, Canada: Greetings from the Great Supposedly White but rather green and drizzly at the moment North --

Holiday memory for you. Every year, my dad's company used to have a gag gift exchange at the Christmas party. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to this because the "gags" were usually small toys of some sort that I'd usually snag (one year, he got a windup hopping Woodstock that I still have.) I think I was probably about nine the year he got the penis sweater. It was this long knitted thing in red and green, with a jingle bell on the end. I honestly had no clue, and asked my mom what it was. "Nose warmer," she said, and the box was gone shortly thereafter before I could ask too many more questions. I didn't figure it out until a couple of years later; until then, I was sad that I hadn't gotten to keep the "nose warmer."

Carolyn Hax: When people ask you why you took up knitting, this is the story you tell.

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Is it worth it....:...to ask my parents if I can stay in the guest room with my fiance this year? They are very religious -- and followed all the rules themselves back before they got married -- but they also know we live together, and don't seem to care about that. I don't want to start any awkwardness, but I also don't really want to sleep in the spare bed in my little sister's room for an entire week, either!

Carolyn Hax: You tell me. Is it worth it? Back to deciding the values you value more.

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Wrapping Solution: Last year my in-laws only comment about the gifts we sent were "you didn't wrap them very well." I guess they shifted around in the package and something came open in transit. So this year I'm toying with the idea of doing a REALLY horrendous job on the wrapping/packaging, or maybe even just sending an empty box with a hole in it. Oh, we got you such great stuff, too bad it came open in shipping.

Carolyn Hax: no no no, subtle is always better. Wrap them badly on purpose, but only so that you can know it was deliberate.

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Santa Pot: Haha! My mom makes those things... she's done pot soldiers, too! They're awful.

Carolyn Hax: Just be careful not to confuse the bathroom pot with the Santa pot.

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Newly inappropriate dad: Totally agree about redirecting the conversation, but maybe you can also try to plan a couple of activities, i.e. a movie, Christmas concert, etc. where there's something else to divert his attention. The fewer opportunities there are for idle conversation, the less likely he'll be to have time to think of and make an inappropriate remark.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, but any plans should be carefully structured to avoid becoming public venues for spewed hatred.

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Boston, Mass.: Carolyn!

I've been waiting ALL YEAR to tell you this! Remember last year when someone said their family clapped after each gift was opened? And we all thought it was hilarious and strange?

Well, last year, I told my (large) family about the clapping, and they were highly amused. They decided we should do it, too, but NOT tell my brother. So we started applauding every time someone opened a present. At first he looked really, really confused, but then he joined in as if it were completely normal. It took about 1/2 an hour before he finally stopped and said "Ok WHAT is with the G-D CLAPPING?! Are you people DRUNK?"

So, thanks to the 'nut who provided last year's holiday entertainment!

Carolyn Hax: There's nothing like an innocent victim to bring out a gag's true potential. Thanks for sharing.

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Holiday Hell: Hi, I'm recently separated and in the midst of a divorce (my choice) but I'm having a really hard time dealing with this time of year. My funk deepened recently when I was snooping around on the internet and found pictures of my Beloved Ex and his Next Victim looking ecstatically happy together. I don't want him back but I'm freaked out that he seems to have rebuilt his life so quickly. I'm not close with my family but have made plans to spend Christmas with friends. My question is, how do I deal with the faux-cheer-pre-Christmas stuff going on all around me without losing my mind?

Carolyn Hax: Do something, or somethings, rashly and randomly generous. Make them no-strings, no-ambiguity good, like giving a bag of canned goods to a food pantry. To last the season, do one affordably small thing a day. If it doesn't make you feel great, please write back next week and I promise we'll try again.

And stop snooping on the Internet.

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For FlowerPotSanta: Package it up, send it to someone in your family by USPS/UPS/FedEx special delivery for arrival as close to Xmas as possible, but try to figure out how to get it sent without putting your actual name in the return-address part. (Maybe choose a relative who's not going to be at the celebration?) They'll open it eagerly, thinking it to be a proper gift ...

Carolyn Hax: More along the innocent victims line, excellent.

But do choose carefully. Don't send it to someone who, say, might not be getting anything this year for whatever reason. Or not at the celebration b/c it's not possible and the person is sad about it. That would be bad enough to make it into next year's Holiday Extravaganza--"So my whole family celebrated Christmas together without me, and all I got was an unsigned joke Santa pot."

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Family Tradition: My cousin Margy once asked her brother "do you want a roll or are you just going to sit there?"

40 years later....someone will say it on Christmas day.

Carolyn Hax: Along the line of my sister Debby's classic, "Can I get you anything else while you're down?"

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm Jewish, but one year I went to spend Christmas with my then-boyfriend and his family. He decided an appropriate gift to them would be LSD, because it was "such an important part of his life" and he "just wanted them to understand." He gave them each about two hits, in a baggie, along with printed tips from the Internet on navigating their first "trip." Cue three-hour, screaming, crying scene, during which I try to disappear into the corner of the couch. Did I mention I had the flu? I really wish I was lying about this.

washingtonpost.com: Did you at least drop some acid first?

Carolyn Hax: It's the "I'm Jewish, but... " that makes it.

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Tradition: My mom bought some Christmas tree ornaments that are little books printed with "The Night Before Christmas" poem. Too bad the books were made in China. The English translation is riddled with ridiculous mistakes, and we delight in reading the poem every year... "While visions fo sugarplums danced thro their heads."

Carolyn Hax: Oh can you send me one, PLEEEEEASE?

Hax

Style

The Washington Post

1150 15th St NW

Washington, DC 20071

If they're too precious, I'll understand.

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Gag me with a muffin: Combination etiquette/family harmony question: Several years ago, a cousin sent a gift of gourmet English muffins for Christmas. Problem is, they're awful -- like ganwing on styrofoam hockey pucks. But having been raised right, I dutifully sent a thank you note. Apparently "thank you" got translated as "she LOVES the muffins" because now every year, without fail, the muffins from hell show up again. How to stop them???

Carolyn Hax: Don't refuse, re-use! Ultimate Frisbee, English muffin hunts (best if unannounced) ... anyone?

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Washington, D.C.: Is it wrong that I am not planning to be with my family for the holidays and I'm perfectly happy about that fact? Everyone I tell this to seems to think I'm strange, but I can't stand the stress/expense of holiday travel. And spending too much time with my parents always sends me spiraling into the worst kind of misery and anger. Spending the holidays alone in D.C. (even if I don't do much, and even if I end up eating Chinese food on Christmas) sounds much better. To me anyway. So this is okay right?

Carolyn Hax: It is awesome with the potential for bliss. Enjoy.

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For wrapping: I think it would be funnier to wrap everything over the top secure--i.e. break open the homeland security survival pack of duct tape...

Carolyn Hax: That works, too. Or buy gifts that come in that awful clamshell plastic.

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Anonymous: Carolyn,

What can I do about a Brother who let's his wife make all the holiday plans which don't give proper time to my Mother but instead cater more to her and her families wants/needs?

Carolyn Hax: You cater to your mother. You can say something to your brother--"If it's possible to spend more time with Ma, please do, it means a lot to her"--but it's really your brother's business. (And pointing a finger at his wife is no win.)

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Silly String Christmas: For years now my dad and stepmom have put silly string in mine and my sister's stockings. The tradition is that after all the presents have been opened we have a huge silly string fight... nothing is off limits and we chase each other until it's all gone. We are now 27 and 30 and we are still doing this except now it also includes our husbands and my niece (and we all have our own can). We are always so hysterically laughing during and after that we can hardly breathe! It's still one of my favorite things about Christmas! So simple, so silly, and so freakin fun!!

Carolyn Hax: Might borrow that (someday), thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: We have a family tradition that developed when my brother and I were in high school and continued as we moved out to go to college (now even my youngest sister has done the same). We have a small, unfinished nativity set with a baby Jesus who is not attached to his manger. One of my siblings will replace the baby Jesus with something absurd (army man, Matchbox care, giant stuffed moose), my mother will yell, Jesus will eventually be restored, same process will begin again. Still drives my mom nuts, but now even my dad participates sometimes. I find it hysterical.

Just thought I'd share a nice holiday story.

Carolyn Hax: At first I read it that your mom would yell, "Jesus will eventually be restored!" If you can put her up to it, might add a worthy dimension.

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St Paul, Minn.: Every year on Xmas eve we play Ultimate Loser Bingo. Basically, everyone brings little things they've got lying around or have collected through the year for prizes and we all play bingo. Umpteen games later, there is only one person left who hasn't won and they are the Ultimate Loser. We've considered making a traveling trophy but no one's gotten around to it.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe this year, pick the worst little thing and glue it to a piece of cardboard to make a plaque. But then, a non-trophy has a certain panache.

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Muffin ornaments: Shellac, spray-paint, and glitter!

Carolyn Hax: Brilliant!

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Fairfax, Va.: I work in the field of domestic abuse. To the poster who asked about alternatives to counseling for problems related to abusive situations I would like to encourage her (him?) to call their local domestic abuse program. Here in VA and throughout most of the country, programs offer their services free of charge. If they cannot get you in, they can refer you to others who will usually work on a low set fee or sliding scale. There are also hotlines where you can talk with trained professionals and volunteers. Don't suffer alone. There are a lot of people out there who are waiting to help you through these tough times. In Fairfax County, VA you can call 703-360-7273; VA state hotline 1-800-838-8238. Good luck! Have hope.

Carolyn Hax: We interrupt this madcast for some important sanity. Thank you.

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New Family Tradition: We open gifts on Christmas Eve after dinner, but we let the kids open one before we eat. Those gifts have always been "real" ones, but this year, their mean aunt and uncle decided their gifts would be a roll of toilet paper, some duct tape, and a can of lima beans.

Carolyn Hax: Mean only if you happen not to be in immediate need of these things.

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Washington, D.C.: I think my main Christmas stress comes from reverting to childhood after a couple of days back home. It wouldn't be bad, but my brother does it too. Picture two mid-20-somethings having a slap fight. Yeah, I'm usually really happy to come home.

Carolyn Hax: To the slap fight, or from it?

I think I'll leave that one hanging. Bye everyone, thanks for playing, and type to you next week.

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Silver Spring, MD: Deck the Halls with roadkill feeling

fa la la la laaa, la la, la la

While I sit here, sad and reeling

fa la la la laaa, la la, la la

While I sit and sing this carol

Fa la la, fa la la, la la la

My girlfriend's with a guy name Harold

Fa la la la laaa, la la , la la

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. This is truly awful.

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Christmas haiku: Santa's sleigh piled high

With presents on top, and me

Roadkill underneath

Carolyn Hax: And to all a good night.

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